How Hungary's 2032 race deal reflects F1's long-term ambitions
Last weekend's confirmation that Formula 1 will continue to race in Hungary until 2032 was good news for fans, as it secured the future of a popular old-school track.
The fact that the news came a few weeks after neighbouring Austria agreed on a deal to run its race until 2030 was perhaps not a coincidence, as both announcements reflect a growing trend for circuits to secure long-term futures.
In both cases, there was no big hurry to extend those contracts. As recently as March, Red Bull-owned Austrian promoter Projekt Spielberg had signed a deal that ran to 2027 before adding a further three years just three months later. Similarly, Hungary was already guaranteed a race until 2027 when it added another five years to the deal.
Both arrangements come on the heels of a series of extended contracts for flyaway races that have established a trend for looking at the long term. One of the first was for Montreal, whose deal to run to 2029 was signed in 2017, early in Liberty Media's ownership. The loss of two events to COVID has subsequently pushed that out to 2031.
That was followed by something of a lull but, on Stefano Domenicali's watch, such arrangements have become more commonplace. The current trend was perhaps kick-started by Saudi Arabia, whose 10-year deal running to 2030 was agreed in 2020.
That was followed by Qatar, which around the time that it stepped in as a last-minute replacement on the COVID-hit 2021 schedule agreed a 10-year deal to run from 2023 to 2032. Shortly afterwards, Abu Dhabi signed a new contract that runs to 2030, and that was followed by Singapore going to 2028, Australia to 2035 and Bahrain to 2036.
Las Vegas is a little different in that the event is an F1 promotion, but the deal with the city runs for 10 years, taking the event to 2032.
So why this rush to sign such long contracts? It's not difficult to see the appeal to both parties. F1 is currently on a high, thanks to the huge boost provided by Drive to Survive, and as CEO Domenicali and Liberty Media boss Greg Maffei are always keen to point out, there's a long list of countries and circuits that would like to join the party.
F1's boom means there is significant demand for a space on the calendar
Photo by: Alfa Romeo
In other words, it's a seller's market, the seller being Domenicali. He's giving the existing venues a chance to secure their places on the schedule and not have to worry about losing out in a game of musical chairs, with 24 places the current maximum.
And F1 in turn is able to get a good price for each deal, with income guaranteed into the distant future. You could argue that Domenicali is simply taking advantage of the current boom, and striking while the iron's hot. However, he denies that's the case.
"It's not talking about the advantage," the Italian tells Autosport. "It's talking about there is an incredible moment for all of us. And also the promoters recognise that. So it's the right moment to look for the longer term."
Having such major deals guaranteed so far into the future is positive news for Liberty, and indeed also for the teams because they represent a decent chunk of income.
"I think it's good if you if you can plan for the future, and you know some of these venues are there," says Aston Martin boss Mike Krack. "There are some very traditional venues also, that have always been with F1. And I think it's good that F1 is capable to do these long-term deals. Because also for the teams, it's difficult if you have changing venues all the time. So yeah, all positive."
We now have to wait to see who is next to sign a long extension. A random sampling of current contract end dates includes Silverstone and Suzuka in 2024, Monaco, Zandvoort and Mexico City in 2025, and Baku, Barcelona and Austin in 2026.
Given that Austria and Hungary both extended deals that already went to 2027, it can be assumed that most if not all of the above are already in talks about the future, along with the other current races. Certainly the other European venues will be well aware that a limited number of slots are available, and with the likes of France and Germany showing an interest in returning, and Madrid claiming that it has a deal, there's no time to lose.
In some cases, long-term security is vital to a race's survival, specifically in terms of encouraging venues to invest in new facilities. Montreal is a case in point – its extended deal was followed soon afterwards by the construction of much-needed pit buildings.
The Hungaroring will undergo extensive renovations after securing its F1 future
Photo by: Hungaroring
Hungary is in a similar situation. The circuit has been promising for years to upgrade its ageing pit and paddock facilities, and with the public investment required, it would have made no sense to commit to that project if the race was lost within two or three years. Think of white elephants such as the Indian and Korean GP venues, built at huge expense in the Bernie Ecclestone era, and now long forgotten after running just a few races each.
With its event confirmed until 2032, it makes much more sense for the Hungaroring to push on with the rebuilding project.
"It's important for everyone, because while we're growing, there is also the need for the promoter to invest," says Domenicali. "So it's important to give the visibility on what we want to do together for the long-term. That shows they really committed. You see the crowd, you see what they're doing. So it's great."
Why Hungary's long-term deal works for everyone
Hungary's long-term deal is good news for fans, as it means that a popular traditional European venue has been secured well into the future alongside the Middle Eastern events. It may still feel like a recent addition to a schedule that includes venues with a century of racing history, but in fact, the race first arrived in 1986.
Helped by COVID hitting other events, Hungaroring has the second longest continuous and unbroken streak of any venue on the world championship schedule after Monza (from 1981 following a one-year hiatus at Imola for the Italian GP) and ahead of Silverstone (from 1987, after the alternating deal with Brands Hatch stopped).
Hungaroring CEO and promoter Zsolt Gyulay insists that extending a deal wasn't about beating the potential competition.
"We have a confidence, a self-confidence about this," he told Autosport. "Because we are a traditional European track, and I hope we can stay in the circus. So we don't want to race with anybody, we do our own job. We need a new circuit, and we deserve it!"
By that, he means the new pit and paddock facilities and grandstands that the extended deal has helped to guarantee.
Hungary enjoyed a "special relationship" with former F1 supremo Ecclestone
Photo by: Alastair Staley / Motorsport Images
Somehow the original 1986 pit complex has survived all these years. Ecclestone had a soft spot for the circuit, and much like Interlagos, it got away with sub-par facilities while other venues worldwide were forced to demolish and rebuild old structures.
"I don't know why," says Gyulay when asked why the track wasn't obliged to upgrade earlier. "Yes, it's interesting question, what is the special relationship? Okay, Bernie and Hungary was a special relationship. But after that, we had also good relations with Chase Carey or Stefano. I don't want to say why, because I don't know. But we work hard!"
A new pit complex for Hungary has been in discussion for some eight years, and finally the green light has been given by the government.
"So over the last eight years, we started talking about how we can rebuild," says Gyulay. "This is a lot of money, and not a football stadium on something, because we love football here in Hungary. But I think it's respect for F1, respect for the teams.
"It's a long-term thing, and it was hard work, to discuss with the people from the government. But I think now everybody can see, F1 is going up, and the future will be a good business, so then they put a lot of money for this, and we extended the contract. It was a long, long job.
"It's logical that if the government invests a lot of money for the buildings and the whole facilities that you extend the contract long-term, it's important for the government and the investors."
Finally, with the crucial public funding guaranteed, the circuit has committed to the necessary construction work.
"Now we have to finish the buildings and everything by 2026," says Gyulay. "It's so important for us, because in the last years we struggled a lot, because the buildings and everything, the circumstances weren't so good for us.
"The tender now is out. I hope by the end of the year the tender is over, so they can start the rebuild. But it's hard to destroy and build between two Grands Prix, that is the hard thing.
Plans are in place to widen the paddock
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
"We also have to make the paddock wider, because we don't have enough space for the teams, and we need much bigger buildings and the new grandstand. It's not only the buildings, it's everything. It's 130 hectares, it's a big, big space here. So there's a lot of work."
In theory, next year's race will be the last to be run with the original pit complex. Soon afterwards it will be demolished and work will start on the new one. The first stage, including the pit garages, will be finished in time for the 2025 event.
The rest will follow, as Gyulay suggests, in time for the 2026 race, which will also be the 40th anniversary of the first event.
The bottom line for the Hungarian government is that the race remains a huge draw for overseas visitors. In years gone, Germans and Finns were dominant, and latterly it's been the Dutch, although plenty of other nationalities are well represented.
"This is our big power," says Gyulay. "This is the strength of the project. Because yes, 80% of our spectators coming from abroad, and they spend a lot of money. So it's good."
It's hoped that investment in infrastructure will help secure the grand prix's future beyond its current contract
Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images
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