A Hungarian Grand Prix had been held in 1936 at the Népliget park in Budapest, won by Tazio Nuvolari, but 50 years on the news of Formula One’s first foray behind the Iron Curtain was something of a coup for Bernie Ecclestone. The massively commercial sport of F1 wasn’t a natural fit with a Communist country, but the Hungarian government was known for being relatively liberal. Press and travelling fans alike were expecting drab, concrete, Marxist architecture, long queues for dire food and a nightlife consisting of dour, depressed drinking dens. Most, then, were pleasantly surprised to find the city of Budapest looking beautiful, the food delicious and plentiful and the city’s wine bars lively and full of attractive locals. The circuit itself, in the hills a couple of miles outside the city, twisted and turned and would favour the agile cars over those with brute power.
“Silly season” was in full swing, with the paddock swirling with rumours. Mansell was said to have already signed for Ferrari despite Williams’ protestations; Prost strenuously denied similar rumours linking *him* to Maranello. On current form, it was difficult to imagine either driver wanting to make the move, but the Ferrari name had a strong pull. Back in the real world, Thierry Boutsen had opted to revert to the Arrows A8, while Christian Danner persisted with the troublesome new A9 chassis.
On the front row were the two battling Brazilians – Ayrton Senna on pole in the Lotus, with Piquet alongside in the Williams. Prost was third, his neat driving style suiting the circuit perfectly, and Mansell was fourth. Rosberg was fifth, and Tambay an outstanding sixth in the Lola-Ford, with team-mate Jones tenth; the first time both Haas cars had started in the top ten. Between them, Johansson was 7th, Dumfries an encouraging 8th and Arnoux 9th. Alboreto in the other Ferrari was down in 15th, and while the back two rows were as usual occupied by the Osella and Zakspeed teams, the Arrows team was an unaccustomed 21st (Danner) and 22nd (Boutsen).
Race day was hot, and astonishing crowds of over 200,000 spectators filled the stands and covered the surrounding hills. The lights went red, then green and away they went – Mansell got the best start of the lot and shot between Prost and Piquet, taking second from his team-mate and slotting in behind Senna. Tambay had also got a good start to go fourth, with Prost and Jones behind in the other Lola. As Senna came round to begin lap 3, Piquet moved on Mansell and took second place, with the leading Lotus having pulled out a two-second lead. Meanwhile there had already been two retirements: Berg’s Osella with a broken turbo and Rothengatter’s Zakspeed with a bust oil cooler. Piquet soon pulled away from Mansell who came under pressure from Tambay and the others behind him.
By lap 5, Piquet was closing gradually on Senna, while Prost crawled all over the back of Tambay’s Haas Lola trying to find a way past as Mansell gradually eased out again. Patrese had a moment and put his car backwards into a barrier. On the same lap, an unhappy Andrea de Cesaris posted yet another mechanical retirement as his Motori Moderni engine took an early bath. Tambay also had a spin on the unfamiliar twists and turns, got his car back in the running and rejoined 7th, promoting Prost to 4th, Jones to 5th and Rosberg into the points.Three laps later, Christian Danner peeled into the pits to retire his new Arrows A9 with suspension problems as Piquet closed right up on Senna. With only one real passing place on the circuit, though, getting past would be another matter. Behind them, another fight was developing as Prost tried to get past Mansell, making his way past on lap 11 and pulling away in pursuit of the leaders.
As the two Brazilians began lap 12, Piquet lunged past at the first corner – the only real passing place on the circuit – to take the lead, with Prost, Mansell, Rosberg and Dumfries now making up the top six. Prost was carving chunks out of the gap to Senna and was soon right behind the Lotus which was going visibly slower. As Piquet carved through the first of the backmarkers, he was drawing away from the battle for second, On lap 17, Prost came into the pits with an electrical problem, but unfortunately Rosberg was coming in for tyres at the same time; the Finn had to be waved through, which spoiled his race.
In the end, it didn’t matter for Prost – returning to the circuit well down the order, his suspension broke and punted him into the sand trap on lap 23. The order remained broadly the same for the next ten laps or so until Piquet came in for his pitstop from the lead. Senna put the hammer down and pushed hard trying to extend his lead before his own stop. Senna, Piquet and Mansell were by lap 37 the only runners on the same lap as Rosberg trundled in with a suspension failure of his own. Both McLarens out for the first time in a while. Meanwhile, Senna had drawn out a lead of over 30 seconds over Piquet before he finally pitted on lap 40 – a sticky right-rear lost him a few seconds, but he was still able to rejoin in the lead, some 7.5s ahead of Piquet, who in turn led Mansell by about 45s. Berger, Johansson and Dumfries held the rest of the points positions.
Berger’s race was run on lap 45 with a transmission problem, promoting Dumfries to 5th and Brundle to 6th, while Senna had pulled the gap out to 9s. Piquet had now stabilised the gap, while Senna had come around to lap Mansell, who promptly un-lapped himself and pulled away. Senna began to slow down as Piquet quickly began speeding up and reducing the gap by around a second a lap, while commentators around the world speculated as to what the problem could be. At the end of lap 54, Piquet pulled out to overtake Senna and got past – only to lose the place again under braking as he nearly slid wide. He spent the next couple of laps catching back up to the Lotus before trying again at the same spot, this time going left, around the outside, and practically power-drifting his Williams round the corner. The move stuck, and he pulled out a small gap from Senna – however, the Williams gradually began to lose grip and Senna came back strongly, harrying Piquet all the way to the end of the race but ultimately unable to make an impression and get past. The race hit the two-hour time limit a lap short of full distance, finishing after 76 laps.
Piquet thus won the race with Senna second and Mansell third – the exact same podium as in Germany two weeks earlier – with Johansson scoring some much-needed points for Ferrari, Johnny Dumfries finally breaking his duck for Lotus after a solid drive and Brundle taking the last point home to Tyrrell. Mansell, who had struggled all race with handling issues, was happy to take the third place that kept him in the championship lead. Non-scorer Prost dropped from second to fourth as an exciting four-way battle for the title was developing with just five races to go.