Year after year, teams, drivers and fans saw the local environment and economy in Budapest develop and grow. For the series, that was best symbolized by the fading away of the former East bloc Trabant and Lada cars and their steady replacement by BMWs, Mercedes, Renaults and other cars from the West as the country quickly rebuilt itself and auto sales boomed.
In the meantime, as Formula 1 also expanded around the world, in several countries in Asia and the Middle East, and then even into China, the Hungarian Grand Prix ended up feeling like one of the old mainstay European races.
The Budapest track’s location, not far from the city center — it is only about 12 miles, away, also put Budapest at the forefront of a Formula 1 trend that saw venues setting races close to major urban capitals.
Some drivers, however, like to avoid the city and remain closer to the track.
“I stay in my motor home so I’m about 20 kilometers away from the city,” Rubens Barrichello, a driver at the Williams team, said of Budapest. “But I know the place quite well and my kids will be coming, so I’m looking forward to them also getting to know Hungary.”
The track sits in rolling hills, where spectators may see a far greater proportion of the track than at most other circuits. But the race has often been processional, run on a narrow, sinuous, and dusty track that made overtaking difficult. Although it has been partly redone in recent years, it remains one of the tightest circuits on the calendar, like Monaco, where it is almost impossible to overtake.
“I like the circuit even though it’s quite tricky and you need to find a good rhythm,” said Jérôme D’Ambrosio, a driver at the Virgin team. “It’s very similar to driving in Monaco — it’s twisty, bumpy and dirty off-line.”
But as a locale for tourism, Budapest is one of the best for Formula 1 travelers, and attracts more than 2 million tourists annually. The scenic center is divided between the former cities of Buda and Pest on opposite sides of the vast, majestic Danube, and straddled by several picture-postcard bridges, like the Erzsebet Bridge, the Chain Bridge and the Margaret Bridge, with its island in the middle of the river. The city is full of shopping areas, restaurants, bars and nightlife, most centered around the pedestrian walkway of Vaci Street.
A city of 1.7 million people, Budapest is the capital of Hungary and also its main cultural, business and economic area. The city also features such tourist destinations as the Buda Castle, dozens of geothermal springs, and it has the world’s second-oldest underground railway. The spectacular Parliament buildings, which are lit up at night, are the third-largest parliament complex in the world, and the city also features the world’s second-largest synagogue.
The Economist Intelligence Unit rates Budapest as the most liveable city in Central and Eastern Europe.
The communist era lasted from 1947 to 1989, when Hungary opened its border with Austria and thereby helped precipitate the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Soon, however, as the Hungarian economy grew, costs spiraled and the Grand Prix in Budapest went from being one of the cheapest races to attend to became one of the most expensive as hotels and restaurants jacked up their prices.
It is also a race at which tourists and the Formula 1 personnel must be particularly on guard against scams and thieves in the areas in the center of the city.
Finally, Budapest can be seen as a first step toward what will likely be a race in Russia in 2014. After all, the reason that the Hungarian race came about was that Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One promoter, wanted a race in Russia in the 1980s, but had to settle for Budapest.