Aitken hopes to put South Korea back on Formula One map

·2 min read
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

(Reuters) - British-Korean driver Jack Aitken, overwhelmed by the response he received from fans in South Korea after his Formula One debut last year, hopes to use his newfound support to catch the eye of teams looking to tap into the East Asian market.

Aitken made his F1 debut for Williams at the Sakhir Grand Prix as a replacement for George Russell, who stood in for Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes after he tested positive for COVID-19.

Aitken, born in London to a Scottish father and Korean mother, said he had made waves in Korea despite a 16th-place finish in Bahrain.

"There was a big response – more than I expected – which was amazing because traditionally Formula One hasn't been as popular in Korea," he told the South China Morning Post.

"Interest in motorsport is still young. We do have a lot of Korean fans getting in touch and many who follow the races because of my heritage. I've had a lot of questions asking about how to get involved."

Formula One has long expanded from its European origins, with Japan added as the first Asian venue in 1976, followed by Malaysia, which later departed. China joined the list in 2004, Singapore in 2008, and there are now also races in the Middle East. South Korea hosted four races between 2010 and 2013.

Aitken said his focus would be to help increase motorsport's popularity in the region.

"It's well documented that motorsport is not cheap and you need to be able to be marketable," he said. "Markets in the East are very attractive and Korea is definitely high up on that list.

"If they (manufacturers) can utilise me to make themselves more marketable, that's a real plus."

(Reporting by Arvind Sriram in Bengaluru; Editing by William Mallard)