Hungary Magazine

On this Day, in 1986: the Hungarian Grand Prix was the first F1 race held behind the Iron Curtain

On August 10, 1986, held at the newly constructed Hungaroring and attended by 200,000 spectators from across the Eastern Bloc, the Hungarian Grand Prix became the first-ever Formula One race to be held behind the Iron Curtain.

For years, Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One’s commercial promoter, had been wanting to have a Grand Prix in the Soviet Union, and in 1983, after talks to stage a race in Moscow failed, he approached Hungary. While the country was behind the Iron Curtain, it was not a devoted Soviet satellite and there was a growing sense that it was ready to open up further for business with the West.

The Communist government agreed and signed a contract with Formula One in December 1985. But there was only one problem: the country had no racetrack. Indeed, despite the fact that the winner of the first-ever Grand Prix race in 1906 was a Hungarian, Ferenc Szisz, and that in 1936 a Hungarian Grand Prix was held in Budapest’s Népliget Park, racing culture had dried up under Communist rule.

Bernie Ecclestone wanted a street circuit similar to the Circuit de Monaco to be built in the Népliget, but the government refused. So a site was found on a potato field outside the village of Mogyoród, 20 kilometers northeast of the city, where a new track was built in eight months. And in August 1986, the Hungaroring was ready to have it’s first Grand Prix.

Attended by 200,000 spectators from across the Eastern Bloc, the first-ever Formula One race to be held behind the Iron Curtain was won by Nelson Piquet in his Williams in front of his fierce rival, Ayrton Senna in his Lotus. Nigel Mansell completed the podium after finishing a lap down in his Williams. Defending World Champion Alain Prost crashed in what was his 100th Grand Prix start.

Attendance at the 1986 Hungarian Grand Prix stood as a record for a Formula One race for nearly a decade, until 210,000 attended the 1995 Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide. A mainstay of the racing calendar ever since, the Hungarian Grand Prix is the country’s biggest sporting event today.

In 2001, Michael Schumacher equalled Alain Prost’s then record 51 Grand Prix wins at the Hungaroring, in the drive which also secured his fourth Drivers’ Championship which also matched the Frenchman’s career tally.

But due to the nature of the narrow, twisty and often dusty track, the Hungarian Grand Prix has also been associated with dull processional races and in 2003, the circuit was slightly modified in an attempt to allow more passing. Held in the summer months, the first and only wet race at the track was in 2006 when Jenson Button won for Honda.

In 2020, Lewis Hamilton won the Hungarian Grand Prix for a record eighth time, sharing the record with Michael Schumacher who also won the French Grand Prix eight times. In 2021, the race was won by Esteban Ocon, with Hamilton and Carlos Sainz Jr. completing the podium.

Find out more about Central European history in our new On this Day series.