MAURICE HAMILTON

Road to nowhere


Dinner in the raw fish market; a cultural highlight in downtown Mokpo

Dinner in the raw fish market; a cultural highlight in downtown Mokpo 

 © Maurice Hamilton

As my accountant will confirm, I understand very little about economics. All I know in very broad terms is that we're in a financial mess largely because of irresponsible bankers and the absence of decent legislation to contain their arrogant excesses.

What appeals to me is a statement from Warren Buffett when the American business magnate and investor says: "I could end the deficit in five minutes. You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election."

That struck a chord last week as I reviewed my first visit to Korea. In an ideal world shaped, I admit, by a steady flow of Guinness in the Three Horseshoes pub on a Friday night, I would have each member of the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) pay race organisers $10,000 for every empty seat in the grandstands on race day.

That would stop arguments over who was breaking the Resource Restriction Agreement (RAA) simply because the teams would automatically have less money. (The RRA seems a worthy concept in theory but daft in reality. In a deeply competitive world such as F1, Colin Chapman was right when the Lotus boss said teams will always spend as much as you give them. Let's say a well-heeled team such as McLaren has cash to spare once the RRA has been adhered to, can you imagine Martin Whitmarsh opening a high-interest savings account in the nearest bank in Woking High Street? No, neither can I.) Sorry; I digress.

By kicking teams in the financial nuts with EST (Empty Seat Tax), it might prompt a duty of care for race promoters after they've been squeezed dry by Mr. Ecclestone, acting on FOTA's behalf and that of his paymasters, the faceless CVC Capital Partners. What other business in these straitened times has a 10 per cent (or some such extortionate number) escalator built into their annual fee because F1's high-flyers, poor souls, need to cover the rising cost of fuel for their executive jets and fees for a second celebrity sous-chef in the hospitality unit?

Those of us packed away in Economy on the Emirates Airbus had 16 hours flying time to ponder the wisdom of F1 trogging all the way to the small city of Mokpo for not very much. The actual circuit at nearby Yeongam is as good as Tilke/FIA standard cut-out race tracks go; which is to say just below the excellent Istanbul Park and a million miles above the soulless Sakhir in Bahrain.

But the location on reclaimed land looked exactly that. It would have been no surprise during the race if a Safety Car had been introduced to allow a Mokpo refuse vehicle to reverse inside Turn 4 and dump its load of dead fish. Indeed, judging by the aroma in the paddock, that had been done a few days before.

Reports that the circuit owners had locked the gates after last year's race and reopened them a month ago appeared not far short of the truth. The entire place, particularly during Friday's gloomy weather, had the look of a slightly shabby holiday camp in winter.

The problem is that the Grand Prix has become a political football, a change in the ruling party putting into power a former opposition that was never in favour of the Yeongam venture in the first place. Cue cries of 'Not my fault' as questions are asked about the wisdom of placing an international event 250 miles from the vibrant city of Seoul. There is supposed to be a new city rising up around Yeongam. So far, the only thing springing from the ground is a Korean variety of weed unlikely to be trampled by excessive spectator traffic.

Better news is that Samsung, a major industrial player in Korea, is interested in developing Everland Raceway. At 1.5 miles, the circuit as it stands is not suitable for F1. But it is owned by Samsung (thus avoiding the volatile business of using public money), there is room for expansion and the track is within striking distance of the Seoul subway system.

That has an exciting and functional ring to it similar to the welcome news of a Grand Prix venue across the Hudson River from Manhattan. If F1 is intent on making shed loads of money at the expense of traditional circuits and sporting culture, then at least take us away from places where dinner in the raw fish market is great fun, but one of the few social attractions in a society that knows nothing about motor sport and cares even less.

Maurice Hamilton , a freelance motor sport writer and broadcaster since 1977, is the author of more than twenty books and contributes to websites and magazines worldwide.

His weekly column for Grandprix.com was Highly Commended in the 2011 Newspress New Media Awards.

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