A brand new traditional racing circuit has emerged, offering a rare alternative to the abundance of street circuits in the motorsport world. The Balaton Park Circuit, located in the Hungarian countryside near Lake Balaton, boasts 16 corners and measures 4.1km/2.5 miles in length. It was four years in the making and received a €200 million investment to attract motorsport enthusiasts and tourists to the area. The FIA Grade 1 circuit hopes to host international racing events from the 2024 season, particularly in sportscar competition and junior single-seater categories. Plans to establish an international racing academy for young drivers are also in the works.
At full capacity, the Balaton Park Circuit can accommodate 120,000 spectators thanks to 10,000 permanent seats and the potential to add temporary grandstands. Furthermore, there is a luxurious hotel nearby, as the area is already a popular summertime destination for Budapest residents.
The closest contender to Balaton Park is the Hungaroring, situated just over an hour away, which has hosted the Hungarian Grand Prix since its construction in 1986. Currently, the venue’s contract is effective till 2027, and organisers are believed to be eying another long-term extension.
Although Gianpaolo Matteucci, the board member of Balaton Park, is reticent about the circuit hosting F1, noting that it is not the track’s “main objective,” he expressed that the team “wanted to create an infrastructure already for Formula 1, which is FIA Grade 1.” Indeed, the circuit adheres to the strictest safety regulations for both the FIA and the FIM, making it ready for any motorsport event.
The Balaton Park Circuit’s inaugural lap was taken on by three-time GP winner Giancarlo Fisichella, who is only impressed with its “character” after testing the track. Fisichella drove a Ferrari on the anticlockwise circuit, which boasts six right and ten left-hand corners. While it is not entirely dry, the three-time GP winner believes that it “really has it all” and is “a treat to drive.”
Overtaking opportunities arise coming in and out of two subsequent hairpins, with turn 4 being particularly challenging regarding braking and defending against oversteer. The following back straight has seen Fisichella attain a 220km/h (135mph) speed in his Ferrari, and he believes that with a Formula 1 car, speeds could soar up to 300km/h. The circuit includes another chicane before reaching the challenging, high-speed turn 7, which then leads onto another chicane. Taking turn 11 at its full pelt in wet conditions is difficult but is made more accessible by following a V-shaped line leading into turn 10. The final section of the circuit houses two hairpins before leading into the critical sequence of turns 15 and 16. Spectators ultimately enter the pitlane before making their way to the start/finish straight, thoroughly enjoying the experience alongside Fisichella.
Balaton Park Circuit is already available for bookings for the 2024 season, targeting both two and four-wheeled racing. Smaller championships faced with increased costs for circuits in mainland Europe can take advantage of this new facility. Modern F1 circuits present a growing problem with their increasing number of inner-city street tracks for which Balaton Park offers a refreshing departure. The board disclaims hosting F1 as their principal aim. Nevertheless, F1 could potentially consider Balaton Park for the calendar in the future.