Passing is impossible in Hungary – and that’s straight out of the book of universal truths, chapter one. It’s a point well worth making, as the track located just to the east of Budapest seems to have been specifically created to encourage high-speed traffic jams, with the sort of processions that only a technical problem, driving mistake, or minor miracle can disrupt.
The Hungaroring is essentially a series of corners, none of which are sufficiently quick to give the drivers sleepless nights, on either side of the single short straight that makes up the start-finish. The track is pretty narrow (apart from that solitary straight) and above all there’s only one real racing line – which is about the width of a car. Off the line, there’s all sorts of dirt and debris. This makes it not really worth going there, as the grip just disappears.
All these factors often mean that the Hungarian race is a fairly boring affair. Overtaking – the very thing that makes races exciting – is quote a rare commodity. But the very first grand prix in Hungary was something that was truly out of the ordinary. It was 1986: the Berlin Wall was still standing firm and the sudden arrival of Formula 1 behind the Iron Curtain seemed almost like a transgression of the Warsaw Pact: an attempt to break the deadlock of the Cold War. The media centre was even run by a somewhat terrifying colonel from the Hungarian army – Erika Laszlo – who ruled over the journalists as if they were her personal cadets. The whole operation was a paradigm of military precision. Normally in those days, if you wanted to use the telex or fax machines – or even the telephone sometimes – you needed luck on your side. But at the Hungaroring, everything ran like clockwork. It was the race itself that attracted the most attention though.
That was down to two Brazilians, Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet, who lined up alongside each other on the front row for what looked set to be a race that would be decided by the first corner. For 32 laps, that’s exactly how it was: Senna’s Lotus got the better start, and occasionally allowed the Williams of Piquet to close to within a few centimetres, bit never more. Piquet wasn’t one to abide by conventional wisdom, however – both on and off the track. At the end of lap 31, he decided to make a move. And given that there aren’t really many places where it’s possible to overtake at the Hungaroring, he chose a place that was definitely impossible: around the outside at the corner immediately after the pits straight.