Grapevine: Paddock Life: Yeongam edition

AUTOSPORT brings you its regular column of life inside the paddock. This week: Yeongam

Grapevine: Paddock Life: Yeongam edition

Formula 1 teams know a lot about under-promising and over-delivering. It is always better to do it that way around.

So while Korea may have had a pretty negative build-up to its inaugural grand prix, the fact that everyone's expectations were so low actually meant it turned into a positive - because the event over-delivered hugely and almost all of the F1 paddock left feeling the race could become one of the highlights of the calendar.

With weeks of uncertainty surrounding if the place would be finished on time, and horror stories about travel arrangements and poor quality accommodation, it was no surprise that everyone turned up in Korea bracing themselves for the worst.

The Yeongam track itself looked far from finished on the Wednesday, with the army called in to help construct grandstands - and there were plenty of infrastructure niggles like the team electrics, transport arrangements to/from the track and dodgy internet connections that did little to ease people's concerns.

Yet as the circuit knuckled down to overcome its growing pains, and race organisers did the right thing in apologising for any problems that people faced, the Korean International Circuit actually grew on people.

The track layout was one of Hermann Tilke's best yet, the enthusiasm from the local fans was just what F1 wanted and even the niggles about teams and media having to stay in 'love hotels' in downtown Mokpo did not matter by the end of the weekend.

There was even a huge novelty for the F1 journalists in the build-up to the race when South Korea's newly elected prime minister Kim Hwang-Sik took a tour of the media centre to shake a few people's hands and catch the latest gossip.

Race organisers have promised to learn their lessons from this first year, and with another 12 months to improve facilities at the track - and construct some proper hotels near the circuit - the F1 world will be heading back to Korea in 2011 with huge enthusiasm for the place.

Well done Korea - you've done yourself proud.

With a lack of accommodation near the track this year, those Formula 1 team personnel and media who were not lucky to get themselves a room in the one proper hotel near the track had to stay in the much talked about 'love hotels' for the weekend.

The experience was certainly unique - with the rooms that are commonly used by Korean couples not the sort of thing that is normally experienced at other F1 venues.

Each of these rooms was fairly similar - with mirrors on the ceilings and walls; baths for two people, perfume, ointments and other lotions on the desks, vending machines selling items you would not normally find outside an adult store - plus some fairly nifty bed clothing.

Stories emerged over the weekend of some less-than-scrupulous hotel owners sub-letting rooms out during the day to couples while F1 people were at the track - and a number of journalists were paranoid that had happened when they found opened cigarette packets on their bedside cabinets one evening. It was only when the hotel owners had had 20 angry complaints that a big sign was put up explaining that this has been a cigarette promotion, and not evidence of him trying to make a quick buck.

And although the hotels were a bit of a culture shock at first - especially for the team member who asked for a different room only to get one without a bed - by the end of the weekend the novelty had had actually been quite enjoyable.

Although The Times' F1 correspondent Kevin Eason may not quite agree - having slipped in his love hotel bathroom one night. He dislocated his thumb and has suspected broken bones in his hand. Not many other people in the world will be able to boast of having a 'love hotel' injury.

Formula 1 drivers can sometimes be asked to do some fairly boring things for promotional reasons - but all of them had a smile on their faces on Saturday when they were asked to provide some hand prints for the race organisers.

As a memento of the inaugural Korean Grand Prix, race organisers plan to create a permanent exhibition at the track - and wanted the hand prints from each of the 24 competing drivers to be a part of it.

So after qualifying they were all asked down to one end of the paddock to put their hands into special casts - and the grins on their faces were like they were back at school.

Mark Webber even raised a few laughs when, as he went up to do his hand print, he grabbed another part of his body and said: "How about this?"

Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone remains as sharp-witted and busy as ever - even though later this week he will celebrate his 80th birthday.

Although Ecclestone joked with a few journalists on Saturday that the only birthday present he wanted was 'just getting there', Red Bull Racing made sure to give him something a bit extra special on race morning.

After turning up in the Red Bull garage, Ecclestone was presented with his very own unique walking frame - just in case he ever needed any help in getting around.

The frame featured a Red Bull Racing front wing, some cans of the energy drink and a very special steering wheel that featured buttons for: Viagra, power, nurse, lawyer, accountant and his assistant Pasquale Lattuneddu.

Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner and driver Sebastian Vettel were on hand to give Ecclestone his gift - which he took in good humour.

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