In 2010, the Formula 1 circus finally came to Korea, with the inaugural Grand Prix taking place at a brand-new track just east of Mokpo. The first hosting of this event was fraught with problems: the track was only given its safety certificate days before the race, spectator enclosures were hastily put together, and there were only three acceptable hotels in the whole of Mokpo. Most fans, and even some VIPs, were forced to stay at love hotels – one BBC journalist returned to her room to find that it had been used in her absence (a used contraceptive on the floor providing the evidence).
Race day itself was also memorable for the wrong reasons. Traffic jams resulting from poor access to the track meant that thousands of spectators arrived late – and in some cases, not at all. Rain didn’t help matters, with the newly built track stubbornly refusing to drain; concerns about driver safety led to the race being delayed for over an hour, and at one point the embarrassing possibility of cancelling the event entirely was raised. In the end, the clouds parted, and after several notable drivers had spun off the slippery track Spanish driver Fernando Alonso emerged victorious.
Some, inevitably, questioned the wisdom of hosting the Korean Grand Prix in this out-of-the-way corner of the country – the simple truth was that Jeonnam province had made the most generous offer to the F1 powers. Despite these inauspicious beginnings, F1 is likely here to stay, and the lessons learned by local authorities will eventually make Mokpo one of the more comfortable stops on the motor racing calendar.