AUGUST 7, 1995

What you may not know about the Hungaroring

THE Hungarian Grand Prix is a leftover from the days when F1 took capitalism into the old communist Eastern Bloc, at the time a ground-breaking event.

THE Hungarian Grand Prix is a leftover from the days when F1 took capitalism into the old communist Eastern Bloc, at the time a ground-breaking event. The changing political map in Europe has meant that the race has lost its way, and the only reason it is still on the F1 calendar is that Grand Prix boss Bernie Ecclestone has a vested interest in keeping it alive.

Bernie knows it will not last long now. The facility is shoddy in comparison to other F1 tracks today; and the circuit layout has always been less than impressive, allowing almost no overtaking.

In 1983 Ecclestone had been trying to get a Russian Grand Prix off the ground in Moscow, but had met with no success and began to look at other Eastern European cities. Tamas Rohonyi, a Budapest-born advertising man from Brazil, who was involved in the Brazilian GP, suggested that Bernie look at the Hungarian capital. Ecclestone visited the city in the summer of 1983 and found support from the head of the Magyar Autoklub Tibor Balogh. A government study group was set-up, and after a couple of attempts to use street circuits fell flat, it was decided that a new circuit would be built. In February, 1985, the then-transport minister was appointed head of a consortium - Forma 1-GT - which would build the track. This involved a variety of major Hungarian companies which each paid $250,000. Local architect Istvan Papp was hired to design the track in a valley 12 miles outside the city near a new motorway.

The valley is known as Three Springs Valley; and on three sides of the track, the land slopes above the tarmac, allowing superb spectating. The construction was completed in seven months with 500 workers busy 12 hours a day, seven days a week. There was a slight delay when an underground spring was found and the track had to be rerouted around it, creating a double S section of track which was later removed when there was more time. The track opened in June, 1986, and the first race took place in August.

It was not in fact the first Hungarian GP because that took place in a park in the center of the city in 1936, being won by the legendary Tazio Nuvolari in an Alfa Romeo. There were other events in the 1960s at Ferihegy, Budapest's airport, and in the park which had been used in 1936.

The Hungarian GP of 1986 - the first F1 World Championship event to be held behind the Iron Curtain - attracted a vast crowd of almost 200,000 people and was won by Nelson Piquet in a Williams, with Ayrton Senna second. The following year the result was exactly the same, but in 1988 Senna led from start to finish. The 1989 event was a fabulous race during which Mansell charged from 12th on the grid to win for Ferrari, while 1990 saw a superb fight as cars queued up behind Thierry Boutsen. Boutsen kept his head and beat Senna by 0.3s.

Senna won the next two races; but in August, 1993, Hungary provided Damon Hill with his first F1 victory. The Hungarian GP, however, is not expected to continue next year. The track does not normally make for good racing and the Austrians, who lost their GP to Budapest in 1986, have completely rebuilt the Osterreichring and are already campaigning for a GP in 1996.