Budapest has long been on my list of places to visit. Having heard so much from numerous people about cheap booze, lovely architecture and all that stuff, it’s not hard to see why.
It’s also not hard to see why, having spent a weekend there in August watching the Formula One, it’s still on my list of places to visit. Upon arriving on the Thursday evening, we swiftly headed out for a few drinks with the intention of spending our one free day (I love F1, but Friday practice is a bit much even for me) exploring the city.
Unfortunately, it pissed it down for the entirity of Friday so we found a compromise by sitting on a boat on the River Danube drinking the local sparkling wine for most of the day.
Saturday soon rolled around and after soaking up the previous night’s alcohol with a toasted sandwich and a strong coffee, we made our way to the circuit.
There are a number of ways to reach the Hungaroring from the centre of Budapest including by metro and buses, or a combination of both. Had Rick and I not had our fingers burnt with the public transport at Monza a few years back and missed part of qualifying, we might have been more up for trying it again this time round. In the end though, it was quite an easy decision to opt for the pricier option of a taxi to and from the track.
The ‘official’ taxi service for the Grand Prix was a company called 6×6 Taxi, who claimed to have priority use of the the VIP lanes leading to the circuit. PR speil or not, it was good enough for us and we used them both days thanks to their handy Uber-style app. Between three of us, 10,000 forint (around 30 quid) for the half-hour journey seemed more than reasonable.
We could’ve been mistaken for thinking that we’d actually stepped into Lewis Hamilton’s car for this particular journey, as our driver seemed to treat traffic lights as the five red lights at the start of a Grand Prix. To borrow a direct quote from Rick: I have never felt such pure acceleration.
Despite a few hairy moments before taking our rightful place in the VIP lane, we were dropped off right outside the entrance to the circuit. Unsurprisingly, with two hours to spare until the qualifying shootout, the first port of call was the bar.
Somewhat surprisingly, a pint of Heineken was only 1000 forint (about £3) which was an absolute steal considering we weren’t paying too much less in the not-quite-as-cheap-as-everyone-says city centre of Budapest. Even more surprising was the fact that we were paying around seven quid in Italy two years ago and perhaps more in Japan back in 2016, so we could be forgiven for thinking that we might have had our pants down here too!
As seems to be the case wherever we go, as Lewis Hamilton fans we were massively outnumbered in the crowd. Due to its location, there was a huge contingent supporting Polish driver Robert Kubica as well as the increasingly annoying ‘orange army’ following Max Verstappen!
After turfing someone out of my seat (how is it possible to get so confused over numbers and letters?) we settled in for a blisteringly hot qualifying session. It was at this point I was really regretting overlooking suncream and also forgetting my hat. On the plus side, it was an opportunity to top up my t-shirt tan acquired in Naples a few weeks prior.
We were sat in the Silver 1 grandstand on the exit of the final corner leading into the start-finish stretch. Within a few minutes of the first qualifying session kicking off we’d seen a few drivers misjudge that final corner and Charles Leclerc had already planted it into the wall right in front of us. As far as positioning goes, it seemed we’d chosen well.
To the delight of most around us, Verstappen took pole position while our beloved Lewis could only manage third behind his teammate Valtteri Bottas in second. In all honesty, our optimism had taken something of a booting at this point.
If getting to the circuit was a piece of piss, then leaving it was anything but. After getting inordinately annoyed at one particular Verstappen fan waving his bright orange flag in everyone’s face in the bar area post-quali, we headed for the taxi rank.
The firm that served us so well were unsurprisingly in high demand and the queue stretched as far as the eye could see. With this in mind, we decided against spending time waiting around in a queue thanks to my misguided faith that we could find a taxi elsewhere, whilst making our way towards the bus stop.
Things might have worked out slightly better had I not followed old information and guided us in the total opposite direction of where we needed to be. Having been quoted taxi prices from the ridiculous to the absurd (30,000 forint, or £90!) we reached the bus queue with more misguided faith that the queue might have died down considering qualifying had finished a good two hours earlier. How wrong we were.
Back to the drawing board it was and we were feeling quite desperate at this point. We started flagging down every taxi in sight and I’m fairly sure we learnt the Hungarian way to say ‘fuck right off’ after the reaction Rick got when trying to barter one particular driver down to 10,000. As luck would have it, just a few moments later James managed to flag down a complete lunatic who I’m not entirely sure was on the same planet as us, and he was more than happy with 10,000. Each to their own.
Despite the man barely speaking a word of English, there was nothing lost in translation and after a fun/fear-filled journey at breakneck speed (plus a belting singalong to Simply Red’s ‘Fairground’ on the way), we parted with the agreed price and went off into the night hopeful of an early Hamilton overtake the following day.
Moral of the story? Be patient, or if you really can’t do that, go with the nuttiest taxi driver you can.
We started race day in a similar fashion: breakfast, coffee, hair of the dog and a taxi to the circuit.
Rather disappointingly, this taxi driver was very sensible and wasn’t a maniac in the slightest. Great for your nervous system, not so great for blog material. Due to the increased crowds on the main event day, we were dropped slightly further from the circuit than the Saturday but helpfully, there was a free shuttle minibus to take us to the same entrance we’d been dropped at the previous day.
Truth be told the buildup to the race was very similar to qualifying, but with more people; in other words, Robert Kubica had even more fans and there were more – as Rick so eloquently christened them – orange dickheads hoping for a Verstappen procession from pole position.
After the three previous races in Austria, Britain and Germany had been instant classics, I had a fear that we were in for a bit of a stinker here. The Hungaroring isn’t known as a great track for overtaking and if Hamilton couldn’t get past Verstappen early, I felt we were in for a dull race not too dissimilar to France earlier in the season.
It certainly felt that way too after the first half of the race. Despite getting past his teammate on the first lap, Hamilton just couldn’t close in on Verstappen and as the race went on, it looked like he just wasn’t going to be able to do it. Then something unexpected happened.
With both drivers expected to see out the race with the tyres they had, on lap 48, Hamilton entered the pits for fresh tyres. There was confusion all round; this would set him back over 20 seconds with a similar number of laps to go. Surely he couldn’t make up this much in such a short space of time, could he?
There’s a reason these F1 strategists earn more money than you or I to make these decisions. With four laps to go, Hamilton was all over Verstappen’s gearbox as they passed us and two corners later he’d sealed the deal. With no grip left on his tyres, there was no way Max was clawing this one back. I turned round to the orange contingent behind and gave a massive fist pump. Job done.
Podium and interviews done, we headed back to the bar where the Verstappen fan was waving his flag the day before and decided on a few celebratory beers while waiting for the taxi queue to subside. We managed to gravitate towards a much larger group of English Lewis Hamilton fans than the day before and the beers began to flow.
It must have been a good three hours before we headed towards the taxi queue and subside it had not. Thankfully, there was a bar next to the taxi rank so we decided to give them plenty more of our money while waiting for the queue to disappear.
Day turned to night and the queue was still bloody massive. Thankfully we’d got ourselves a table with three Finnish blokes with whom we chatted long into the night. And by chatted, I obviously mean ‘talk shit interspersed with Lewis Hamilton chants in order to wind up the orange contingent in the bar’. Can you imagine the reaction we’d have got at a footy match?
Thankfully, our trolling was taken in good jest and in all honesty we were well outsung anyway. I could make an argument for English F1 fans being ridiculous for not getting behind Hamilton like the Dutch get behind Verstappen, but that’s another argument for another day.
A good four or five hours after the chequered flag we finally found ourselves in a taxi, a little worse for wear it must be said. Spirits were lifted with another singalong, this time to The Real Thing’s ‘You To Me Are Everything’, and a thoroughly unimpressed driver who James joked was going to ‘Richard Hillman’ us if we carried on.
I never thought I’d be rounding off an F1 post with a niche Coronation Street reference. Isn’t life full of little surprises?