Drivers have been known to describe the Hungaroring as ‘Monaco without the walls’: that’s a fair description of the tight, twisting circuit on the outskirts of Budapest.
Constructed in the mid-1980s when Formula 1 took a risk and ventured behind the Iron Curtain, the Hungaroring and the Hungarian Grand Prix have been ever-present on the calendar since 1986.
While not quite a Monaco replica, the Hungaroring is a maximum downforce circuit. Teams will setup with a strong front end to counter plenty of understeer – but also soften their suspension settings to allow drivers to ride the kerbs through the middle of the lap.
The circuit has more corners than was originally the case but the original character remains intact. For Formula 1 the Hungaroring is like a scaled-up karting circuit: an excellent challenge for a qualifying lap, but sometimes frustrating in a race situation where overtaking opportunities are few and far between. That said, recent years have seen dramatic conclusions. While DRS has proved ineffectual in Hungary, the circuit supports a variety of tyre strategies which has made for tense and very watchable races.
The Hungaroring is a special place for Fernando, who took his debut F1 victory at this circuit in 2003 – at that time the youngest winner of a grand prix. The same applies for Jenson in a Honda in 2006. McLaren has a record 11 wins in Hungary to its name – a list that also includes the sport’s first victory for a hybrid car.
McLaren’s history at the Hungarian Grand Prix
Ayrton Senna was the first McLaren driver to triumph on the tight and twisty Hungaroring, winning the race from pole position in 1988. Team-mate Alain Prost finished close behind for a one-two result.
Senna won again in 1991 after fending off strong challenges from Williams duo Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese.
Mansell put up a strong challenge a year later in 1992 after Senna and team-mate Gerhard Berger muscled their way ahead of him at the start. But Senna was not to be beaten and became a three-time Hungarian Grand Prix winner, while Berger came home third after Mansell managed to retake second place from him.
Mika Hakkinen drove off into the lead from pole in 1999, but team-mate David Coulthard dropped back a couple of places after starting third. He jumped Giancarlo Fisichella and Heinz-Harald Frentzen in the pits, hunted down Eddie Irvine, pressured him into a mistake and took second to complete our second one-two at the Hungaroring.
Hakkinen repeated his previous year’s success in 2000. Although he didn’t start on pole, he passed Michael Schumacher at the start to take the lead. Coulthard was on Schumacher’s tail for much of the race and could have passed if he hadn’t been held up lapping slower cars.
It was one of our drivers who took the fight to Schumacher once again in 2005 when Kimi Raikkonen leapfrogged him in the pits and raced off into the distance. He finished 35 seconds clear of the Ferrari driver.
Two years later in 2007 it was Lewis Hamilton who fended off everything Raikkonen, now driving for Ferrari, could throw at him. He took the third victory of his stellar debut season after starting from pole position.
Hamilton’s team-mate Heikki Kovalainen won his maiden Formula 1 race in Hungary in 2008. He started second on the grid behind Hamilton. Both drivers were passed by Ferrari’s Felipe Massa at the start, but he dropped out and Hamilton had a puncture so Kovalainen won 11 seconds clear of Toyota’s Timo Glock.
Hamilton made it three Hungarian Grand Prix wins in a row for us in 2009, marking the first-ever victory for a KERS Hybrid-powered car. He overtook Red Bull’s Mark Webber in sublime fashion early on in the race to take second and set off after Fernando Alonso’s leading Renault. Alonso retired soon after and Lewis remained unchallenged for the race lead.