(a) Isn’t Formula 1 just a bunch of over-paid, over-sexed boy-racers pelting round and round a track 50 times? (b) Isn’t it just a really noisy and carbon-heavy touring circus? (c) When we need viable, eco-friendly ‘green’ cars more than ever, isn’t it a huge waste of money and engineering talent? (d) Isn’t the best thing about it just the glamour, girls and associated glitz, rather than the actual ‘skill’ of the ‘sportsmen’ involved?
(a)Yes, (b) Er…Yep, (c) Probably, and, (d) Definitely. BUT, when I went to Mokpo for the second ever Korean F1 Grand Prix, I must admit that, despite my reservations, I had a great time. As you might have guessed, I have never been a huge fan of Motorsport, but the fact my friend Andy wanted to go, and (especially) the fact I managed to blag a free ticket, convinced me that I should give it a try.
We travelled to Mokpo in style, enjoying the smooth comforts of the 300km/h KTX Train down to a rather rainy Mokpo. The F1 race last year was, famously, a complete wash-out, and we were concerned that it would be the same again, but we were lucky and most of the weekend turned out to be dry and pretty warm.
Mokpo itself is a city which has its own unique charms – it’s located right in the south-west corner of Korea, at the very end of the train-line, and it certainly has an end-of-the-line feel to it. It’s a little too small to be a major port-city like Busan, yet it’s a little too built-up to be a pretty seaside tourist destination either (there are hardly any beaches anyway). But, coming here for my second time, Mokpo has a grimy yet friendly atmosphere which I really like.
The city, like much of surrounding Jeolla Province, was overlooked and under-developed by the central government for decades, but now, with the F1 Race being situated just a few miles away, it appears it is getting some long-deserved payback. In Hadang-dong where we stayed, the motels, bars and taxi-drivers appeared to be doing a roaring trade, there was only one news story: The Formula 1 world tour had rolled into Mokpo!
The organisers had certainly made the most of the F1, and there was plenty to do (besides watching cars going really really fast). As well as the race, there was also a K-Pop festival at the F1 track on Saturday afternoon, and in Mokpo city itself, there was a Rock festival on both the Friday and Saturday nights. Friday night we hit the festival, watched a load of the bands (on an impressive big stage down by the seafront at Mokpo’s Peace Park) and got drunk with some of the young locals who were enjoying the free entertainment. We saw some decent artists, including heavy-rockers Schizo, and Chang Kiha and the Faces (check the video), who seemed to have everyone dancing, from teenage kids to old grandmas to foreign drunkards like me and Andy. Loved it.
Saturday, we went to the F1 site for the qualifying session, which is not the most exciting part of F1, but it was good to wander around the grandstand afterwards, to see the models and pit girls wandering around, and also drop in on the K-Pop festival and see the likes of girl bands Girls’ Generation and Das Sherbert, who both seem to be genetically designed to make teenagers scream, grown men drool, and who produce songs which won’t leave your head for days, no matter how little Korean you know.
The main race on Sunday was far more buzzing than the qualifying session, and there were lots more people knocking about, as you’d expect. But the organisers had laid on plenty of free shuttle buses from Mokpo city centre to the F1 site so there wasn’t too much queuing or traffic, considering there were maybe 100,000 punters all going the same way. For someone who’d only ever watched F1 on the TV, there is something about the power of those cars and the SHEER BLOODY VOLUME OF THE ENGINES!!!!! (earplugs are a must, natch) which you really can only comprehend when you’re there in the flesh.
The race itself went as predicted, and the German tour-leader Sebastien Vettel, who, having won the title at the Japanese Grand Prix only a week before, lead the race from the first lap and maintained first place until the end. Us Brits had something to cheer about too, as Lewis Hamilton came in second, and Jenson Button fourth.
After the race, we wandered around the grandstand for a while, polishing off yet more Magkeoli and beer whilst waving our flag, making it clear to all that we weren’t just tipsy foreign idiots, we were tipsy British idiots! Having exhausted the entertainment of the track site, we headed back to Mokpo, to clamber up Yudalsan. Seeing as we hadn’t done much in the way of sightseeing, we thought we’d go up this little hill on our last night. Yudalsan only takes maybe twenty minutes to ascend, but rewards you with superlative views over the city and some of the surrounding islands. Having ticked off this must-see-attraction-of-Mokpo, we returned to ground-level and to drinking, this time accompanied by some rather tasty Dak Dori tang, a spicy chicken soup with carrots and potatoe, and a particular favourite of mine. The evening descended into Soju drinking, more flag waving and general silliness before we finally called it a night.
I doubt I’ll ever really be a huge fan of F1, but I had a really good time at the Grand Prix and in Mokpo in general. Koreans sure know how to make good events into great events, with surprising ease: add a load of drinking opportunities, put on some live music, and put a few pretty girls around the place! Everybody wins.