Seeing as this may be the last year for the running of the Hungarian Grand Prix I thought perhaps I would share some of my memories of the track.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of Formula One racing behind the 'Iron Curtain'. It is most likely it's last as well. Despite negative comments about the track by drivers and television fans the Mogyorod circuit was built with the ticket buying fans in mind. Located in a hilly countryside, Hungaroring winds its way in a natural amphitheater setting where the track is visible regardless of the cost of your seats. But as a foreigner one had to accept certain limitations when attending this race.
You must make arrangements for your tickets outside Hungary. Bernie Ecclestone decided early on that the Hungarian people as a whole were not rich enough to actually buy, especially start line grandstand tickets! Only pain and frustration ensued if you arrive a couple of weeks early only to discover that you will be unable to buy $200 tickets until Thursday before the race, and only then if they were not sold out in a foreign land.
I can remember spending three hot days in July 1991, suffering from food poisoning, scrambling through the streets of Budapest in search of the elusive Gold tickets. I Searched every automobile association, hotel, F1 sponsor, and tourist information center in the city only to be told by a passerby, after screaming profanities into my warm Austrian beer, that Bernie will not release the tickets to be sold in Hungary until the week of the race. Considering that the Gold seats were more than half empty that year it served him right. Somebody had forgot to inform him that Hungary had thrown off the shackles of communism and an entire generation of rich people were already sprouting by that summer.
The Hungarian Grand Prix was absolutely the worst venue to carry home souvenir bootie. The only people with anything to sell of quality were the Austrian beer vendors. The vendors unabashedly charged more in the compounds where ticket prices were higher. Everything from coke, burgers(pork at that!), souvenirs, and the price to pee were all considerably higher. What shocked me the most was the pro- rated charge to use the washroom, which for the guys was nothing more than a horse trough. I would not even begin to imagine what the women were subjected to. On Friday the charge was 10 forints without the bumwad, on Saturday the price rose to 15 forints, and on raceday 20 forints. This cost would increase if you required a sheet of 2-ply from the little old lady sitting by the door! After two GPs at the Hungaroring all I have to show for it are three cheap T-shirts with Marlboro plastered on them, a Phillips poster, half-sized Ferrari flag, and a foam filled bum pad with Forma-1 emblazoned in tiny letters! That and a guest appearance in a cheaply produced Canadian-French co-production miniseries entitled "Formula One".
Perhaps what I remember the most is the trek to the track which the Hungarian officials figured would be used by the Hungarians themselves(or fanatical foreigners like myself on a cheap budget). My first race at Mogyorod in 1987, the Hungarian Government aimed to please. Buses left the center of Budapest every ten minutes regardless if they were filled to capacity or not, traveling a route closed to other traffic. These buses flew down mainstreets and a country highway to get you there within a half hour, with the aid of Budapest's finest. All for the price of a measly buck.
The bus would drop you off in an empty parking lot near the main gate and you were within site of the Paddock. When democracy finally came to Hungary, the whole pictured changed. That half hour ride turned into a grueling odyssey through tortuous neighborhoods, transfers from the metro to suburban trains, and a two hour milkrun before you finally disembarked at the temporary train stop setup specifically for the race.
Only shock can describe what a tourist on his first visit to Hungary thought as he stepped down from the train and looked ahead into the vast fields to hear far off in the distance the faint roar of engines as the cars were preparing for pre-qualifying. My first reaction was ' how do we get there from here?' Luckily I was not shocked. Having been in Hungary for two months I had become hardened to such things, and often expected it. I followed the crowd through a beaten down path through a corn field only to find an entrepreneur buried deep within selling cold coffee and warm Pepsi. As the single file progressed through the deep vegetation many of those in front were scrambling back towards us. As I strained to see the commotion I saw an old man brandishing a horse whip swinging it wildly over his head beating back the weary race fans! I did not stick around to investigate further and fled in terror with the rest of them.
We eventually found an alternative route through a rural village, while being chased by irritated dogs and some very nasty roosters. One of my companions not able to run fast enough had her heels pecked at by an angry rooster! I could only chuckle at what the next trainload of fans were going to face when they disembarked. I made some remark about 'Pakistan' which needless to say did not go over well with my Hungarian friends. With the sun beaming down it was with exhaustion I plunked my arse in my $200 grandstand seats after covering 4 km to get there. And this was only Friday, we had to go through all this twice more!
By 1991 it had become vogue to storm the race track after the completion of a race. It is the only way people like me could ever come close to the cars. I was one of the first to cross the track at the Montreal race in 1988 and I was determined to do the same here. Even the fence here was ideal for climbing. No temporary chainlink here! These were well enforced steel fencing only an exuberant communist regime could build to impress foreigners.
As I and a number of others scaled the fence at the conclusion of the race we found ourselves contemplating whether to run the gauntlet of many Police with dogs brought out of a secure hiding place to put us back in our seats. I can still remember the smiles the policeman wore as they came charging out of the pits led by their dogs and how quickly we all abruptly turned around and scampered back up the fences. That is except for one poor chap that seemed to get chomped on by one of the German Sheppards! Perhaps there is something to learn from former communists on how to keep people from storming race tracks!
I am perhaps one of the few people who will actually miss the Hungarian Grand Prix. Decidedly processional over the past number of years, very few memorable racing moments occurred here. Only one comes to mind, and that being the fantastic pass Nigel Mansell made in overtaking race leader Ayrton Senna way back in 1990 when Mansell drove for Ferrari. Other than that there has been no excitement at Mogyorod. But the Hungarian GP was many more things for me. It was not all about racing. Much of my memories centered around the huge crowds. Some of the earlier races rumored to reach over 250,000 in attendance. Being able to follow the race, albeit processional, for almost the entire distance. The contrasts in promotion styles between east and west. And the price of shoddy souvenirs, and horrible food. Not to mention the washrooms run by the Little-old-lady-Mafia! If Hungary is replaced I only hope that the circus will return to one of it's more exciting venues like Austria or Mexico and not some Hungaroring clone deep in the bowels of Asia or the United States.