Why the Hungarian Grand Prix is a must-see race

From the stands

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The Hungarian Grand Prix is dead boring, right? The Hungaroring is an overtaking-free zone and the locals are more interested in Norbert Michelisz’s touring car exploits than F1.

Madi Murphy (@LadyM) disagrees – she went to the Hungarian Grand Prix for the third time this year and says the combination of a great city and fantastic atmosphere at the track is not to be missed.

I love the Hungarian Grand Prix. Unlike many F1 fans, I’ve never found it to be a particularly dull race to watch on TV, and I’ve now had the privilege of attending three times. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

My three Hungaroring experiences have differed greatly. I first went in 2009, and had a brilliant weekend, but it was somewhat overshadowed by Massa’s accident. I will never forget the sickening feeling of sitting in a near-silent grandstand watching the medical helicopter take off, unsure of exactly what had happened and whether Felipe would live or die.

My next trip to Hungary, for the 2012 race, lacked drama of any kind. It was the only F1 race I’ve ever been to where I actually found myself thinking, ‘I bet this is really boring on TV’. Still, we came back for more. I think my friends and I will probably continue to attend the Hungarian GP for as long as it remains on the calendar – but I’m not sure we’ll ever have as amazing a time as we did this year.

In the GP3 paddock

One of my companions has a friend who works in GP3, and as a result we were lucky enough to get passes for the support-race paddock for the entire weekend. It was such a privilege, affording us a fantastic opportunity to get up close to the cars while the mechanics were working on them. We were also able to meet several drivers from the feeder series, along with commentator Will Buxton, which was brilliant as we’re huge fans of both GP2 and GP3.

An added bonus that we hadn’t anticipated needing was that the hospitality tents had an air-cooling system, and large fridges filled with complimentary bottles of water. Given the scorching temperatures over the weekend, having access to a relatively cool place to sit made a huge difference to our experience. But more importantly, being in the support paddock allowed us to witness the preparation of cars and drivers before they went out on track. It was a rare chance to see the sport up close and we loved every minute of it.

Excited as we were to be in the paddock, we wanted to watch as much on-track action as possible from our grandstand seats. But it soon became clear we were better off taking advantage of GP3′s hospitality for as long as we could. The suffocating heat was one thing – we retreated to the paddock during second practice as we were too hot and dehydrated to concentrate on the proceedings.

Following the action

Moreover, it was much harder to follow what was going on when we were watching it on track. This I discovered when I went to the Spanish Grand Prix earlier this year.

Now that FanVision is gone we spectators have to rely on track side commentary, which has obvious limitations. At the Hungaroring it was even worse than in Spain, as there was no radio frequency on which to listen to commentary (at least, if there was, we couldn’t find it) and the limited amount you can hear over the public address system is split between Hungarian, German and English, so it’s of limited use.

For this reason, we elected to watch the GP2 and GP3 qualifying sessions in the hospitality tent, where we at least had the benefit of live timing so could follow the action. When it came to F1 qualifying, though, nothing was going to keep us from the fantastic view offered by our seats in the Red Bull grandstand at the back end of the main straight. We were opposite a large screen so we could keep an eye on the lap times. Unfortunately only positions one to sixteen were shown, making it useless for Q1.

I spent the last few minutes of the session going through the list and trying to work out which two drivers (other than the Caterhams and Marussias) were in the drop zone. It was both frustrating and laughable – it’s quite strange that apparently no one in F1 thinks (or cares) about little things like this that would make the experience so much better for the fans at the track.

Action-packed GP2 race

After qualifying we were treated to one of the most exciting GP2 races I’ve seen. It was fantastic that so many fans stuck around to watch it – in previous years at the Hungaroring (and also at the Circuit de Catalunya this year) I’ve been saddened by how quickly the crowds disappeared once the F1 sessions are over. But even the late afternoon GP3 race drew a fair crowd this time, possibly helped by the fact that so many fans at Hungary are Finnish, and their compatriot Aaro Vainio was on pole. The Finns in our stand certainly seemed to relish his victory!

As hot as Friday and Saturday had been, Sunday was forecast to be hotter still. We knew we wanted to be in our stand by 12.30 for the F1 drivers’ parade, and that we’d remain there (in direct sunlight) until after the podium ceremony. So we somewhat reluctantly decided to watch the remaining GP2 and GP3 races in the hospitality tent.

It was a shame to watch the races on a television screen rather than live, but it turned out to be a unique experience in its own right and one that we didn’t regret. Drivers from both categories came into the tent to watch each other’s race – I found myself sitting next to Mitch Evans during the GP3 race, and then my friend ended up next to Davide Valsecchi for the GP2 sprint race. We certainly never imagined that we might one day watch these races in the company of the reigning champions!

During both races, we left the tent with about five laps to go and went to stand by the fence overlooking turn two, so that we could see at least a bit of live on-track action and cheer the drivers during the final laps. Once the GP2 race had ended, we bade farewell to the paddock and headed to our grandstand for the main event.

Bottas crossing the track

The F1 race was an exciting one, although I did find myself having some trouble concentrating due to the ridiculously high temperatures. I had to choose certain drivers to keep track of, and as a result there were a few things I didn’t really understand, such as how Ricciardo slipped so far back in the pack.

One thing I couldn’t help but notice was the massive gap from the Caterhams back to the Marussias, which developed almost immediately. It was a real shame, particularly considering how strong Marussia had looked earlier in the season; even compared with Barcelona I noticed a serious lack of pace. I hope they can develop the car after the summer break because it would be great to see a close fight between the two backmarker teams towards the end of the season.

About halfway through the race, we witnessed one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen at a grand prix. Valtteri Bottas’s Williams failed directly in front of our stand, and rolled a bit further down the grass beside the straight. After he’d got out, the marshals began pushing the car back up to a gap in the tyre wall. This itself is a little unnerving – I hate seeing marshals so close to the track while cars are racing (yellow flags were being waved but the cars still pass by at speed).

But what happened after the car was cleared away was just bizarre. During a brief gap in the traffic (given the shortness of the lap at this circuit, there wasn’t really a point when there was more than a ten-second gap between cars passing us), Bottas casually jogged across the track towards the pit lane. Before he’d even got to the barrier to vault over it, there were already cars on the bit of track he’d just been crossing; it was really alarming.

To make matters worse, he then strolled towards the pit lane as Nico Rosberg was entering the pits – I’m sure it wasn’t nearly as close as it looked, but from where we were sitting it appeared that Rosberg’s car came close to hitting him. It was scary to see. I have no idea whether drivers crossing the track on foot after retiring from a race is something that happens often, but it’s definitely something I’ve not seen before, and I really wasn’t comfortable with it at all.

Fantastic atmosphere

Overall the race was exciting and great fun to watch. As a Mark Webber fan, I was a bit sad that he wasn’t able to make it onto the podium because I’ll never see him race in F1 again. But I was pretty happy with the podium we got – and it was certainly popular with the majority of fans at the track.

One of the best things about the Hungaroring is the atmosphere – there’s always such a broad range of fans, with the usual suspects (Alonso/Hamilton/Vettel) receiving more support than most, but no one has as big a following as Kimi Raikkonen. The Finnish fans are great fun, and Raikkonen’s presence on the podium is guaranteed to be greeted with cheering, singing and dancing from almost the entire crowd.

There’s also a huge Polish contingent at Hungary every year, who even now bring giant Robert Kubica flags and banners. The whole weekend has such a party atmosphere, and I can’t see how anyone could fail to enjoy it (even if you’re dripping with sweat and sticking to your seat).

I would advise any F1 fan to go to the Hungarian Grand Prix. Apart from anything else, Budapest is such a stunning city, and its close proximity to the track means you can easily enjoy a superb holiday in the days surrounding the race weekend. This year, I couldn’t get a whole week off work, so I just went Thursday to Monday for the race, but even then I was able to enjoy four wonderful evenings in the city.

Accommodation is plentiful and caters to all budgets, and travelling to the track is fairly simple – a train journey and a walk will get you to the Hungaroring and back for about €15 (£13.11) for a three-day ticket – unless you want to splash out (relatively speaking) on cabs. At the track, the food and drink prices are reasonable, with ice creams, soft drinks and beers costing around €2 (£1.75) each. A real plus is that you’re allowed to take in as much food and drink as you want, so you can avoid the queues by bringing your own picnic. The facilities are pretty good, and this year there were even walk-through tents blowing a mist of cold water so that people could cool off – these proved to be life-savers.

Obviously, I had a lucky experience at this year’s Hungarian Grand Prix thanks to the support paddock passes, but having been before I knew this race is always a blast. It has the best atmosphere of any race I’ve been to, it’s right outside one of the best cities in the world, there are numerous great viewing areas and the tickets are great value.

I’ll certainly be going again next year, but having seen Lewis Hamilton take the chequered flag there all three times I’ve been, I’ll be crossing my fingers for a different winner next time. I’d really like to see how those Finns would party if their man made it to the top step!

Over to you

Have you been to the Hungarian Grand Prix? Share your experience in the comments or in the Hungarian Grand Prix forum:

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Images © Lotus/LAT, Williams/LAT, Caterham/LAT

14 comments on “Why the Hungarian Grand Prix is a must-see race”

  1. Good article and thanks for writing! One I’d love to go to.

  2. Last weekend was my first F1 GP. Also seated in the Red Bull grandstand. It was without a doubt really awesome. I agree it is a must see race. Though it took some time to get used to the heat and next time no pitwalk for me. People kept standing in front of the garages of the big teams. While at Sauber and Marussia you could actually stand in front of the garage and see some pitstop training. Was quite fun to see for once.

    Also, we were only allowed one bottle of water or any other drink per person. They did check bags, thoroughly in some cases. You were lucky you could bring as much as you could.

    1. @firebee

      Wow I had no idea some of the stewards were so strict about drinks. That’s terrible, especially when it was so hot! We had little keep-it-cool bags inside our main bags, and each of us had two or three cartons of fruit juice inside, plus a bottle of water each. None of the gate stewards checked our bags that thoroughly so I guess that’s why we got them through. It’s interesting to know that you’re not allowed to take that much in.

      I’m always amazed by the strictness of rules about drinks at events in hot countries. At the Australian GP, you’re not allowed to take in any ‘unsealed’ bottles of drink, so if you open your water to drink some while you’re in the queue at the gate, you have to finish it before you enter or the stewards will tip it all out before letting you in… which is totally insane given that Australia is in a pretty much permanent state of drought!

      The worst one I’ve ever been to for that sort of thing is Sepang, where you’re not allowed to take in ANY food or drink at all, and there isn’t even any point taking an empty bottle because there is no drinking water with which to fill it. You have to buy everything. Given the temperatures and humidity in Malaysia, I think it’s seriously dangerous to not allow people access to free drinking water. If you lost your wallet, or were foolish enough to not bring enough money, you’d actually be seriously endangering your health.

      Anyway, I’m glad to hear you had a good time at the Hungaroring. I agree with you about the pit walk – I think it’s good that you did it at your first GP, but it’s the sort of thing you don’t really need to do more than once! Those things get so crowded that most of the time you’re just looking at the back of other people’s heads.

      1. The organizers of the group I was with told us that last year at the Hungaroring stewards threw the screw caps of bottles away at entry. So we were prepared for some funny business with bringing in bottles before hand. The organizer told us it is each year different at the Hungaroring. A friend of mine had 2 or 3 1,5L bottles with him in his bag, he had to leave 2 of them behind or give them away. Each day his bag did get checked. They also checked my messenger bag once. And I did see them checking bags of other people too. In that heat, a bit too much if you ask me, let people bring what they want and need I think is best in such conditions.

        The 400 HUF for a bottle of water I thought was quite expensive too, by the way. The food in general left much to be desired in my opinion. Had some fries on friday but thats it. No big sausage etc. for me.

        Weird that they uphold such rules at the more hotter GPs. You’d think they would cool down on the rules and let people enjoy it to the max and mind their health too. Seriously irresponsible but there’s not much what we can do about that. Sepang was on my agenda because it seems one of the cheaper GPs outside of Europe but with what you said it seems it has some big downsides too.

        But all in all, it was a fantastic weekend. Had a sightseeing after the quali so did see some of the city too. Fisherman’s Bastion, Gellért Hill and a little bus trip through the Buda part. Definetly much more to see so a ‘true’ citytrip to Budapest is in order. And next year might just be the Red Bull Ring, Grand Prix wise.

  3. Daniel (@collettdumbletonhall)
    2nd August 2013, 17:49

    It’s the only race I’d actually want to go and see.

  4. Such a great article! Been two times there.
    Thank you!

  5. Very enjoyable read. Sounds like a fantastic weekend – especially being able to get so close to the GP2 and GP3 teams. Saturday’s feature race was excellent in the GP2 too.

  6. Thank you for taking the trouble to write a very interesting report.

  7. I really liked reading your report. I must say I enjoyed the race too :-)

  8. Great review. I’ll definitely consider Budapest for 2014 or 2015.

  9. A great review of the Grand Prix! I was also sat in the Red Bull grandstand so will add a few of my thoughts.
    I agree that the atmosphere in Budapest and at the Grand Prix is fantastic, its great to have a mix of Brits, Germans, Finns, Hungarians and everyone in between getting on and enjoying the event!

    The highlight for us was probably the Friday funnily enough! We met the Sky F1 crew and hung around in the background of their introduction to FP2 – Simon and Johnny Herbert were incredibly friendly/chatty and Johnny Herbert was happy to have a photo taken and sign tickets/programmes etc. after they had finished their live links for TV. We also saw Jacques Villeneuve who, funnily enough, very few people seemed to actually recognise as he walked through the general admission area between the paddock and the circuit grounds.

    I was also fortunate, through the “Team McLaren” website to go on a McLaren paddock and garage tour on the Friday after FP2 which was the highlight of the F1 weekend! Being in Jenson Button’s garage after a session with the car being worked on was unforgettable! We also saw a couple of drivers (Hulkenberg & Kovalainen) and also Martin Whitmarsh. We also saw Sky preparing for the F1 Show and Anthony Davidson was really happy to let us watch him preparing with the ‘sky pad’.

    I really recommend people look at the “Team McLaren” website as it offered me the kind of access to the paddock and a team like McLaren that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible!

    The race was excellent! Although I had exactly the same thoughts as you when we watched Bottas’ car being pushed by the marshals (we were sure it would bring out a safety car!) and also were surprised when he casually looked right and then jogged across the track and then across the pitlane whilst the race continued!

    After Lewis had crossed the finish line it was great to get down to the circuit in front of the podium in time to see the three drivers come out for the celebrations – being on the track to see this really adds to the atmosphere (although the jog up the start-finish straight in almost 40 degrees was not something I am in a rush to repeat!!).
    I know there is sometimes debate as to whether the podium interviews are a good idea or not but they really allow fans at the track to see more of the drivers they have come to see!

    Some of the photos I took if you are interested, I’m particularly happy with the podium photos : )
    Podium: http://flic.kr/p/foFtSS
    Champagne: http://flic.kr/p/foriiH
    Lewis and Seb: http://flic.kr/p/foFxbo
    Bottas crossing the track: http://flic.kr/p/foror8

    All the photos I took from the weekend: http://www.flickr.com/photos/_chrisuk/collections/72157634962497908/

    I can’t recommend the Hungarian GP enough! We paid approx. £130 for our tickets (booked as an ‘early bird’ price) – this included reserved seats for the whole weekend at the final turn with a view of the pit lane entrance and also the back half of the grid for the start (interesting to see the cars being prepared on track for the start!). I have worked out that shopping around for flights and hotel with these tickets can be roughly equal to the better seats and camping at Silverstone – we also enjoyed a few days in Budapest itself which is also recommended!

  10. My 3rd track in addition to Spa and Buddh. Spa was damn cold – we were freezing at 6 degree C with an added chill factor. And Hungaroring was scalding hot at 40 degree C. And on top of that, we went for the General Admission tickets – so pretty much had to stand in the sun.

    But it was an awesome experience. The crowd is quite quiet, but the overall atmosphere is great. We got places to stand near the grand stand and we could even see one of the pit stops. Food et al are easily available and reasonably priced. We drove from Budapest and got a 10 euro parking below a tree.

    And the city is great. Just love the place.

  11. My first (and only) GP was there in 2011 and it was better than other years thanks to sporadic raining during the main race.

  12. After the first corner it’s tedious. The race could easily be cut to one lap and still have the same result and the same amount of racing as it has in 70 laps. Hungary might be a great place to visit but the track needs a lot of work to make the race worth watching.

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