Look back in history Sunday: The Enigma of the Hungarian Grand Prix

| Photographer Credit: Marcus Brandt/Bongarts

Of all the years that I have been subjected to lack of sleep due to my love affair with Formula One and living in the Southern Hemisphere, some of the fondest memories have been waking up my young son at an early hour, putting the jug on and watching the latest Grand Prix.

Admittedly, the VHS machine made it easier, the difficulty was setting both the machine to record the right channel at the right time and then the alarm clock in order to wake up in time to watch the GP, have breakfast and get the children packed off to school before the bell went.

This was actually easier than my pre-SkySport days when I relied on my sister to record the race overnight, put the VHS cassette in her mail box, pick it up after work, having avoided all Monday radio news bulletins, then sitting down to watch it after tea with the kids finally tucked away in bed. Having successfully negotiated the day seem to give an even greater enjoyment to the said Grand Prix. Unfortunately there were several times on a post-Grand Prix Monday, when visiting a client, the news would come on the radio playing in the background and somehow the ears would tune in to the news of the latest Grand Prix winner.

There was and still is something special about the traditional Grand Prix venues. They capture an essence that the more modern circuits – Shanghai, Kuala Lumpar, Sochi, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain just don’t have. It is a bit like comparing Teretonga Park in Invercargill with the Highlands Motorsport Park, further up the road in Cromwell. Walk across the track to the Teretonga in-field and you can feel the history that has gone before. Highlands is beautiful, but far to young.

Monaco can be mystic, Monza is electric, Spa is exhilarating, Silverstone is like going home, Jerez is completely Spanish, Hockenheim is a forest of noise, Spielberg was more often wet and Magny-Cours is always very French. Then there is the Hungaroring. It reminds me of the USSR in that it can be completely drab.

In those years of collecting the VHS tapes from the letter box or waking my son early to watch the Hungarian Grand Prix, one was always praying for a wet race. Why, because in the dry it has produced some of the most boring and processional races. Too often is the memory of the race being over once the field went through the first corner on the opening lap.

I must admit that in the past decade, there have been some great races in the dry, around the Hungaroring. Look back in history and the stand out race was in 1997 when current World F1 champion, Damon Hill (main picture) put his Danka Arrows Yamaha third on the grid and nearly pulled off a Grand Prix win for Tom Walkinshaw’s outfit.

Hill had been dropped by Williams-Renault halfway through the 1996 season (before going on to win the driver’s title) in favour of Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Hill was to win the 1996 driver’s title and ended up signing with Walkinshaw. In today’s terms, it would be a bit like Lewis Hamilton driving for Haas F1.

The Arrows had proven to be both unreliable and uncompetitive, but Hill found himself comfortably leading most of the race. It all looked too good to be true and the unreliability kicked in towards the end of the Grand Prix. Hydraulic failure resulted in soon-to-be world champion and Williams driver Jacques Villeneuve passing Hill on the final lap. Still, second for Hill and almost a win made for a momentous occasion.

Those ‘VHS days’ of Formula One have some superb memories, none more so than the that day in 1997 at the Hungaroring. And that is the enigma of the Hungary Grand Prix.

Benjamin Carrell

Benjamin Carrell is a freelance motorsport writer and currently edits talkmotorsport.co.nz. He writes for a number of Kiwi drivers and motorsport clubs. That's when he's not working in his horticultural day-job or training for the next road or mtb cycle race!


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