Leaving aside Europe, grand prix racing already had a home in America (albeit in South America: the United States still had a somewhat lukewarm view). Africa had also formed part of the calendar thanks to various races in South Africa – although the sport hadn’t travelled there in a while. Japan had been on the schedule since 1976, and there was already talk of an Australian Grand Prix. So at the beginning of the 1980s, the final frontier was definitely Russia – or, more specifically, Moscow. This could have made global rather than merely sporting history, with a specifically designed circuit running through the Red Square itself. With a bit of luck, it could even have been the final nail in the coffin of the Iron Curtain, which was already beginning to crumble around the edges. As has so often been the case though, Russia resisted. Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika accelerated relations with the west, but the concept of a grand prix in the shadow of the hammer and sickle still remained a dream. In fact, it was a project that never materialised for another 30 years or so, and a long way from Moscow: in Sochi after the 2014 Olympics.
When Formula 1 first breached the Iron Curtain, it almost came by surprise. The initial inroads were made in Hungary, or rather Budapest: the first major European capital to host a grand prix circuit in the modern era. As such it inherited the mantle of Madrid (which used to hold races at Jarama) and, many years earlier, Bern: the former home of the Swiss Grand Prix. Budapest was a forward-looking city that already had its eyes on the opportunities offered by post-communist consumerism. Bernie Ecclestone, as well as the sport’s key sponsors and Formula 1 generally, were delighted to be there.
The actual circuit already existed but it was extensively reworked for the first-ever grand prix in Eastern Europe. On Thursday 7 August 1986 the F1 circus got to see the twisty layout of the Hungaroring for the first time, with its rollercoaster crests set in a natural green valley to the west of Budapest. Hungary sent out a clear message in distancing itself from Moscow politically, at a time when glasnost was a buzzword within the Kremlin, but many people still struggled to put it into practice. Furthermore, Russia was very much in the spotlight that year because of the Chernobyl disaster, whose (literal) fallout was still a major cause for concern throughout Europe. This was especially the case in Budapest and its surroundings, which, all things considered, wasn’t too far away from the scene of the disaster.