How To Spend 72 F1 Hours In Budapest

RSNG travelled to Hungary for the Budapest Grand Prix to see what one of Europe’s top city-break destinations has to offer beyond high-octane racing – we saw lots of that too, of course.

From high intensity workouts up national monuments, to airborne sightseeing, to barber culture, Budapest is offers an experience to remember, against a fascinating historical backdrop. It was the perfect setting for a clash of the world’s best drivers, who soon became locked into a classic duel…

1. Start With A Dash For Freedom
The ideal way to shake off those air miles, once you hit your hotel, is with a quick run. The traffic in central Budapest is heavy like a Buick, but RSNG found the perfect solution by running across Sisi Bridge to Gellért Hill, which overlooks the city.

Here you can tax your quads by running up a series of steep stairs and switchbacks, all the way to the Liberty Statue at the top of the hill. It was built in 1947 to commemorate the lives lost liberating Hungary from nazi occupation. My loop from Eurostars hotel and back was around 8km.

Okay so the hard work is in the elevation, but that just turns this run into a whole-body workout, setting you up perfectly the next item on the agenda…

2. Hit The Steakhouse
The national dish of Hungary is goulash, but Budapest is blessed with some amazing Argentinian-style steakhouses. The best of these is Prime, located in District V, close to the East bank of the Danube.

You can order an array of steak cuts from Argentinian, American, Wagyu and local Hungarian Greys – and try the goulash soup to start for some local flavour!

‘Riding shotgun in the cockpit and seeing whole city laid out through the transparent bubble as the aircraft banks is exhilarating’

3. Go Airborne Sightseeing
Budapest’s heavy traffic means that driving around town is a pain, so if you want to get an overview of the city, the best way is by air. And what F1 weekend would be complete without a spin in a heli?

We met our pilot Silvester Balazs at Budaors airport, to the south west of the city. At first glance the grass airfield, with its ramshackle buildings peeling paint, and tarmac scattered with mothballed Cold War jets and mobile rocket launchers, looked like the set from some movie.

‘That’s because it is!’ our guide told us. It seems this location is sought-after by movie makers, as well as thrill seekers. No sooner had we strapped into the four seater helicopter, than Balazs powered up and peeled off into the sky in a clatter of rotors.

After flying over the lush greenery of the outer limits, we track into the city, crossing the mighty Danube. Seen from this height, the blue band of the river dwarves Budapest’s castles and palaces, that seem so impressive at ground height.

From the ground this is a beautiful city, but from the air the sheer sweep and scale of its historical buildings, from the Nero-Gothic Hungarian parliament building with its red dome and towers (built in 1902), to the 14h Century Matthias Church, can really be appreciated.

There’s nothing like riding shotgun next to a helicopter pilot, looking through the transparent bubble of the cockpit as the aircraft banks sharply to reveal the whole city laid out in front of you – it’s exhilarating stuff.

4. Smarten Up
Hearing that we were going to be hosted in the Grand Prix F1 Paddock Club, courtesy of Heineken, RSNG thought we should sharpen up a bit. So we strolled down the road to Black Sheep Barbers, with its old-school leather chairs and Harley Davidson on the shop floor.

A few years ago Barber culture did not exist in Hungary due to a government ban on straight razors – fast forward to 2019 and the boom makes this corner of Budapest feel like East London. It’s got steez, then. We stepped out onto the street feeling that barber confidence boost that only comes from a fresh cut.

5. Walk The Pitlane
If you want a true insight into the intense racing environment of Formula 1, then getting into the pit lane ahead of race, to witness the pink crews doing dress rehearsal pit stops, is a good place to start.

As I had access to the Paddock Club, that also gave me the privilege to walk the pit lane. It's only when you're down on the sun scorched tarmac seeing the pit crews armoured up in flame-retardant overalls and helmets, that you realise the pressure these guys are working under, and also the speed and extreme precision demanded as standard.

The high-pitched whine of the impact drivers, and sight of F1 teams preparing for go, really gets you in the mood to watch the race.

6. Follow The Race Corner By Corner
The Paddock Club is located right above the team garages in the pit lane, which makes it an ideal place to watch the start of the race and see the cars hammer down the fast straight, sipping a cold brew. Lobster for lunch, anyone?

The Budapest Grand Prix had Max Verstappen on his very first pole position start. He looked good throughout practice and was clearly man to beat. We also saw Daniel Ricciardo being interviewed in The Paddock Club and promise to get amongst the action, and ‘lose some friends’ in classic Honeybadger style.

As the race developed it was obvious Lewis Hamilton was on a charge and keen to make amends for his nightmare outing in Germany. The advantage of the paddock club is that you can watch the action on the big screen at the same time as monitoring the track, and the race at the front soon turned into a gunslingers’ duel between Hamilton and Verstappen.

We were able to see Lewis Hamilton pudding piling pressure onto Verstappen, but not being able to pass him, before rolling the dice and making a second pitstop. He leapt out of the pits on fresh tyres and started to hunt Verstappen down.

‘Wondering out loud how much longer his tires would last his team replied: ‘It doesn't matter, give it all you've got’

We could hear on the race radios just how heated the battle became with snatched messages – at one point Hamilton was asked to pile on more pressure: ‘I can't put any more pressure on than this,’ came the reply. Later on he wondered out loud how much longer his tires will last. His team replied: ‘It doesn't matter, give it all you've got.’

At lap 60 he was faced with what looked like an insurmountable, 17-second mountain to climb. Then he started to charge, looking more and more dangerous each time flew past us on the start/ finish straight. Incredibly, he closed the gap, and with three laps to go passed Verstappen to take the chequered flag.

Cue pandemonium in The Paddock Club as the well-heeled crowd lost their shit and celebrated the spectacle – drinks flew everywhere! It was a fitting end to 72 hours in Budapest, even if the first ever Grand Prix was not replicated with the victory of a Hungarian...

WHAT NEXT? Watch RSNG’s pit lane video to see how F1 teams rehearse for lightning, sub 2-second pit stops…

Photos and video: ©Matt Ray

As major partners of F1 Heineken are bringing a fresh perspective to host cities, showcasing there is more than a race to a Grand Prix weekend. Search #HeinekenF1 for more info

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