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Twenty years of the Hungarian Grand Prix 31 Jul 2005

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R24.
Formula One World Championship, Rd13, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race, Hungaroring, Budapest, Hungary, 15 August 2004

This weekend will see the 20th running of the Hungarian Grand Prix at the Hungaroring. When Formula One racing first went behind the Iron Curtain in 1986 it was seen as an adventurous, if not risky, move for the sport. Two decades later and the Hungaroring round remains one of the most popular on the calendar.

The roots of Formula One racing in Hungary actually date back a further 50 years. The sole pre-war Hungarian Grand Prix was staged at the Nepliget Park circuit in central Budapest in 1936. The legendary Tazio Nuvolari was the winner, seeing off the German might of the Auto Union and Mercedes teams in his underpowered Alfa Romeo.

Half a century later and Formula One racing achieved what many had thought impossible - to take the sport behind the Iron Curtain. The Hungarians seemed to appreciate the move, with an estimated 200,000 enthusiastic fans attending the inaugural championship race.

With its slow corners and its narrow straights, overtaking at the Hungaroring is far from easy and many say its characteristics more closely resemble a street circuit than a purpose-built track. However, its beautiful setting in a natural amphitheatre makes it an excellent venue for spectators.

The track layout has changed just twice in the circuit's history. For the first three years an extra bend had to be added to avoid an underground spring that was unexpectedly discovered during construction. The problem was resolved and the track straightened in time for the 1990 event. More recently, ahead of the 2003 race, the first and final turns were both tightened, effectively lengthening the lap slightly, in a bid to improve overtaking.

The first Hungarian Grand Prix winner was Williams driver Nelson Piquet, who held off fellow Brazilian Ayrton Senna after a close battle between the two. They finished in the same order the following year, but only after Piquet's team mate Nigel Mansell lost the lead when a wheel nut fell off his car with just six laps to go.

Senna finally got the better of compatriot Piquet in 1988 after switching from Lotus to McLaren. Having started from pole position, he eventually won by little over half a second from team mate Alain Prost, who had stormed from seventh on the grid before mechanical problems halted his challenge for the lead.

In 1989, Mansell, now at the wheel of a Ferrari, proved that overtaking is possible at the Hungaroring as he scythed his was through the field from 12th on the grid, eventually taking a comfortable win from Senna, who had inherited the lead when Ricardo Patrese's Williams retired with technical problems.

The following year saw another close finish in Hungary with Williams driver Thierry Boutsen taking the chequered flag barely a quarter of a second ahead of Senna's McLaren. The Belgian also started from pole position, the only time he did so in his Formula One racing career.

Senna was back to his winning ways at the Hungaroring for the next two seasons. In 1991 he finished ahead of the Williams pair of Mansell and Patrese, whose brakes were not quite up to challenge. Then in 1992 he came home 40 seconds clear of Mansell, who suffered a puncture, but held on to clinch second and with it that year's drivers' title.

The 1993 race brought Damon Hill his first Grand Prix win, which he clinched in style, finishing well over a minute clear of Patrese's Benetton. Williams team mate Alain Prost had been on pole, but his hopes of finally triumphing in Hungary in his last season of Formula One racing evaporated when he stalled on the formation lap.

Hill failed to follow up his success the following season. Instead, a young Michael Schumacher took both pole position and victory for Benetton, with team mate Jos Verstappen in third place behind Hill.

However, Hill took revenge in 1995 as Williams dominated around the Hungaroring. He and team mate David Coulthard qualified first and second and proceeded to finish in the same order, with their closest rival, Ferrari's Gerhard Berger, over a lap down.

Williams maintained their Hungarian stranglehold in 1996. Michael Schumacher grabbed pole for Ferrari, but come the race it was Jacques Villeneuve who took control to lead home Hill for a close Williams one-two. They repeated the formation the following year after Hill, now driving for Arrows, came perilously close to giving the team their maiden Grand Prix win.

Michael Schumacher scored his first Hungarian win with Ferrari in 1998, before McLaren's Mika Hakkinen took back-to-back victories with McLaren in 1999 and 2000. The second in particular saw a dominant display from the Finn, who moved up from third on the grid at the start to take the lead from pole-position man Schumacher.

The 2001 event saw a less convincing performance from Hakkinen, who could finish no better than fifth as Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello secured a Ferrari one-two. It was left to Coulthard to keep up the McLaren challenge, but a fuel rig problem robbed him of a potential second place and he had to settle for the final podium position. The result brought Schumacher his fourth drivers' title and also clinched the constructors' championship for Ferrari.

Another Ferrari one-two in 2002, this time with Barrichello leading Schumacher home, gave the Italian team a fourth successive constructors’ crown. In contrast, the 2003 race was one of Ferrari’s worst, with Schumacher their sole finisher down in eighth. Instead the weekend belonged to Fernando Alonso, who, after taking pole position, went on to dominate proceedings for Renault. He became not only the first Spaniard to win a Grand Prix, but also the youngest victor in the history of Formula One racing.

Last year saw another first at the Hungaroring, when Zsolt Baumgartner became the first Hungarian driver to compete in his home Grand Prix. He completed the race for Minardi, albeit in 15th and last position, while up front Schumacher and Barrichello again cleaned up for Ferrari, with Alonso a distant third in the Renault. The result meant the red team were crowned champions for the sixth successive year.

Against the odds, Ferrari could just take victory again this weekend, after Michael Schumacher’s stunning pole position on Saturday. However, whoever wins on Sunday, Williams will remain the most successful team in Hungary. They have won there seven times - two more than either Ferrari or McLaren.