In 2007 F1 had precisely one race around a harbour, flash forward five years and we have Yas Marina, Marina Bay, a harbour at Yeongyam (honest) and this weekend’s tour around the America’s Cup marina right here in Valencia
Somebody obviously decided that the thing F1 needs most of all is more boats.
You can see why: the boats berthed at Monaco, packed with the uber-wealthy and their beautiful friends is the image F1 wants to sell – this despite the fact that Wellington boots rather than Jimmy Choo kitten heels are the more usual attire at most traditional F1 venues.
But the idea that you can replicate the atmosphere and the glamour of Monaco simply by dumping a new track next to the water is just plain dumb. It’s like attempting to create a three-star Michelin restaurant by nicking the tablecloths from El Bulli. Or, perhaps the curtains, because the yachts and the harbour at Monaco really are just window dressing.
The real attraction of Monaco is being able to walk off the circuit and be instantly immersed in a town that for one week a year gives itself over completely to motor racing. In that regard, Monaco isn’t so far removed from the likes of Spa and the Nürburgring as people like to think.
Attempts to replicate Monaco have met with varying success. Yas Marina is actually a really, really good venue that’s properly incorporated the harbour into the design of the race track and paddock so the two merge together beautifully.
When the sun goes down the music on the boats fuses with the chatter from the teams eating dinner a few feet away in the paddock and everything seems very F1: At the other end of the scale there’s Yeongyam, where the only vessels on the horizon are the oil tankers heading into nearby Mokpo.
The description of the circuit thrown up by Wikipedia makes up in enthusiasm what it lacks in reality: The temporary part [of the Korea International Circuit][ is along the harbour side of the province where spectators from the promenade, hotels and yachts can view the race. Part of the city with possible exhibition facilities, shops, restaurants and cafes are utilized as the pit lane during the F1 Grand Prix weekend. Hmmm… well, I haven’t seen any yachts, there’s certainly no hotels and I’m not convinced about the spectators either.
It’s a question of character. Great race venues have it, bad ones don’t. It isn’t necessarily about great racing – Singapore hasn’t provided that but it’s still regarded as a great place to hold a race because it has the buzz and what it’s created is all of it’s own, rather than being a knock-off of somewhere else.
Valencia certainly tries hard enough but it isn’t very convincing. This is one of Europe’s great port cities: up there with Hamburg and Antwerp, Liverpool and the like. The City of Arts and Sciences and some of the modern architecture around town are fabulous but this isn’t a haven for glamour. Yes there are superyachts lurking in the harbour but there are also washing lines strung up outside the flats past which the circuit winds. Personally, I think that lends the Valencia Street Circuit much more charm than another fleet of anodyne Sunseekers.