Mark Webber aims to keep his Formula One championship lead over four rivals in unchartered waters at the inaugural Korean Grand Prix on Sunday.
The 5.615-kilometres track has barely been finished as the nod from the ruling body FIA for the third-from-last season race came as late as last week.
Teams and drivers only know the course from simulator tests, making practice on Friday and Saturday even more important than at other race weekends.
Drivers said they like the design of the track, which features flowing turns, hairpins as well as a 1.2km straight. But they will struggle with grip early on because the course is new.
Webber leads a dramatic title race with 220 points from his Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, who have 206 each.
The last two world champions, McLaren partners Lewis Hamilton (192) and Jenson Button (189), are also not out of the frame.
Webber vowed that he will not back down to protect his slim lead against the charging Vettel and the other rivals.
“If there’s a point in the future where we have to race each other again, we will do what we always do, which is try to get the best result out of whatever situation we have, irrespective of whether I’m racing Fernando or Lewis or JB or Seb,” the 34-year-old Australian said.
“I know I need to finish races ... but you are not going to give up positions either.” Vettel and Webber famously collided at the Turkish Grand Prix and Red Bull officials are not speaking out a team order in either driver’s favour.
“There will be no team order from our side. The driver who makes the least mistakes and is faster should, or will, win,” Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz told DPA.
But resurgent Alonso also has high hopes after winning three of the last six races and making the podium in two others. Ferrari will feel reminded of 2007 when Kimi Raikkonen stole the title in the last race for them ahead of Hamilton and Alonso who were both driving for McLaren at the time.
Hamilton needs a dramatic turnaround if he wants to stay in the title hunt, losing his championship lead in recent weeks after failing to finish twice and coming only fifth in Japan.
But the two McLaren drivers will be out of contention if Webber wins (worth 25 points) and they don’t do well.