Hungarian GP full of memories on 30th anniversary

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - It was the grand prix where Formula One drivers, including the likes of future champions Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell, considered themselves lucky to be in a Lada.

In 1986, Hungary witnessed a sporting breakthrough with the first Formula One race held behind what was then the "Iron Curtain" dividing Europe's Communist east from the Capitalist west.

This weekend the Hungaroring is celebrating the 30th edition of the race with pride, the grand prix outside Budapest now one of the longest continuous events on the calendar.

Neither Germany, off the calendar this year, nor Belgium's classic Spa-Francorchamps circuit, dropped in 2003 and 2006, can claim such an unbroken continuous run over the same period.

For Martin Brundle, who raced for Tyrrell that August afternoon in 1986 and finished sixth, it was like stepping into another dimension.

The rental cars made that obvious enough.

"You had to book months in advance to get a Lada. If you didn't book really early, you got a Trabant," recalled the Briton with a smile. "And if you didn't book early for that, you got nothing.

"But the thing that absolutely stands out the most for me was standing on the grid. A lot of the people had never been to a grand prix before, or maybe a motorsport event...and I'm standing there and it was so weird," he told Reuters.

"I felt something strange and I couldn't work out in the beginning what it was. And then I realised what I had sensed was something that wasn't happening. It was the silence. You could hear a pin drop.

"It was full of people and there was this expectant anticipation. Everyone was just soaking up the atmosphere, the unknown."


Some 200,000 people flocked to the race from neighbouring countries, still under the grip of the Soviet Union, in crowded old buses and spluttering and smoky little two-stroke Trabants made in East Germany out of recycled materials.

Some bartered their way to Budapest, trading German sausage for fuel in lieu of currency, while the locals turned out in force to see history in the making some three years before the Berlin Wall came down and signalled the end of the Cold War.

"You looked out of the paddock at the hillsides and you couldn't see the grass. It was just covered with people," recalls Ann Bradshaw, then a press officer for the winning Williams team.

Bob Constanduros, then as now a circuit commentator, agreed it was something else.

"People absolutely packed in and they'd come from Poland and Romania and all sorts of places where we didn't even recognise the number plates," he said.

"There was a lack of helicopters because there was a Russian base down the road which they couldn't overfly. Everyone was getting in by car. And that huge bank at the first corner was just absolutely teeming with people. It was a fantastic sight."

Bradshaw also had fond memories of the hire cars, driven with glee by drivers seeking the limits in a two-stroke, and the strange sensation of being in a world where western fashion was beyond the reach of most Hungarians.

Britain's Jonathan Palmer, then driving for the German Zakspeed team, recalls a weekend where "the interest was phenomenal and the traffic was horrendous.

"They had organised a police escort from the circuit to the was actually rather embarrassing as these very officious police were whacking with their truncheons and booted feet at any car that wouldn't move out of the way," he told Reuters.

After the race, some stayed on to attend an international athletics meet in Budapest before taking a hydrofoil up the Danube to Vienna for the next race in Austria.

"All we saw for four and a half hours were gunboats and trees. There was no food on board," said Brundle. "I think there was some sickly orange squash and curly cheese sandwiches if you got in early.

"But I liked the track. It's a track that pays you back if you attack it."

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

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