Hungarian Grand Prix

When the Hungarian Grand Prix, also known as Magyar Nagydij, became officially part of the Formula One Championship series in 1986, it was the closest motorsport drivers could get to racing behind the Iron Curtain. In fact, throughout the entire history of the Hungarian Grand Prix, only one Hungarian driver has participated in his home circuit, being Zsolt Baumgartner in 2003 and 2004. Still, Budapest remains a popular F1 venue, not only for drivers but also for fans angling for Hungarian Grand Prix tickets.

Grand Prix Car
Photo Credit: Nick J Webb

The Hungarians actually held the first grand prix in 1936, and it was quite a success, with Mercedes Benz, Ferrari and Auto Union all participating, and drawing a sizable audience at the road circuit in Népliget park. However, another race didn’t follow until 1986 because of the war and ensuing political situation. Being the only grand prix in the Central and Eastern European area, especially after the closing of the Austrian Grand Prix, the Hungarian Grand Prix is often an event that nearby countries, especially Finland, Austria, Poland and Germany, look forward to.

The Hungarian Grand Prix is regularly held at Hungaroring, which was built only a year before the first Hungarian GP in 1986, holding the record for fastest construction of a grand prix circuit at eight months. The Formula One officials hoped for a circuit similar to that in Monaco, but the government decided not to have the Népliget rebuilt as a street circuit and appointed a space right outside the city.

Because of its location near a major expressway, and the fact that it isn’t used for any other racing event the rest of the year, the Hungaroring is a notoriously dusty and dry circuit. As the Hungarian Grand Prix is held every August, which is hot midsummer in Central Europe, there has not been a wet Hungarian GP until 2006.

The heat, dust and dryness, as well as the limited usage of the track, also make for interesting racing conditions. Tracks that are not used very often are known to start off slow, but build in speed after a day or so of racing. This is not the case with the Hungaroring because the 4.38 long circuit tends to get very dusty very quickly. Another challenge is that there are a lot of twists to the very tight track, and overtaking is rather difficult, despite modifications made to the track to allow space to pass. While it prevented Ayrton Senna from passing Thierry Boutsen, handing him first place in 1990, it somehow unfazed Nigel Mansell in 1989, who overtook one car after another, even sailing by Senna, again trapped behind a slow car.

Even though Senna was unable to overtake two years in a row, he secured his three wins at the Hungarian Grand Prix a year before losing to Boutsen and Mansell, and twice again, consecutively, afterwards. Michael Schumacher holds one win more than Senna, while drivers who have won twice at Budapest include Nelson Piquet, Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve and Mika Häkkinen.

Hill also won his first ever grand prix at Hungaroring in 1993, as did Fernando Alonso ten years later in 2003, prompting him to declare the Hungaroring as his favorite race circuit. In 2006, the first Hungarian GP that was rained in, Alonso and Schumacher were forced to retire from the unexpected weather conditions, giving Jenson Button his first grand prix win. The 2007 winner was Lewis Hamilton.

As most fans of the Hungarian Grand Prix come from neighboring areas, they are most likely to drive to Budapest, especially with a special road closed off for the Formula 1 championship called “Bernie Avenue.” You can also fly into Ferihegy International Airport from most European cities and some cities in North America. Alternatives to renting a car once you are in Hungary – Budapest is some 24 km from the airport – you may take the airport minibus into the city and travel by tram and subway for sightseeing and meals. A water park was recently built near the circuit, which many fans have come to appreciate as they can cool off at any time during the race, when the summer heat becomes too much to bear.

Opulent high class hotels are found surrounding the Danube; as you move further away from the center, you’ll find mid-range hotels and cheaper hostels that may be more to your liking. To get to Hungaroring from Budapest, you can catch the specially assigned buses that go straight to the circuit. Anyone on the street would know where these buses will be designated, or you could ask where they could be found when you buy your Hungarian Grand Prix tickets.

Although ticket prices were quite expensive in the early years of the Hungarian Grand Prix, general admission tickets are very affordable these days, and a good deal when around 65 percent of the track can be seen from most vantage points, since the Hungaroring was built over a natural valley. Grandstand tickets are divided into bronze, silver, gold and super gold, promising better and better views with the ascent of the price.

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