Special feature

Autosport writers' favourite F1 Hungarian Grands Prix

The Hungarian Grand Prix is the last stop on the Formula 1 2022 calendar before the summer break. Autosport's team of writers pick their favourite races from the famously tight and twisty Hungaroring track, an F1 fixture since 1986

Podium: race winner Michael Schumacher, Ferrari

The first Formula 1 race to be held behind the Iron Curtain, the Hungarian Grand Prix at the Hungaroring has become a well-established event that this year is being staged for a 37th consecutive year.

The tortuous sequence of corners at the Budapest track places a premium on a high-downforce set-up and gives the drivers a workout, but it has produced no shortage of intriguing races despite the ostensibly limited opportunities to overtake.

Autosport compiled a list of the top 10 Hungarian GPs in 2020 but, for this list, Autosport's team of journalists have chosen their favourite races.

1986, Piquet treats new race to stunning passes - Marcus Simmons

Nelson Piquet, Williams-Honda

Nelson Piquet, Williams-Honda

Photo by: Motorsport Images

“This is a historic occasion – the first ever world championship grand prix behind the Iron Curtain: the Hungarian Grand Prix, here at Mogyorod, which is about 20 kilometres away from the beautiful and historic city of Budapest on the river Danube.”

So intoned head-bobbing British national treasure Murray Walker as the intro to the BBC’s highlights from the 1986 race, which unexpectedly produced a memorable battle for the lead between the two Brazilian superstars of the decade.

‘Unexpectedly’, because the new Hungaroring was ridiculously tight and twisty. Such was its slow layout (for its first three years, the circuit featured a right-left-right complex where the Turn 3 sweeper is today) that the race would become time-limited to two hours. Surely there would be little scope for overtaking.

Not if you were Nelson Piquet. A man whose political allegiance is the polar opposite to the socialism of the former Eastern Bloc was on utterly inspired form to defeat his compatriot and bitter rival Ayrton Senna.

Senna qualified his Lotus-Renault on pole, with Piquet lining up alongside in his Williams-Honda. But it was the sister Williams of Nigel Mansell that burst through from fourth on the grid into second place at the start. Piquet wasted little time in asserting himself over Mansell, and it soon became apparent that the Briton was struggling.

Piquet had tried two differential set-ups in practice and qualifying, selected his preference, and it was reported that this wasn’t made known to Mansell, who struggled for traction throughout the race…

Piquet made an audacious dive on Senna into Turn 1 on the 12th lap to take the lead, which he held until his tyre stop. Senna stayed out much longer, nursing the Lotus’s rubber, and when he pitted he re-emerged in front.

Ayrton Senna, Lotus 98T Renault, leads Nelson Piquet, Williams FW11 Honda

Ayrton Senna, Lotus 98T Renault, leads Nelson Piquet, Williams FW11 Honda

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Now Piquet hunted him down. On the 55th lap, he skittered inside at Turn 1 but ran wide, allowing Senna back in front. Two tours later, he braked around the outside of Senna, turned in absolutely sideways, somehow controlled the moment and accelerated away to victory.

It was a race of what might have been for Alain Prost. The eventual champion had made it into third place in his McLaren-TAG and was closing on the Brazilians in front when he stopped with electrical failure on lap 23.

While Mansell was a distant third and Stefan Johansson (Ferrari) fourth, Johnny Dumfries in the second Lotus scored his first F1 points by beating the Tyrrell of Martin Brundle to fifth.

1989, Mansell’s masterclass - Kevin Turner

Nigel Mansell, Ferrari

Nigel Mansell, Ferrari

Photo by: Motorsport Images

The Hungaroring has never been the easiest place for overtaking, particularly before DRS and the extension to the start/finish straight. So the idea of winning from 12th on the grid seems fanciful, except it happened…

Insight: 1989 Hungarian GP report

Chronic understeer meant Nigel Mansell could qualify no better than row six for the 1989 Hungarian GP, 2.2 seconds behind poleman Riccardo Patrese’s Williams. Mansell and engineer Maurizio Nardon decided to get radical, making front wing modifications, and the Ferrari 640 topped the warm-up session.

A good opening lap got Mansell up to eighth, while Patrese led from the McLaren-Honda of Ayrton Senna. Mansell then had to bide his time behind Alessandro Nannini’s Benetton as they ran in a train held back by Alex Caffi’s Dallara.

Nannini pitted on lap 12 of 77 and Mansell took sixth from the Williams of Thierry Boutsen on lap 20. Two tours later he was by Caffi and cutting the gap to the top four of Patrese, Senna, Gerhard Berger (Ferrari) and Alain Prost’s McLaren.

When Berger pitted for tyres, Mansell – who had no intention of stopping to replace his rubber – moved up to fourth as he charged towards the leaders.

Prost had an engine pick-up issue, which helped Mansell outdrag the McLaren between the third and fourth corners on lap 41. Then, after coolly leading for so long, Patrese was denied when his engine temperatures rose and he lost power. Senna took the lead and was soon followed by Mansell, setting up a classic duel.

Honda power kept Senna out of Mansell’s reach on the run to the first corner, the primary overtaking spot, but the two remained glued together. And on lap 58 Mansell got his chance.

Stefan Johansson was struggling with gearbox issues and the duo caught the slow Onyx in Turn 3. Senna had to momentarily back off, Mansell kept coming and they briefly ran three abreast as the Ferrari swept into the lead.

And then Mansell was gone, eventually taking the flag 26s clear of Senna after one of his greatest performances.

1990, Tortoise beats hare - James Newbold

Race winner Thierry Boutsen, Williams leads Ayrton Senna, McLaren

Race winner Thierry Boutsen, Williams leads Ayrton Senna, McLaren

Photo by: Sutton Images

At a track like the Hungaroring, where on-track passing opportunities are few and far between, it often requires strategic intervention to make progress. But that ploy relies on the presumption that the advantage of fresh tyres will be enough to make a race-winning move. And in 1990, there was to be no denying poleman Thierry Boutsen, whose non-stop strategy defied the very best that Ayrton Senna could throw at him - but only just.

"I drove as slowly as possible, that's why the gap was never big," he told this writer in 2020 to commemorate the race's 30th anniversary. "I was watching behind, seeing who was behind and what speed they were going and I was just matching that speed to stay in the lead."

PLUS: How Hungary's tortoise and hare grand prix was won 

That level of self-control is rarely seen today, but it had to be relied upon in a car that he felt was never good enough to pull away. The Williams FW13B was not a patch on the Adrian Newey designed cars that followed - "Sometimes the car was really good, sometimes it was really bad but was not possible for us drivers and for the engineers to understand why" - although an upgraded Renault V10 that had helped Boutsen to score a first F1 pole provided all the torque he needed on corner exits.

Repelling Gerhard Berger's Ferrari for the first 48 laps, he benefitted from team-mate Riccardo Patrese holding up Alessandro Nannini's Benetton and Senna - who had pitted his McLaren on lap 21 with a puncture. Patrese then pitted too, bringing Nannini onto his tail - before a robust move from Senna put him into second and gave Boutsen serious pause for thought.

But, despite his tyres and brakes degrading to the point he was convinced one more lap was not possible - Boutsen still has one of the front brake discs from his victorious FW13B in his office and on closer inspection, you can see straight through it in several places - he held on to beat F1's fastest driver on much fresher rubber. Brilliant stuff.

1998, Schumacher's sprint magic - Alex Kalinauckas

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari F300

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari F300

Photo by: Sutton Images

Looking back in 2022, there’s a stunning realisation about the 1998 Hungarian Grand Prix, what would become one of Michael Schumacher’s most iconic victories. It was a mid-August race after which there would be only four more rounds of the Ferrari driver’s famous title battle against Mika Hakkinen and McLaren.

Hakkinen and team-mate David Coulthard locked out the front row and controlled the early stages in a 1-2 for the silver cars, as Schumacher made a poor start that went unpunished by Damon Hill’s equally tricky getaway from the second row for Jordan. So, Ferrari was stuck trailing around the narrow Hungaroring – even more so after the first round of pitstops when Schumacher rejoined behind Jacques Villeneuve’s Williams.

Once that had pitted out of the way, then Ferrari technical director and race strategist Ross Brawn implemented a plan that would stunningly alter the race’s make-up. He pitted Schumacher again on lap 43 of 77, but short-fuelled the German’s car in a bid to gain track position on Coulthard.

McLaren moved to cover the Ferrari, but a longer stop and Schumacher already on a pushing mission – Brawn had instructed him to unleash 19 on-the-limit qualifying-style laps to find the time required for a third stop – meant the red car moved ahead.

McLaren left Hakkinen out, but a developing handling issue blunted his race after his second stop on lap 46. This, plus more McLaren woe including Hakkinen holding up Coulthard for five laps as the Finn dropped down the field to sixth by the flag and the Scot losing time due to his tyres running at incorrect pressures, flattered what was an already impressive Schumacher charge.

It wasn’t flawless – Schumacher slipped off the road at the final corner catching an oversteer snap – but it lit up what would otherwise have been a tedious race. His relentlessness was awe-inspiring.

It also demonstrated perfectly how to win in the refuelling era with a slower car (Schumacher qualified 0.4s off pole) and has become synonymous with the Ferrari teamwork of the era – brilliant strategy calls for a driver that would get the job done. Perhaps more to reflect on 24 years later…

2006, Button finally breaks his duck - Stephen Lickorish

 Jenson Button, Honda RA106, 1st position, takes the chequered flag for his first Grand Prix Victory

Jenson Button, Honda RA106, 1st position, takes the chequered flag for his first Grand Prix Victory

Photo by: Lorenzo Bellanca / Motorsport Images

The Formula 1 formbook was not just ripped up at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix, it was obliterated into tiny pieces. You would have certainly got very good odds on a podium comprising Jenson Button, Pedro de la Rosa and Nick Heidfeld. To have Honda’s Button taking his maiden win at the 113th attempt, being joined by McLaren stand-in de la Rosa (with his first rostrum after 66 starts) and another surprise visitor in Heidfeld, securing the BMW Sauber combination’s first podium, was all pretty unexpected.

Even more so when you consider Button started down in 14th place after an engine change penalty, while Heidfeld began 10th. Of course, for that podium to materialise, it took something unusual to happen. In other words, rain – which was experienced for the first time in Hungarian GP history. And lots of it.

But this was not your average early to mid-2000s wet race. Not least because it featured the sight of regenmeister Michael Schumacher struggling. It had already been a notably unusual weekend as Schumacher and his title rival, Fernando Alonso, were starting well down the order after penalties for practice infringements.

And that was just the start of the unusual occurrences. The once all-conquering Bridgestone wet rubber was not so convincing this time and Schumacher’s initial progress soon stalled and he tangled with Giancarlo Fisichella, before being dramatically forced out after clashing with Heidfeld when fighting over the final podium spot.

Alonso, meanwhile, had made rapid progress – circulating three seconds per lap quicker than the field at times – and it was looking good for the Renault driver after polesitter Kimi Raikkonen had earlier bizarrely crashed out when lapping Vitantonio Liuzzi.

But there was still more drama and Alonso’s topsy-turvy weekend ended in the barriers when his right-rear wheelnut flew off having just switched to slicks with 20 laps to go.

That promoted Button – who had crept up the order with some brilliantly timed stops – to the lead and he held on to take a memorable win, Honda’s first for almost 40 years. And, finally, Button’s duck was broken after a race that had it all.

2011, Button outfoxes Hamilton - Lewis Duncan

Jenson Button, McLaren MP4/26

Jenson Button, McLaren MP4/26

Photo by: Sutton Images

Think of the Hungarian Grand Prix and Jenson Button, and the immediate thought is his breakthrough victory in 2006 from 14th on the grid in changeable conditions when he was a Honda driver (see above).

By the time he’d reached his 200th GP start in Hungary in 2011, Button was far from past it – if anything, the 2009 world champion was in the throes of the best years of his career as a McLaren driver, a challenge he took on the year before and one many believed he would fail as team-mate to Lewis Hamilton. But while Hamilton was – and still is – one of the best on pure speed, his management of changeable races paled in comparison to Button.

Button, who’d already won the wild wet-to-dry Canadian GP earlier that year, put on another masterclass in Hungary. Starting from third on intermediate tyres in the damp conditions, he quickly followed Hamilton through past Sebastian Vettel in the early stages.

When the time came for slicks, Hamilton continued to lead but Button’s pace elevated his threat level. Both Hamilton and Button engaged over the lead, with the former holding out. But Hamilton, as per Autosport’s magazine report, was using up his tyres more than Button, and in his third stint “Jenson was pegging him” as he wiped a second a lap out of his team-mate’s 7.3s lead following his second stop.

Hamilton was brought in again for super-soft tyres on lap 40 of 70, and on lap 46 spun out of the lead at the Turn 6/7 chicane. Button picked his way into the lead, while Hamilton’s doughnut of recovery netted him a drivethrough penalty for forcing Paul di Resta off track.

As the rainfall intensified, Button stayed the course while Hamilton – uncertain of the right move as he battled with radio issues – boxed for inters having briefly regained the lead. Penalty aside, this would ultimately prove the decisive call in the race as slicks remained the best option.

Button eventually won by 3.6s from Vettel, while Hamilton ended up fourth – 48.3s behind. In later years, Hamilton would become F1’s rain master, brilliantly judging conditional changes. On that day in Hungary, however, Button reigned supreme.

2014, Charging Ricciardo denies Alonso - Haydn Cobb

Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing, 1st Position, celebrates on arrival in Parc Ferme

Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing, 1st Position, celebrates on arrival in Parc Ferme

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

In a season dominated by Mercedes at the start of the turbo hybrid era, Daniel Ricciardo ripped up the form book to produce a masterclass in changing conditions for the second Formula 1 victory of his career.

Despite slipping from fourth to sixth at the start, Ricciardo was given a slice of fortune when Marcus Ericsson crashed his Caterham and the safety car was called out too late for the four frontrunners.

Ricciardo latched on to the chance, pitted and leapfrogged Jenson Button in the process, and took to dry tyres to set up his charge. Ricciardo was involved in a multiple car fight at the front involving Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel but given his experience and car – still in his first year at Red Bull – he appeared to be the outside bet.

But the race was thrown a second curveball when Sergio Perez crashed his Force India into the pitwall, triggering a second safety car, allowing Ricciardo to pit again as Alonso stayed out to lead but on ageing tyres.

Despite an engine sensor scare, Ricciardo on his fresh softs went after Alonso in the lead and Hamilton in second once Rosberg pitted with 14 laps to go.

Alonso’s performance alone makes it an incredible race, using his unruly Ferrari to fend off Hamilton in his superior Mercedes, but as Ricciardo bore down on the pair, both F1 world champions were made to look like rookies.

Ricciardo’s around the outside move on Hamilton at the left-hander Turn 2, to gain the inside line on the switch at Turn 3, was impressive but the Australian’s bolt for the lead became a hallmark of his overtaking prowess for years to come. Late on the brakes and almost collecting Alonso into Turn 1, the Red Bull driver dived up the inside to grab the lead with three laps to go and cap a simply stunning grand prix.

If that wasn’t enough, Autosport chief editor Kevin Turner even picked this as his third favourite Hungarian GP off all time – only behind two others already on this list, including his own top pick – so we’ll take that as a win on an aggregate scoring system.

Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB10 Renault, 1st Position, crosses the line as his team cheer for him from the pitwall

Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB10 Renault, 1st Position, crosses the line as his team cheer for him from the pitwall

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

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