2009 Hungarian Grand Prix
Kicsit sárgább, kicsit savanyúbb
“It’s a little bit like Monaco without the houses,” is how Murray Walker described the Hungaroring. This year’s Hungarian Grand Prix was to be a weekend about Felipe Massa’s crash and Lewis Hamilton’s unlikely victory—preceded by an embarrassing spectacle as Hungarian as pre-race events get.
Words and pictures: Peter Orosz
There is perhaps no finer a mirror to reflect the malaise of being Hungarian than Péter Bacsó’s 1969 film The Witness. Filmed with funds provided by a Communist state which then proceeded to ban the irreverent product of its largesse, it follows the bumblings of József Pelikán, a Forrest Gump-like water inspector, who moves among the frying pans and fires of early 1950s Hungary.
Many of the movie’s lines have become part of the modern Hungarian vernacular, including Pelikán’s defense of a lemon passed off as an orange at the opening of a research institute tasked with growing oranges: Az új magyar narancs. Kicsit sárgább, kicsit savanyúbb, de a mienk. Which translates to: “The new Hungarian orange. It’s slightly yellower, it’s slightly sharper, but our own.”
An overwhelming proportion of all things Hungarian are twists on lemons and oranges. The post-war Hungarian Grand Prix, held since 1986, is no exception. While it may have been a particularly tasty coup for Bernie Ecclestone to bring Formula One racing to what was then still a Communist country, I shall only note that apart from Walker’s observation about the track’s lack of houses, it also lacks a harbor.
The venue itself is a slow track in a dust bowl which, while providing fine visibility, is a hot, dusty, uncomfortable place to be. If you decide to leave the racetrack and travel the 15 or so miles to Budapest proper, you will encounter a city which even The Official Formula 1 Website will describe as past its prime: “Known as the ‘Paris of central Europe’ and ‘the Queen of the Danube’, Budapest is adorned with beautiful architecture, most of which was built towards the end of the 19th century when the city enjoyed a boom during the industrial revolution.”
While I wish to speak no ill of my hometown, suffice to say that the 19th century ended 108 years ago.
But the single most irritating aspect about Formula One in Hungary is the man who has been the sport’s official commentator for at least two decades. László Palik broadcasts races with an unpleasant, overwrought excitement, which—if you will believe an acquaintance of mine who is a part-time racing driver—is short on understanding and explaining the nuances of motor racing.
If you understand spoken Hungarian and also have a penchant for the noises of a motor race, you are often caught in a teeth-grinding paradox as you tap your index finger on the remote’s mute button. In a very Hungarian twist, he also happens to be the President of the Executive Board of Hungaroring Sport Zrt., the mostly state-owned company tasked with promoting the Hungarian Grand Prix. It was most likely in this capacity that he found himself on the afternoon of the Thursday preceding the race in the cockpit of an RB1—Red Bull Racing’s first F1 car, the only one made in the V10 era—driving up and down on the road leading into the Buda Castle.
It is worth noting that on his website, Palik describes himself as “2008 Race driver of the year in Hungary,” based perhaps on his 18th place finish in the 2005 Dakar Rally among cars.
If you decided to brave the Peshawar-like Budapest heat which hung over the city that afternoon, you arrived to see a light crowd gaping through a crowd control barrier, kept awake by an announcer clearly hopped up on multiple Red Bulls. Safety car driver Bernd Mayländer was the first to drive the closed course, providing a fine V8 holler from his AMG Benz, but is was all downhill from there. Palik drove the Red Bull racer no faster than a street car as our executive producer Natalie Polgar’s keen ears picked out a number of inelegant gearshifts. Palik was followed by a rally car.
The announcer’s Red Bull-tuned tone had no relation with the event on the ground, where a thin crowd struggled to stay alert. It was a lame, embarrassing spectacle, a rather far cry from poor David Coulthard’s—he was also on hand to drive one of the old Red Bulls—quote on Palik’s official site: “It was a fantastic idea to host the street parade in such a pretty locale. The event was a first-class run-up to Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix.”
A slightly yellower, slightly sharper take on first-class, I reckon. But our own for sure.
∞ Published on Tuesday, August 11th, 2009