This weekend marks the 32nd running of the Hungarian GP or Magyar Nagydíj as it’s known in the native language. Situated in the capital city Budapest, it’s hosted some classic grand prix, primarily at its current home, the Hungaroring. Remember Nigel Mansell’s sensational victory in 1989, or more recently that chaotic race that saw Sebastian Vettel win for Ferrari in 2015. It’s been a constant feature on the F1 circuit since 1986, but why is it such a draw for drivers and fans alike and where did this country’s passion for motorsport begin?
A solitary start
The first running of the Hungarian GP took place on June 21st, 1936. Unlike in the following years, the race was held at People’s Park or Népliget as it was known locally. The park, situated in the south east of the Capital, was originally opened to mark the 100th anniversary of the union of Buda and Pest, the two main regions of the city. It now hosts a night club but 81 years ago, the dancefloor certainly produced a different soundtrack, the sound of Grand Prix and sports cars.
The field was predominantly built up of Ferrari and privately entered Alfa Romeo P3’s as well as 8C-35 sports cars. Additionally, Mercedes Benz and Auto Union contributed their own entries, meaning the grid was of a largely German and Italian persuasion. The privately entered Alfa Romeo’s were driven by Brit’s however, including Austin Dobson. The home crowd of 100,000 would also have their hero, László Hartmann in the Maserati. Altogether there were sixteen entrants and one reserve driver.
The circuit was 3.1 miles length and the race consisted of 50 laps with a figure of eight layout. The race provided a wonderful backdrop to that year’s championship. As history would have it, Mercedes dominated the previous year with German, Rudolf Caracciola clinching the European title. Their main opposition was Auto Union and Bernd Rosemeyer. On a glorious day at the height of the Hungarian summer, Auto Union locked out the front row with Hans Stuck and Rosemeyer in first and second on the grid. Caracciola was on the third row, with Italian hotshot Tazio Nuvolari in the Alfa on row two. In those days, reliability wasn’t as consistent as it is today, so getting the cars set up for a race proved difficult. Out of the sixteen entrants, only eleven started the race.
On the banks of the infamous Danube, the race twisted and turned, much like the characteristics of the circuit on which it ran. Caracciola leapfrogged the German drivers to lead the race, but the pre- race favourite’s luck was to run out on lap sixteen due to an engine failure. After a close encounter with another Auto Union driver, Nuvolari chased down new leader Rosemeyer and on lap thirty-three, the job was done and the Italian took the lead. Like any Ferrari driver, Nuvolari pushed further ahead and won the race by just under fifteen seconds. What had been an iconic and well attended race, however, never featured again. The outbreak of the Second World War and a change in the country’s political views to a more nationalistic approach, prevented running of the Hungarian GP for fifty years until a pioneering move by a certain Bernie Ecclestone.
The Hungaroring Years
In 1986, the then executive of F1 made a bold move to re-instate the Hungarian GP. It was to be the first official Formula One race held behind the Iron Curtain. This was a move by Ecclestone that proved to be a masterstroke. A friend of Mr Ecclestone’s recommended Budapest to him after the chief of the sport wanted a race in the Soviet Union. Original plans to have a street circuit in People’s Park, similar to that of Monte Carlo, were thwarted early on. Instead in 1985, it was decided on a location in the North East of the city and there the Hungaroring was born. On August 10th, 1986, in front of over 200,000 fans, Brazilian Ayrton Senna won over 76 laps, the first race of its kind at the 4.014km circuit. The circuit has been modified slightly over the years; in 1989, the ‘S’ bends behind the pitlane were ditched and then in 2003 more fundamental changes to the pit straight and first corner were made to slightly improve the racing. Despite the changes, and its notorious reputation for a lack of overtaking (it’s nicknamed Monaco without the buildings), it has still managed to produce memorable races and moments for drivers and fans alike.
In the early years, battles between Nelson Piquet in the Williams and 1986 winner Aytron Senna dominated proceedings. Nigel Mansell had mixed fortunes at the Hungaroring. The year following Senna’s win, Mansell was leading the race with six laps to go until a wheel nut came loose and he was forced to retire. That bitter moment was matched and bettered by a sweeter experience two years later, when he fought from twelfth on the grid to storm to a win, passing Senna brilliantly in the process after the Brazilian made a rare mistake in Turn 3. Mansell was also crowned World Champion of 1992 in Mogyoród, something the great Michael Schumacher emulated nine years later. It’s also been the scene for maiden wins. Who could forget Jenson Button’s in 2006 for Honda, the first wet race at the circuit ever? Or Fernando Alonso’s debut win for Renault three years prior? I wonder what happened to those two?
In short, this twisty iconic track continues to produce outstanding races with stories that will be told for generations to come. Like any Grand Prix, it has made huge strides since its inception eighty-one years ago. With its beautiful location, dedicated and passionate fanbase combined with those memorable moments, it’s no wonder that F1 keeps returning to this bespoke part of Central Europe. One can only hope that this year’s race lives up to expectations. The F1 public is certainly hungry for more from Budapest.