From the stands
Last year guest writer Tom Hitchings told us about his first experience of an F1 race outside of Britain at Suzuka.
This year he’s gone to a race closer to home – here’s his view of last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix at the Hungaroring.
Last weekend I spent an F1-fuelled few days at the Hungarian Grand Prix. It was the perfect end to a lovely holiday in Eastern Europe and, for once, I was pleased it rained!
This was my second overseas race after an incredible trip to Suzuka last year. I was lucky to see plenty of exciting racing thanks most of all to the varying and unpredictable weather.
The Hungaroring is an unusual track, not far from the centre of Budapest and yet completely isolated in a little valley. It’s a short and simple train ride from the city to the circuit (which anyone who has tried public transport to Silverstone will appreciate). The half-hour journey goes to two local stops by the circuit.
I chose to avoid the crowds and walk from the station at the far side of the track. The 2km walk is a strange introduction to the circuit, you pass through an endless corn field and it’s hard to separate the tractor motors from the sounds of the circuit. Eventually the path falls downhill and the track appears in front of you, in the bottom of a valley.
Exploring the Hungaroring
I explored the general admission areas for the Friday and Saturday practice sessions, trying my best to get some nice photos to take home. First I sat on a bank overlooking the starting grid, an excellent location for anyone thinking about watching the race without seating.
Here we could see the whole of the final sector and into the pit lane. It was a great vantage point from which to see the relative performances of the cars, as the Red Bulls would fly through the final three corners, deploying DRS at the start/finish straight as the slower cars were only just getting on the accelerator.
Next I moved into the Hungaroring’s middle sector, where it’s impossible to overtake but the best place to see F1 cars doing what they are made for: going fast around corners.
This was the closest I’ve seen spectators get to the track; and the grass banks that surround this part of the circuit are so long that everyone gets a clear view. And at such close distance I was able to get my best photos of the weekend.
On Saturday morning I cheated the system a little to get a spot in the grandstand right next to the chicane. Seeing Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher ride the kerbs and test the limits harder than anyone was brilliant.
I also returned here later for the GP2 races, both of which were brilliant strategic battles of tyre choices in varying conditions. Romain Grosjean’s speed was light years ahead of the competition and – as has been said before on F1 Fanatic – evidence that he clearly deserves another chance in F1.
The race could not have been more dramatic, particularly for me as a Hamilton supporter sat just by the chicane. I watched him dominate the first half, only to lose it all in the second.
In the damp conditions at the start, we watched as Lewis would exit the long turn five right hander and let the rear end slide wildly as he got on the power. No doubt this contributed to his ultimately flawed tyre strategy but in those early stages it was clearly the fastest way around the track. He built a commanding lead and looked set to dominate.
Unfortunately I also saw the race slip away from him; almost seeing it before it happened. The intensity of the rain increased dramatically in the middle of the race, but it was so sudden you sensed the teams and drivers hadn’t noticed yet. Sure enough the first few cars to pass through started sliding.
Then there was a long gap before Hamilton arrived. He didn’t have the chance to see how any other cars were reacting so I already feared the worst, knowing he would be caught out by the slippery track. I was relieved to see him get through turn five (where Kamui Kobayashi had almost lost control) but then he unsuspectingly put a wheel on the kerb coming out of the chicane and span right in front of us.
As he hurriedly scrambled a doughnut we got swept up in tyre smoke, looking to see how close Button was to getting past. Jenson Button sped by and as Paul di Resta took avoiding action on the grass you knew a penalty was inevitable.
But most frustrating of all was seeing Hamilton pit for wet tyres just as the rain stopped and we all took our coats off. Victory was lost. He still got the crowd on their feet one last time with a nice move on Felipe Massa later, proving why he is so popular with British fans and feared by others.
Button was clearly the deserving winner. He was not the fastest driver (I’m afraid he never is). But over a race distance average speed matters more than top speed, and Button mastered that by looking after his tyres so well.
Unlike Hamilton, he never let the rear end slide as he applied the throttle and took the same line lap after lap. I think Fernando Alonso drove a nice race too and probably deserved to finish ahead of Vettel who was dealt an easy hand in the race thanks to his excellent pole position.
The Hungaroring was overall an excellent race track to travel to, especially since Budapest is such a vibrant city with so much to see and do. It’s not an epic circuit like Suzuka, Spa or Monza, but it’s easy to get to, fun to explore and a great excuse to see a lovely country and fantastic city.
Going to an F1 race this year? Find other F1 Fanatics who are here:
- 2011 Belgian Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Italian Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Singapore Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Japanese Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Korean Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Indian Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Brazilian Grand Prix discussion
From the stands
- F1 still struggling to gain a foothold in India
- Why the Hungarian Grand Prix is a must-see race
- Why the Spanish GP was better in person than on TV
- Watching Brazil’s spellbinding F1 season finale
- Silverstone fans’ mixed views on the rain-hit weekend
- Nigel’s memories from the last 37 British Grands Prix
- F1 Fanatics meet up in Melbourne
- Watching at the Paddock Club, Parabolica and podium at Monza
- In the Paddock Club and in the stands at Spa
- Steven’s 51 F1 race visits in 25 years
Images © Thomas Hitchings