LONDON (Reuters) - The apparent return of the Korean Grand Prix next year may have more to do with engine regulations than any real intention to revive an unloved race and stretch the Formula One calendar to a record 21 rounds.
South Korea was the surprise inclusion on the calendar published on Wednesday, with the race subject to confirmation.
There was no Korean race this year, with local promoters chafing at the hosting fees while teams and sponsors were relieved to be spared the dubious delights of Mokpo in the country’s far south.
If there is any serious intention for it to return, on the weekend before the first European race in Spain, then it will be a challenge for teams who have previously resisted stretching the calendar beyond 20 rounds.
It could also be tricky for Korean promoters, who have less than five months to get everything ready and sell tickets for the May 3 race.
But the immediate reaction to the news was one of scepticism with insiders pointing instead to the engine rules as the real reasons for the ‘return’, even if commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone may also have had contractual issues to address.
Article 28.4 of the 2015 sporting regulations stipulates that “each driver may use no more than four power units during a championship season”, or one less than in 2014.
However the same article adds that “this number will be increased to five if the number of events in the championship, as originally scheduled, exceeds 20.”
The key words are ‘as originally scheduled’ and scheduling Korea, even if the race does not happen, should be enough to ensure the allocation of power units stays at five.
With rule changes requiring unanimous agreement from the teams at this late stage, it is simpler to tweak the calendar instead.
One team source, who doubted the Korean race would happen, said it was all about engines and called the calendar ”an elegant way of avoiding bargaining’.
The original 2015 regulation was laid down before the new V6 turbo hybrid power units were introduced this year and the extent of the problems suffered by some manufacturers became apparent.
Red Bull’s quadruple champion Sebastian Vettel was among several drivers to incur penalties for exceeding his engine allocation.
With Renault and Ferrari pushing hard to catch up with dominant Mercedes, there have been calls to keep the allocation unchanged and that was discussed last week at a strategy group meeting.
Honda are also returning with McLaren next year and there were fears that if their power unit proved initially uncompetitive the sport had to be seen to be supportive or risk deterring others from entering.
It is also worth bearing in mind that last year’s draft calendar originally had 22 races before Korea, New Jersey and Mexico dropped off the final version in December.
That calendar included an unlikely ‘triple header’ of races with Monaco, New Jersey and Canada on successive weekends.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris