Located 20 kilometres from the centre of Budapest, the Hungaroring has often been described as ‘Monaco without the walls’. Its twisting and technical layout is one of the hardest of the season for overtaking, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t played host to some fantastic races over the years.
As the final race before the summer break, the Hungarian Grand Prix is usually blessed by sunshine and high temperatures. But rain has frequently added a twist to race day, as in 2006 when Jenson Button came from 14th on the grid to take his first win for Honda, or 2014 when Daniel Ricciardo won another eventful encounter in mixed conditions.
Then there was 2021, and a chaotic start on a damp track that eliminated many of the frontrunners, before the bizarre sight of Lewis Hamilton taking the standing restart all by himself as everybody behind pitted for slick tyres – led by the eventual first-time winner Esteban Ocon.
Despite the difficulty in overtaking, track position isn’t always everything even in the dry. A clever strategy can also present you with opportunities, as Hamilton demonstrated in 2019 when he pitted for fresh tyres with 12 laps to go and chased down Max Verstappen to claim victory.
What makes the Hungaroring difficult to overtake also makes it one of the most demanding circuits for the drivers, with some such as Fernando Alonso comparing it to a karting track: “It’s a circuit where there isn’t much time to breathe with lots of tight corners,” he says. “It feels like a big go-kart circuit. We all love driving there because I think the driver has a quite a bit more input than some circuits.”
It’s the middle sector of the track that is particularly busy, not only for the drivers but also for the tyres, which are being constantly worked around most of the lap. A good rhythm here is crucial to lap time, because getting slightly off line in one corner can totally ruin the next one.
A good run through the long final corner onto the pit straight is crucial to setting up an overtake into Turn 1, which was moved down 200 metres in 2010 and tightened to improve passing opportunities. The following Turns 2 and 3 provide further chances for overtaken drivers to fight back and for extended side-by-side action. It’s hot, and breathless.
Budapest is well-known as one of the cultural capitals of Europe, and with good reason as there’s plenty to keep a visitor entertained – from the highbrow to the informal. There’s a massive variety of museums in the city centre, ranging from the Hungarian National Gallery to the Pinball Museum (or the House of Terror). Aviation enthusiasts – there’s a surprising number of them in F1 – will enjoy the Aeropark close to the airport, which also contains an interesting selection of Soviet era aircraft.
Perhaps the best way to soak up the atmosphere is to wander down the river thoroughfare in the city centre, which separates the ancient towns of Buda and Pest, now combined to give Hungary’s capital its name. It’s lined with bars and restaurants, and a great area to spend an evening.
The most famous bars in Budapest are the so-called ‘ruin bars’: watering holes that have sprung up in seemingly derelict buildings and have now become as defining a characteristic of the city as goulash.
The perfect way to unwind after a hot and intense day at the race track is to visit the city’s historic thermal baths: conveniently located on the way to and from the circuit. It’s part of Budapest tradition, and – if your system can cope with being plunged alternately into hot and cold water – surprisingly relaxing.
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