Minardi take to the streets of Hungary 17 Feb 2004
The city of Budapest has been the scene of some exceptional events in its long history, but its residents are unlikely ever to have witnessed anything akin to what took place there last weekend, when the Minardi F1x2 Team staged one of its most spectacular events ever.
In front a hugely enthusiastic, but well-behaved crowd, estimated by officials at in excess of 30,000, Hungary's first Formula One driver, Zsolt Baumgartner, gave eight of his countrymen the experience of a lifetime, "chauffeuring" them in the centre of Budapest in one of Minardi's fleet of eight two-seater Formula One cars.
With the "race track" - a road leading from the city's famous Heroes' Square, closed by local police specifically for the event - and a temporary paddock created for them, the team was able to bring the sights and sounds of Formula One racing to the people of Budapest, as the young Hungarian driver accelerated the F1x2 car to speeds approaching 200 kph.
Baumgartner, his 2004 team mate, Gianmaria Bruni, and Minardi Team Principal, Paul Stoddart, then spent more than a hour signing autographs and meeting some of the thousands of fans who flocked to the event to see their newest national hero in action.
It was the culmination of a very busy day, during which team members also participated in a well-attended morning press conference, at which Stoddart confirmed Minardi's 2004 driver line-up to the assembled media, and then took part in an extended question and answer session along with Baumgartner, Bruni, senior engineer, Andy Tilley, and Hungarian Grand Prix promoter, Thomas Frank.
"It was really great to be able to bring Formula One to the streets of my own city and to be able to share some of my excitement and pleasure at becoming Hungary's first F1 driver with the fans who came out today," said Baumgartner at the conclusion of the event. "I have to thank Paul Stoddart and the whole Minardi team for bringing the two-seater F1 cars to Hungary this weekend and also for giving me the chance to realise my dream of becoming a full-time Formula One driver."
Team Principal, Paul Stoddart, commented, "The team is very pleased to have been able to come to Budapest and to help Hungarian fans get a little closer to the world of Formula One than might normally be the case. Thomas Frank and his team at the Hungaroring always put on a great Grand Prix, but until now, the country has not been able to boast its own F1 driver. Now, Hungarians have both, and I'm certain Zsolt is going to do his fans and his nation proud this year. That, in turn, can only be good for Formula One in general."
Baumgartner and Bruni, along with other members of the Minardi team, are in action at Imola this week, as they take part in the final test before the 2004 World Championship season gets under way, in Melbourne, in just under three weeks' time.