With the latest Hungarian Grand Prix this weekend AutoClassics and LAT look at some of the many dramatic moments from past events, complete with stunning pictures
The Hungaroring, home to this weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix, is a circuit that has often divided option. Tight and sinewy with little opportunity to pass, it still has the lowest average speed of any purpose-built track on the calendar. Yet the track is challenging and its popularity among drivers is widespread.
Over time the Hungaroring developed a knack of staging great drama, where talented drivers put in superlative drives around a technical track, a track where the person behind the wheel can make the difference.
Thanks to the LAT Archive, AutoClassics looks at some of the Hungarian round’s most memorable of many dramatic moments.
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1989: Mansell mauls the McLarens
For a man who habitually produced much that was dramatic and impressive in Formula 1, this was possibly his most dramatic and impressive win of all.
As noted overtaking is considered near-impossible at the Hungaroring track. Yet Nigel Mansell in 1989 came through to win from 12th on the grid – after qualifying with race set-up and tyres – with no rain or safety cars to aid him. He quickly caught up with the leading bunch, conveniently bottled up by surprise poleman Riccardo Patrese in the Williams, and then overtook Alain Prost’s McLaren-Honda. Patrese dropped out with a holed radiator and the other McLaren of Ayrton Senna led with Mansell shadowing.
With Japanese power behind him it looked like Senna couldn’t be cleared. But Mansell had a blink-and-you-miss-it chance and took it. Senna had an almost infinitesimal moment of lift on the throttle behind Stefan Johansson’s Onyx while lapping him and Mansell in a heartbeat was by in a scintillating three-abreast pass.
1990: Boutsen battens down the hatches
1990's race showed more than any other shows that track position is nine-tenths of the law at the Hunagaroring. Or ten tenths. Thierry Boutsen in the Williams took a surprise pole, aided by a car that heated up its tyres quickly. But that characteristic would act as a negative over a long race.
In classic Hungary style Boutsen battened down the hatches, and simply clung on to first place by not making any errors no matter the queue behind. First Gerhard Berger in the McLaren shadowed him, then his Williams team-mate Riccardo Patrese joined in. Then the rapid green Benetton of Alessandro Nannini got with him and looked the most likely of all to get by – until Ayrton Senna behind unceremoniously pitched him off. Williams technical boss Patrick Head even sarcastically thanked the Brazilian for his efforts afterwards.
Finally, Senna himself pressured Boutsen late on, but the Belgian never flinched and came past every time still in front. His third and final grand prix victory was clinched, thanks to mastering the art of the rolling roadblock.
1997: Damon denied at the death
Without hyperbole it likely would have been F1’s biggest shock win ever, at least among those done on pure dry weather pace. Yet it was tragically denied at the very last.
Damon Hill’s title defence had been disastrous. Dumped by Williams and moving to Tom Walkinshaw's Arrows team, he had but one point when the Hungarian GP rolled around. But former Ferrari designer John Barnard’s had helped influence car improvements and best of all for Damon, Bridgestone's tyres working well, unlike rival Goodyears used by most of the frontrunners. Those fell apart without very careful nursing, to the point that Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari found itself struggling to hold off Shinji Nakano in the Prost.
At a Hungary track he always went well on Hill vaulted into a clear lead. He was 34 seconds ahead with three laps left, but then a washer worth a few pence worked loose and lost him hydraulic pressure – impacting pretty much everything on his mount and greatly reducing his pace. A scarcely believing Jacques Villeneuve got by on the final tour. Hill nevertheless – somehow – salvaged second.
1998: Schumacher stuns
This win was likely among the very best of even Michael Schumacher’s extensive canvas. And it was a Schumacher trademark – done by reeling off a long succession of qualifying-style laps.
Sitting behind two apparently superior McLarens at the race’s mid-distance the strategy from the Ferrari pitwall defied logic: switch from a two-stopper to a three, pit early, short-fill the car, then make up the entire time of a pitstop on the McLarens. ‘He had to make up something like 19 seconds in 19 laps,’ recalls Ross Brawn. ‘I remember saying it to him and he just said “OK”! There was no “Oh Christ, there's no chance”. He then put in, sort of, 15 qualifying laps!’
Schumacher did indeed make up the time to win, even having enough in hand for a brief off-track excursion. And it was awe-inspiring – the sector times banged in one after the other like reality as we knew it had been temporarily suspended.
2003: Fernando’s first
Another knack the Hungaroring developed over time was being the scene of debut F1 wins - doing so for Damon Hill, Jenson Button and Heikki Kovalainen. In 2003 it became the venue for Fernando Alonso to break his duck.
It was one cemented early. He took pole position in his nimble Renault, then took off like a rocket to lead by several lengths clear at turn one. Even better news for Alonso came when Mark Webber’s Jaguar had got up to second and, in an uncharacteristically elevated position, backed everyone else up. Alonso made good his escape and wasn’t seen again that day.
Late on he lapped decisively a struggling Michael Schumacher. And this, plus the podium shared with Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya – F1’s youngest ever top three at the time – came with a clear sense that a changing of the guard was underway.
2006: Button’s barnstormer
This one departed from the script early. Fernando Alonso’s Renault and Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari had dominated in 2006 – winning all races aside from one up to that point. But both entered Hungary’s qualifying knowing they’d add a two second penalty to whatever time they set due to misdemeanours in practice – Schumacher started 11th and Alonso 15th. Though Jenson Button in the Honda had 10-place grid penalty for an engine change, he still started 14th.
Adding to the variation it rained for the start of the race. Button used skills that would become familiar to audiences, great aggression on a wet-to-dry surface, to climb the order. Alonso, who himself had driven brilliantly, looked like he would hold Button off to win but when switching to slicks one of his wheels hadn't attached correctly, sending him into the barriers.
This gave Button his first grand prix win in 113 attempts. It remains Honda’s solitary triumph since its glory days in the early ‘90s with McLaren.
2007: McLaren fratricide
This was dramatic not for want happened on track, nor even in the race. Rather it was in the pitlane in qualifying. Then on race morning in the paddock.
The McLaren pairing – reigning world champion Fernando Alonso and astonishing rookie Lewis Hamilton – had simmered all year and in Hungary came to the boil. Spectacularly. To the naked eye Alonso blocked Hamilton in the pits, successfully denying Hamilton a final qualifying run and therefore take pole himself.
There was more to it however, as Hamilton had broken an agreement to let Alonso have his turn leading qualifying’s ‘fuel burn phase’ (remember those?) and Alonso had taken retribution into his own hands. Some hours later Alonso had pole taken away by the stewards but the real penalty came the next morning.
In a blazing row with boss Ron Dennis, Alonso threatened to go to the authorities with what he knew about ‘spygate’, which was already hanging over the team. His spell at McLaren was from that point was as good as done.
2014: Ricciardo leads the three supremes
Another race wherein the elements, with the track starting wet then drying, boosted the drama. A rout for Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes looked to be on the cards but after eight laps the safety car was deployed just when he – and the next three drivers behind him – had passed the pits. Things were never so simple again and Rosberg finished fourth.
A few shuffles later gave us a top three in order of Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari, Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes – who underlining the frolics had started from pitlane after a technical failure in qualifying – and Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull. And each tantalisingly had older tyres than Rosbergf behind.
As the laps ticked down the impossible feat of Alonso hanging on began to look a possibility, but Ricciardo was determined to have the final say. First, with four laps left he elbowed past Hamilton, then next lap he moved smoothly inside Alonso at turn one. Ricciardo doesn’t do dull wins.
Images courtesy of LAT Archive