Daggers & Wasp Stings: Medical Chief remembers the first Hungarian Grand Prix

Károly Méhes speaks to Prof. Dr. György Nemes, the medical chief at the inaugural Hungarian Grand Prix in 1986.

Dr. Nemes, now aged 86, is a well-known traumatology specialist and orthopaedic surgeon. He was always interested in racing, but more importantly was an expert in treating injuries caused by car accidents. The right person to take the role of trackside medical chief for the inaugural Hungarian Grand Prix in 1986, in other words. The contract for the race was signed by Bernie Ecclestone and Mr. Tibor Balogh from the Hungarian Autoclub in September 1985, giving Dr. Nemes less than a year to prepare for the first Formula 1 race behind the Iron Curtain.

How were the preparations ahead of the inaugural 1986 Hungarian Grand Prix?

It was an extreme rush. Several groups worked on different parts of the medical programme with the aim of finishing at the same time, but this was complicated by the track being built around us. I supervised the planning and construction of the medical centre and organized the medical support for the race.

There were a plenty of unforeseen issues. The only building at the circuit to have an air conditioner was the medical centre, but it wasn’t easy to get one in Hungary at the time. There was only one factory in Hungary producing them at the time, the Lehel refrigerator factory in Jászberény. When it arrived, there was nobody able to install it! I had to find some experts from our hospital to do the work. It was a good decision to install the air conditioner in the medical centre, as the temperatures for the first race were high. Frank Williams had just suffered his awful road accident, so he would come to the medical centre for his physical treatment – it was a lot more pleasant doing this in an air-conditioned room than the hot motorhomes.

You were in charge of rescue operations, what did this mean in practice?

We were asked not to use the state-owned ambulances from Budapest, because it was feared there could be problems in the city if we took 15 ambulances off the roads for the weekend. I had to find other ways. I borrowed an old ambulance at the Csepel Metalworks, a new Mercedes from the Ministry of Interior (normally used by the comrades) and also got some additional ones from smaller towns in the region. We needed 16 ambulances in total, seven for the different sectors of the circuit and the rest for the spectator areas. I borrowed all of them! I had to find out the right spots at different parts of the circuit to park the ambulances. When we first showed our old-fashioned Nysa ambulances from Poland to the FISA delegates, there were a few smiles. Professor Sid Watkins said we could make a nice museum display from them!

We had medical tents with volunteer doctors and nurses from every corner of the country, because we didn’t want to take them all from Budapest. I also bought several dozen daggers, because I was worried that we may not be able to extract the drivers from their safety harness after an accident without cutting the belts. I went to the biggest Budapest supermarket Skála, and I purchased every dagger they had. A man standing behind me in the line became upset and started shouting that I was planning to commit mass murder with all these weapons!

Any other issues?

We had trouble finding a helicopter landing area for the Budapest Traumatology Institute, which didn’t possess one at the time. This was in case we needed to transport a seriously injured driver from the track to the hospital. The nearby Fiumei cemetery was suggested, but we dropped that idea; what would the injured driver think if he was transported directly to the cemetery?

Did you experience any problems on race weekend?

Not with any accidents on the track. But we had problems with the wasps living in the surrounding vineyards, who kept on stinging the spectators! Many spectators also needed treatment for sunstroke. There was also an issue with an old Wartburg car from East Germany that had a faulty handbrake. It careened down a hill and crashed into a family eating their dinner. Luckily, there were only minor injuries.

The 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix is set to take place on August 1 at the Hungaroring.

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