Hungary and motorsport has a very quiet but fruitful relationship which was showcased recently when Budapest played host to an incredible sporting exhibition that brought thousands of locals and tourists out onto the streets on a glorious spring day. Vodafone (sponsor of the McLaren Mercedes Formula One team) celebrated in style by promoting the sport and the team courtesy of British driver Jenson Button. Visitors had the opportunity to sit in last season’s race car, try a simulator challenge along with sampling a pit stop and donning Lewis Hamilton’s crash helmet before the main event of Button racing his car through the streets and past the tourist sights of downtown Budapest.
What most visitors to the Vodafone weekend would not have known is that whilst perhaps not as appealing as the elegance and scenery of the Monte Carlo coastline there is an uncanny similarity between the streets of Monaco and Budapest. Városliget (City Park) was one vote away from hosting the Hungarian Grand Prix when the decision was made to locate the Formula One spectacle in the outskirts of Budapest in the village of Mogyoród. The streets of Budapest did witness one street race back in 1936 but politics and the outbreak of war overshadowed the Mercedes and Ferrari event. Whilst the idea of a street race is appealing and adds a whole different perspective to the exciting and adrenaline fuelled sport any visitor to the Hungaroring circuit is still in for a fantastic race weekend.
The circuit (used since 1986) was the first to host a race behind the Iron Curtain of communism thanks to a Hungarian friend of Bernie Ecclestone recommending it over the USSR and is the 3rd most visited attraction outside of Budapest (the other two being Lake Balaton and the Danube Bend). Being located centrally in Europe is a big attraction for the visitors to this race but a unique feature of the Hungaroring not afforded by any other circuit on the calendar is the fact that from any given location around the grounds you can see approximately 80% of the race track; this is thanks to the fact it sits in a natural and lush hollow. When the weather is favourable (all but two races have been wet the first in 2006) there is a real party atmosphere on the grass banks and in the grandstands. Another great event associated with the race weekend is the Thursday ‘Driver Meet & Greet’. Visitors with a valid ticket for the race weekend have the opportunity to get up close and personal with the cars and drivers as they are granted complete access to the pit lane and home straight. Be sure to bring a camera as you will definitely be capturing some unique photographs of your heroes and their machines as they sign autographs and pose with fans.
Access to the circuit is easy and hassle free whether you are arriving by car, public transport or private helicopter. The motorway has special access lanes (with taxis given priority to take you straight to the circuit entrance), whilst the train from Budapest to Mogyoród will take around 40 minutes with a small 10 minute walk the other end to the circuit. If you are feeling very flash with the cash there are helicopter transfers available from downtown hotels in Budapest and this will take you straight into the circuit without any queues or delays.
Accommodation is readily available on a race weekend with many local houses offering camping pitches in their large country gardens; as well as these there are the official camp grounds around the circuit (although these can be a loud drunken affair at night). Hotels will offer packages to ticket holders along with the numerous self-catering apartments available for rent in the center of Budapest.
Whatever your budget, interests and expectations are you will experience nothing quite like the Hungarian Formula One Race Weekend and will have so many long lasting memories from a fantastic city and country. Book your tickets and come to Budapest… what are you waiting for?
Post and photos by Phil Watkins