No fast corners, no point on the track where an F1 car could truly be let off the leash on the extreme border of adhesion that separates the mere drivers from the champions. But that’s just how the traditional venue for the Hungarian Grand Prix is. In total, there are basically 4.381 metres of corners with just one real straight parallel to the pits. Then a gradual rise all the way to the top of the hill, followed by a non-stop succession of bends. All of them are slow corners though – or slow to medium corners, more or less guaranteeing a procession where overtaking is tricky to say the least. This is exacerbated by the fact that, particularly in hot conditions, the racing line becomes extremely narrow. Placing a wheel off that line – which quickly turns dirty and slippery – makes the whole exercise a game of chance. This has characterised the entire history of the Hungarian Grand Prix. By starting in front, half the job of winning the race is already done: limited overtaking opportunities and results decided by pit stops have more or less been the tale of all the races run since 1986 right up to the present day. More or less of course, because there have been some notable exceptions.
The first happened straight away: in the very first year of the race. Ayrton Senna was on pole position, with his Lotus propelled by Renault’s six-cylinder turbo engine, which at the time was right up there in terms of maximum power, even if it left something to be desired in the way that the power was delivered. Alongside him on the first row was Nelson Piquet, in the Williams-Honda. As expected, they proceeded in single file for 32 of the 76 scheduled laps: Senna in front, taking advantage of all the corners to maintain his advantage by sticking religiously to the racing line, despite rivals equipped with a potentially more effective package. Then, on the straight, the sheer grunt of the Renault was enough to keep everything under control. Behind him though, Piquet was pushing as hard as possible. His Williams had the upper hand when it came to both chassis and aerodynamics. Piquet was definitely in a position to be quicker than Senna, but he simply couldn’t find the space to mount a concerted attack.
Then it all happened at the end of lap 31. Piquet finally managed to get a great tow heading downhill onto the start-finish straight. When it came to the braking area at the end of it he made his move – but not down the inside of the right-hander following the straight, as you would expect. Instead he went to the outside of the corner. So late was his braking that the Williams was nearly pitched into a spin, while Senna, on the inside, managed to hold onto the lead. It all seemed to be over then: Piquet by some miracle managed to save the car from the near-spin, while Senna seemed to be even more comfortable out in front. But just one lap later Piquet tried exactly the same move all over again: same braking point, same near-disaster. This time, however, Piquet simply kept his foot in: he negotiated the entire outside of the corner on the sort of opposite lock normally seen in rallying, but somehow kept a semblance of control to finally get past Senna – who could hardly believe what he was seeing. The rest of the race was run in single file once more, but in the opposite order to the way it had been earlier. The superior chassis of the Williams allowed Piquet to stay in front for the remaining 44 laps and claim the win by more than 17 seconds. It was a day in which the privileged spectators witnessed a driving master class, with the driver going beyond the limits of what was technically possible.