First and foremost – this article is not a criticism of the F1, FIA nor the Liberty Media Group. The purpose of this is to bring more awareness to fans than anything else. Some would say „well, no one is so stupid to not know that the cities are much different before and during the F1 weekend!”. You would be surprised, trust me.
Around April, just slightly before the Azerbaijan GP took place, an article written* by Helena Hicks on the Drivetribe.com website titled „F1 and Abject Poverty: The truth about Baku” has been posted. In this particular work Hicks sheds light at the poverty rate and the pretty low base for living for the people in Baku. She questions the motives of the F1 group, who's organizing a race in a place where human rights records are very, very poor. For most, those conditions, records and facts are not a priority, not something they are interested in. But that does not make them fade away.
Why such a topic then? Since most of readers or people of interests do not really care about the topic especially in the context of the Azerbaijan GP, a more European environment could be more comprehensible. After a recent travel to the Hungarian GP, some questions have been glooming over my head. I have two points of reference – the Hungarian GP in 2014 and Hungarian GP in 2018.
The first Hungarian GP took place in 1986, when there was still a clear division point between the east and the west – the Iron Curtain. It was a first race to be held behind the Iron Curtain, and at this time the country was still under a communist rule till 1989. 32 years after the first race and Hungarian GP became pretty much a staple race for every F1 season nowadays. According to research* made by Remenyik & Molnár, „The minister of national economy has declared Hungaroring a high-priority project which fosters Hungary’s development by elevating its status as an attractive tourist destination.” In the recent years more Western based fans started to attend the race. Despite the presence of Germans, English and more, as well as more eastern/central fans from Poland or Czech Republic, more and more fans from places like the Netherlands, Belgium and more started to attend the race (also due to the presence of drivers from their countries). Budapest and the Hungarian GP are also one of the cheapest in the calendar, which allows the tourists to spend more money during the racing weekend not only on the track, but also in the city. The capitol of Hungary, as a popular tourist destination, provides a variety of hotels, restaurants and activities that attract the F1 fans to sometimes stay even longer than just for the racing weekend.
So what exactly is the problem? The problem arrives when we take into consideration the state of the country and its society. According to research*, one-third of Hungary's population lives in deep poverty. In 2016, Hungary has been classified as the fourth among European countries with the highest material and social deprivation rate. And it is hard to not agree when the evidence can be found anywhere. It has been not so prominent during my stay for the Grand Prix in 2014. The hotel I was staying in was located in the suburbs of Budapest, where one could observe that the people might not be the richest, but it was not so striking. The traveling from the suburbs to the city centre gave a bigger outlook on the case, but it was still considerably okay. One could think about what they saw as some kind of recollection and aftermath of the communist times in Hungary. During that year, the city centre of Budapest remained clean and „safe”.
The perspective shifts a little bit in 2018 though. Despite the fact that for the many past years fans have not been so satisfied with the organization of the GP, the organization remains the same and the same mistakes take place over and over again. But this is a topic for another article. The more striking thing about this year’s GP has been the views in the capitol city of Hungary. This year, our hotel has been located almost in the city centre of Budapest. It was only 10 to 15 minutes walking to the main streets and to the river. The back streets guiding to the city centre are in bad shape, with buildings in desperate need of renovation, occupied by a lot of homeless people. What was the most striking was the sight of homeless people sleeping in the shop entrances very close to the city centre, a sigh that I’ve seen only once before, in Brussels. The views and the smells became less pleasant with every street further from the city centre. I might not discover America, since this is a view present in a lot of big cities also in Europe. But most of those cities are not a host of a prestigious racing championship, and we must remember that this city does not look like this only during the F1 weekend. Of course, there is a saying that when the city becomes more prosperous, it attracts more homeless people, since they know they can rely on the „help” of the tourists. But the 32% social deprivation rate is alarming, and it is not only present during one weekend in July.
The solution? I am not calling for the abundance of the GP or anything as extreme as that. In the end, organization of the GP provides some amount of money to the budged of the city (although it probably is not so high due to the costs of the organization of the GP itself). Because of it, it is hard to think about any solution. The only lesson coming from this is that we, as fans and professionals, all passionate about the sport, need to at least acknowledge certain things and not let them slip under the rug. It is not a call for a political action, it is a call for understanding and obtaining knowledge. Hopefully in the upcoming years, the situation around this great racing weekend will change, not only for the fans, professionals and drivers but also the citizens of the city and the workers providing service during that time.
Helena Hicks F1 and Abject Poverty: The truth about Baku for Drivetribe.com
Bulcsú Remenyik & Csilla Molnár The role of the Formula 1
Grand Prix in Hungary’s tourism
Budapest Business Journal One-third of Hungarians living in deep poverty