My weekend in Hungary.
An unforgettable F1 weekend at Budapest supporting McLaren.
As a McLaren fan I’ve followed the team to a few circuits over the years but our trip to Hungary provided us fans with some truly amazing moments.
Thursday - The pit walk
I’ve never attended one of these, so myself and 3 friends decided to go along and see if we could get near our team. Sadly the walk was extremely crowded (only one entrance gate was open for a start) and done in very hot and humid conditions. The organisation seemed chaotic and to be honest, it was nearly unbearable in the heat.
The crush of the pit walk.
After lots of queuing we finally made it along to the McLaren garage and saw the team working on both cars. We saw the new McLaren garage set up too. It was great to get so close and see the team at work. We even caught a quick glimpse of Stoffel before he headed off to be filmed somewhere.
Stoffel leaves the McLaren garage due to filming commitments.
This is how close you get!
Friday - Free practice and a day to remember!
We watched free practice from a covered grandstand- what a massive relief to have shade! Apart from a small spin, progress on track seemed positive. We saw the Sky presenters, the Channel 4 guys, Alex Wurz as well as some truly bizarre outfits on display (Santa, an orange-wigged family, with orange suits and various dancing F1 drivers with novelty-sized heads!).
The F1 village with its DJ set and booming sound system was a great to place to hang out. One of our crew had made an impressive McLaren F1 car hat, that got a whole heap of attention from everyone. Many wanted to be photographed wearing it!
While we had lunch we noticed that McLaren wanted their fans (McLaren+ members) to film a supportive message and had sent out a request to that effect on instagram. We knew this was a fantastic opportunity to do something for the team so we immediately filmed an impromptu message with my orange McLaren banner in the foreground.
Later that day we got a surprise message from the team asking us to meet at the bridge to the paddock club at 6pm. We didn’t know what to expect but we knew we wouldn’t miss it for the world!
We were met by the team, handed 4 paddock passes and escorted into the McLaren F1 garages! We saw the cars being disassembled after practice. Photos were forbidden but it was amazing to be on that side, looking out at the stands and being so close to the cars! Gil De Ferran was there with all the mechanics. They were very busy. I was surprised at how little space they had (but I was told there are even smaller garages elsewhere). The team complimented my friend on his McLaren hat and Stoffel’s press officer, Charlotte, even dared to try it on! But this incredible experience wasn’t over yet. Not by a long way.
Entry into the McLaren F1 garage.
We were then invited into the Brand Centre, McLaren’s incredible team base for European races. It is stunning and has also been visibly ‘refreshed’ with some lovely papaya touches. It feels like a permanent building, not a mobile motorhome. We were given free reign to take photos and videos and play on their simulator. I spotted Fernando and his manager there. We were then given drinks and we all had a seat and got some precious time to get some great insights from our team host, Helen. Andrea Stella was sitting right behind us. I kept on pinching myself. We all did. It was like a dream.
The McLaren Brand Centre at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Stoffel walk past from another room. I immediately waved at him, I have no idea why I did this or even thought this was a good idea but I’ve been lucky enough to meet him a few times and I thought I’d chance it in the vague hope he’d notice or, dare I say it, even recognise us. He smiled, waved back and came over and asked us how our weekend was going. It was a mind blowing moment and we had a great chat with him about his driving that day. He’s a great guy and was so generous with his time with us. It meant a lot.
We were all set to get a photo with him but it was interrupted when Fernando ran over to us and said ‘I want to be part of this’. He said hello to all of us individually and shook all our hands! (He even introduced himself to Stoffel to everyone's amusement). He was in a great mood and they thanked us for our support. Those few moments were so very special. I’m not ashamed to say I nearly lost it and cried to be honest but I managed to hold it together! Zak also kindly smiled and said hi to us all but was very clearly a busy man and on the move.
The fans meet their idols.
We were then allowed to tour the entire paddock. We saw so many famous faces; Sebastian Vettel, Lance Stroll, Cyril Abiteboul and Esteban Ocon to name but a few. It was fascinating to see F1 from the inside, a privilege afforded to a select few.
Finally, and reluctantly, we had to leave. This was a day I won’t forget, our patient host Helen was so good with us all. We thanked her but it didn’t seem enough. It was bucket list stuff. This was quite a day.
Saturday - Qualifying chaos
The mixed rainy conditions made for an unforgettable session. The (very loud) thunder and lightning were basically right behind us in the Red Bull stand and the views afforded to us were spectacular. Three of us huddled under an umbrella but after the heat of the day, part of me enjoyed the downpour! You really got to see the drivers earn their money that day and the chaotic conditions made it a session that really stood out from others I’ve seen.
The weather closing in on us.
Sunday - Race day
For Sunday our seat was opposite the podium, in a grandstand. The heat was again, scorching, with no let up. Fortunately a large TV screen allowed us to catch all the action elsewhere. The build up was very immersive, it really added to the atmosphere. I really like how Liberty have improved the show and I loved all the crowd interaction. They have changed many things for the better of the sport. We saw all the drivers and presenters from our seats as they did their grid walks.
Both McLaren drivers raced so well, executing a perfect strategy that really maximised what the team have and played to our advantages. For large parts of the race we dared to dream that both cars would get points. Sadly not to be for Stoffel, he retired with a gearbox issue. I felt gutted for him. But Fernando scoring points was a nice bonus to take into the break. I hope there is more to come.
Our view of the podium.
By the end of the race we were sunburnt, covered in dust, tired and very sad it was all over but we knew we had memories of a special time that we will hold onto as long as we possibly can. Moments like these remind you how special the team is and how much they genuinely value their fans.
Thanks McLaren+ what an unbelievable experience!
What a weekend !!
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If you want to see - all - the details; the whole trip was documented on Twitter, so search under our hashtag #Hungarothing to see our exploits in full!