Népliget, a park in the Hungarian capital Budapest, was once the place where the first ever Hungarian Grand Prix took place in 1936. It would be a heroic battle where Tazio Nuvolari in his Alfa Romeo beat the powerful Mercedes and Auto Unions at the twisty circuit…

The origination of the Népliget street circuit

In the early thirties there were already plans to organize a Grand Prix in Hungary, but all these attemps failed. Until 1936, when on June the 21st at a street circuit in a park in the Hungarian capital Budapest the first Hungarian Grand Prix was held. The name of the park was Népliget which is Hungarian for Peoples Park.

Népliget Budapest 1936 Hungarian Grand Prix Circuit

The layout of Népliget Circuit

The Népliget street circuit was 4.989 km (3.118 Miles) long and was driven anti clockwise. Typical for the Népliget Circuit was that there was only one straight line, the 750 meter (820 Yards) long central axis where Start/Finish was. The rest of the circuit was a very long series of coners.

Also typical where the pinching curves, where you had to brake in the middle of the corner and than accelerate in a long curve. This was a special challenge for the drivers in a time that racing cars where not well balanced like today. A real drivers circuit and a good change for underpowered cars…

Népliget Budapest 1936 Hungarian Grand Prix Circuit - Start/Finish Vajda Péter utca
Here was the start of the First Hungarian Grand Prix in 1936.

The 1936 Hungarian Grand Prix

In the thirties the German car manufacturers Mercedes and Auto Union dominate Grand Prix racing with financial support from Hitler. In fact, he was one of the first sponsors in motorsport. Especially on the fast circuits they where unbeatable because of their powerful engines.

Népliget Budapest 1936 Hungarian Grand Prix Circuit

Initially, it seemed that they would be also victorious in the Hungarian Grand Prix Early in the race Rudolf Caracciola takes the lead from Auto Union driver Bernd Rosemeyer. But after 26 laps his Mercedes engine collapse which handed back the lead to Rosemeyer.

Meanwhile Tazio Nuvolari put Mercedes driver Manfred von Brauchitsch under pressure for second place with his underpowered Alfo Romeo. After von Brauchitsch made a mistake and runs of the track. This made the way clear for Nuvolari to chase Rosemeyer.

Népliget Budapest 1936 Hungarian Grand Prix Circuit

A few laps later Nuvolary took the lead from Rosemeyer and won the race with a lead of 14,2 seconds. Achille Varzi became third in his Auto Union with a gap of 2 laps! The 100,000 spectators witnessed how the powerful German teams were defeated.

The 1936 race would become the only pre war Hungarian Grand Prix. When World War Two broke out in 1939 there where no more races in Europe for the next six years. The Hungarian race fans had to wait til the early sixties before racing returned to the then communist Hungary. The First races where held on FerihegyAirport in Budapest.

Népliget Budapest 1936 Hungarian Grand Prix Circuit

Touring car races at Népliget

In 1963 motor racing returned to Népliget with the European Touring Car Championship. But the track was not exactely the same as the 1936 version. They moved Start/Finish to a new part and some corners where modified because some traffic roads where changed.

Népliget Budapest 1936 Hungarian Grand Prix Circuit - Könyves Kálmán körút
The widening of this road made that some corners where modified in the sixties.

During the years 1963 to 1970, the European Touring Car Championship came six times to Népliget. The last race in 1970 was won by Dutchman Toine Hezemans.

Besides the European Touring Car Championship there were also amateur races with everything that was drivable. But it all stopped in 1972, communism and motorsport never was a happy combination, and they never raced again at Népliget.

Népliget Budapest 1936 Hungarian Grand Prix Circuit
Here was the Start/Finish during the sixties and seventies.

The Hungaroring as a replacement for Népliget

In the early eighties, Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone wanted a Grand Prix behind the iron curtain. In 1983 the Hungarian goverment ordered to investigate the possibility to organize a Grand Prix at the old Népliget circuit.

There where ambtious plans to make the track suitable for Formula One. But after all they came to the conclusion that it would be better to build a brand new circuit, the Hungaroring.

Hungaroring F1 Grand Prix 1998 - Mercedes Silver Arrows Demo
The Silver Arrows from the thirties in 1998 back in Hungary for a demonstration. This time at the Hungaroring!

With the Hungaroring at short distance it seems unlikely that there will ever be raced again at Népliget. Today, the lay out of the track is almost unchanged.

The park is not crowded by race fans but by walkers who come to enjoy the silence. And by vagrants who sleep in the park. But occasionally there is a lonely race fan with a camera to take pictures of the former Grand Prix circuit.

Népliget Budapest 1936 Hungarian Grand Prix Circuit

© Text & photos: Herman Liesemeijer

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