I should be looking forward to this, a new venue and country for me and that’s always an adventure, but with all the negativity surrounding last years event I am not sure what to expect as I arrive in Seoul.
My first impressions are the complete lack of F1 awareness, now I know the track is 350 kilometres south but I expected something, anything! Undettered I make my way through the frenetic city to the main station for the train to Mokpo, I’m expecting a 3 hr journey so I’m surprised when my £13 ticket suggest 5 hours! How was I supposed to know the Korean for stopping service!
The trip isn’t to bad, interesting scenery as the sprawl turns into paddy fields and rolling hills before the shipping cranes and seashore of Mokpo appear. After a 45 minute lost in translation delay trying to get a taxi to my hotel I make it, not the lovely hotel I was expecting but a pleasant 3 star affair, with an F1 interpreter on hand to help and welcome me. I settle in eagerly anticipating the next days track activity
Daylight Friday arrives and it’s throwing it down. All very bleak and the town looks thoroughly miserable, the hotel interpreter arranges a cab to the circuit and thirty minutes later we arrive to a desolate sight, devoid of any fans, and lots of orange bibbed, dejected attendants, none of which know where I should go or let the cab past the outer cordon! Vast empty stands look so depressing, not helping to allay my worst fears of a GP in Korea
We hijack a security guard in a golf buggy and get him to drive us through the flooded roads to the entrance and arrive as the lights go green, I know that this isn’t going to be good and we endure a slow day of sporadic running. It can only get better from here.
Back in Mokpo I head into town and find the F1 enclave around a few bars in the centre of town following what they know and eating fried chicken and drinking beer, bemoaning all that is Korea.
As a rule, my theory with foreign places is that you get out what you put in, engage the locals, share the culture and things will get better, and sure enough they do, I’m invited to join some local folk for traditional Korean food and lashings of Soju, the local rice based spirit, Soju is my new best friend! Although as a role I prefer my seafood to be dead before I eat it! Still, when in Rome…
Saturday at the track is better, still very few people, it seems last years enthusiasm for the ‘f1 game’ as the Koreans call it has wained already which is a shame as the facility isn’t bad although it looks like it’s been deserted since last year’s events.
Another night of Soju and Korean BBQ leaves me with fresh enthusiasm for my first Korean GP, anticipating the traffic catastrophe of last year I leave 4 hours before the lights go out and drive straight into the track, no traffic at all, park conveniently and walk to the main stand in ten minutes, I’ve got a great view of pole position and my ticket is in a position in the upper tier amongst a few western faces, some familiar from other events over the years. It’s dry, the food offerings are good and the views great from last to first corner.
During the great race the Koreans look a little bemused and slightly in pain from the noise and some leave early as if it was a footy match! I guess this is what happens when races go to places with no culture history or understanding of racing.
Getting away and back to Mokpo was as simple as getting in, street food vendors line the street sides as we walk back to the car, an offering of strpey black and white caterpillars in a cup seem to be going down a storm.. Perhaps that’s why the locals left early to get the best ones…
Forget the journey times, relax about the language and food and enjoy the experience as I did and this event was not altogether the horror I was expecting, in fact, on reflection I warmed to Korea and I for one will be coming back, even if the locals may not for too long.
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