Although a five-year deal to start in 2010 for the Korean Grand Prix was signed in 2006, the race did not appear on the provisional calendars issued in 2009. Not until the final calendar, in September 2009, was it included. But the doubts did not end there.
The organizer said that 38 days of rain during the summer had prevented work on the circuit from being completed. The International Automobile Federation kept extending its usual 90-days-before-the-race deadline for inspecting the circuit to see whether it was up to Formula One standards. It was not until 13 days before the inaugural race that officials arrived for the inspection, pronouncing it ready for the race.
But within Formula 1, there was still widespread skepticism. Here was a country with little racing history, planning to hold a race near a town, Mokpo, on the seashore at the tip of the peninsula, 400 kilometers, or 250 miles, south of Seoul, the capital and the more logical location. There was so little accommodation available in Yeongam, the area near the track, and in Mokpo that Formula 1 personnel and media were to be housed in so-called ''love motels,'' designed for one-hour rental and therefore with few amenities. Here was a country with little previous local interest in Formula One, and organizers were expecting thousands of spectators to buy enough tickets to cover the millions of dollars in fees it had paid to stage the race.
And despite a booming car industry, auto racing had begun in the country only a couple of decades earlier, and its most popular form was road-car racing, with Super 6000, a kind of stock-car racing, being the highest level, rather than Formula One's open-wheel version.
But one by one, the fears began to dissolve as Formula One personnel and media arrived in South Korea. First, the bullet-train ride from Seoul to the circuit was as easy and comfortable as a long commute. Second, Mokpo and the love motels, as odd and inappropriate as they might seem to the high fliers of Formula One, were not only workable, but Mokpo -- a vacation town -- had done all it could to greet Formula 1, even staging a street festival with several sound stages and live bands to coincide with the Grand Prix. The shuttle service between the track and the town worked, with taxis as an alternative.
For that first race, however, the track remained the least ''finished'' of the new Formula One tracks that had cropped up over the previous dozen years, and its design was the least impressive. But it was indeed ready.
Still, there was plenty of mud and no lighting at night between the paddock and the parking lots and shuttles. The working area around the track for photographers was crude, but team, track and media facilities were up to world standards.
The race itself then provided the least-expected kind of challenge, but it justified the local organizer's claim about rain delays: The race was run under a deluge. The start was delayed, and the first 17 laps were run as a procession behind a safety car -- with a more than 40-minute break because even that was too dangerous -- and then the race became one of attrition, taking out two of the four title-contending drivers. Mark Webber, in a Red Bull, crashed and lost his lead in the series to Fernando Alonso at Ferrari, who won the race.
The podium celebration took place in darkness, with television cameras barely able to pick it up. But the race had run, and it was not just a success, it was an unforgettable, thrilling, white-knuckle escapade.
''It is one of the most tricky-conditions victories I have ever had,'' Alonso said after the race.
Last year, Formula 1 returned to find that the previous year's efforts to finish the track on time appeared to have been the last such efforts. A photographer found a makeshift stool he had concocted to help him shoot over a track-side fence the previous year in the same spot, untouched. That summed it up.
The skepticism returned, and many people wondered whether the South Korean Grand Prix would be cut from the calendar. The local promoters complained that the fees for the race negotiated with Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula 1 commercial rights holder, were too high. Ecclestone renegotiated with them, allowing them savings of $20.5 million. Still, Kang Hyo-seok, the organizer, said the race expected to lose $26 million this year.
''We don't get too many fans at the race,'' said Michael Schumacher, the seven-time world champion who drives at the Mercedes team. ''It's a pity, because the circuit layout makes for good racing, but I think the situation is improving each year.''