Top 5 Hungarian Grands Prix
The F1 circus heads to Budapest this weekend as we get ready for the 38th Hungarian Grand Prix.
Outside of a race in 1936 held in the pre-F1 era at the Nepliget circuit, every edition of the race has been held at the Hungaroring and has featured every season since 1986.
While it isn’t always known for its exciting racing and is often compared to Monaco due to its high downforce nature and lack of overtaking opportunities, it still has produced several memorable races over the years, something which I’ll visit today in my regular ‘top 5 races’ series.
It’s a race Australia has experienced success in as well, with both Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo tasting the victory champagne in Budapest in 2010 and 2014 respectively. And ahead of Ricciardo’s much publicised return this weekend, his win nine years ago in Hungary will be talked about in more detail shortly.
But which other races will join that one as the best five in Hungary? Let’s find out.
5. 2014 – Winner: Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)
Ricciardo’s solitary F1 win in Hungary was done in thrilling fashion.
It was the first year of the turbo hybrid era which was utterly dominated by Mercedes, and by the time the cars arrived in Hungary they German team had won every race bar one, which incidentally was won by Ricciardo in Canada.
A damp start to the race saw Nico Rosberg lead away in his Mercedes while his teammate Lewis Hamilton slipped back after starting from the pit lane and spinning to the back of the field.
Ricciardo, who started fourth, fell back to sixth but heavily benefited from a safety car after the Caterham of Marcus Ericcson crashed out of the race. This allowed Ricciardo a free pit stop and vaulted him to the lead of the race.
It was a position he held until he pitted again under a second safety car, and with 16 laps remaining he found himself in fourth position and chasing down the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso and the two Mercedes drivers.
After dispatching of Rosberg, Ricciardo made a memorable move around the outside of Hamilton at the turn 2 left-hander and into the downhill turn 3 with only four laps to go, before taking the lead from Alonso the following lap into the first corner.
It was an incredible drive from an inspired Ricciardo who claimed his second ever F1 win and fully confirmed his ascent into the top tier of Formula 1.
4. 1997 – Winner: Jacques Villeneuve (Williams)
The 1997 Hungarian Grand Prix is perhaps better remembered for the driver that nearly won it, rather than who actually did.
Damon Hill, then reigning World Champion, had endured a terrible season driving for backmarker team Arrows. Hungary was finally the race where he was able to perform to his high standards, securing a stunning third on the grid behind eventual 1997 Champion Jacques Villeneuve and Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher.
After dispatching Villeneuve at the start, Hill incredibly overtook Schumacher on lap 11 and even more incredibly built what looked like an unbeatable lead for the majority of the race, leading by 34 seconds with only three laps remaining.
However heartbreak was to follow. A hydraulics issue hit his car and Hill dropped pace almost immediately, with further throttle and gearbox issues causing him to limp home to finish in second place. It denied Arrows what would’ve been their only ever F1 win and one of the most famous F1 wins of all time.
It was still an incredible effort from Hill, who secured Arrows their first podium since 1995 and their last ever in Formula 1.
3. 1998 – Winner: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
If you were to rank the greatest single drives in the history of F1, the 1998 Hungarian Grand Prix would be up very high.
Michael Schumacher and Ferrari had been severely outplaced in Hungary all weekend by McLaren, and he duly lined up third on the grid behind both Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard.
And when the two silver cars lead off the start and pulled away from Schumacher, something had to be done.
Enter the now infamous three-stop strategy and a Schumacher “qualifying race” masterclass, which saw the German have 15 laps to build a big enough lead over the McLaren pair to maintain first place and pull off a famous win.
And build enough of a lead he did. With a 5 second lead over Hakkinen at the beginning of the 15 lap period, Schumacher pulled off fastest lap after fastest lap to build the required 25 second lead and emerge after his third stop 5 seconds ahead of Coulthard to eventually win the race by just under 10 seconds. This was also achieved despite having a brief off, adding even more weight to his incredible drive.
A truly iconic performance from an iconic driver.
2. 2021 – Winner: Esteban Ocon (Alpine)
The most recent race on this list and maybe the most surprising, with rain once again adding to the overall drama that occurred all within the opening few laps of the race.
The start saw multiple incidents, with Valtteri Bottas crashing into the McLaren of Lando Norris and Red Bull of Max Verstappen and Lance Stroll crashing into the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc and McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo.
The safety car was brought out for two laps before the race was ultimately red flagged. A further incident in the pit lane between the Alfa Romeo of Kimi Raikkonen and Haas of Nikita Mazepin added to the carnage, and by the time the race was set to restart, only 14 cars were left in the race.
On the restart one of the most bizarre incidents in the history of F1 occurred. Lewis Hamilton led the cars around on the formation lap but was the only one to line up on the grid, as the 13 other cars opted to pit for slick tyres while Hamilton remained on inters and we were witness to the first ever one car Grand Prix start in the history of the sport. It proved to be the wrong decision by Hamilton and Mercedes as all cars who pitted for slicks were clearly faster, and after all the confusion, Esteban Ocon emerged in the lead for Alpine, ahead of Sebastian Vettel for Alfa Romeo.
It was a position Ocon wouldn’t lose, holding off a charging Vettel to take a famous victory. It was his first win in the sport and Alpine’s first win under the Alpine branding. Sadly for Vettel, his strong second place would be lost after later being disqualified for a fuel sample issue, promoting Hamilton to second and Carlos Sainz to third. An amazing result for a driver that nobody predicted to even come close to a win that weekend.
1. 2006 – Winner: Jenson Button (Honda)
An incredible race to give Jenson Button his breakthrough win, made even more incredible given that he looked nowhere near a chance for the win after starting 14th on the grid.
He had initially qualified fourth but a ten-place penalty for engine changes after qualifying sent him back down the pack. He wasn’t the only driver to be starting so low, with 2006 Championship rivals Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher in 11th and 15th respectively, also due to penalties.
A wet race on the Sunday opened things up for all drivers, with Schumacher into fourth, Alonso sixth and Button 11th by the end of the first lap. However both Alonso and Button had better pace due to their Michelin tyres handling the conditions better, and both continued to make their way through the field and were third and fourth on lap seven behind the McLaren pair of Kimi Raikkonen and Pedro de la Rosa.
Alonso would eventually take the lead due to being fuelled heavy meaning he could run longer in the pit stops, while Raikkonen would retire after an incident with the Toro Rosso of Tonio Liuzzi, with Button now in second place. From there the race was Alonso’s to lose.
But lose the race he would. A faulty wheel caused Alonso to go off after his final pit stop and caused him to retire, handing Button the win on a silver platter and given the popular Brit his first win in 112 races.
It was an incredible result and an incredibly exciting race that easily stands out as the best Hungarian Grand Prix of all time.
Do you agree with this list? Which Hungarian Grand Prix is your favourite? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
This article was originally written for The Roar. You can read the published version here