The Grand Prix of Finland

Many times Hungary has been called ‘the Grand Prix of Finland’. A lot of Finns go to this race every year and it is always nice to see the blue and white flags waving.

– Kimi Räikkönen, preparing for the 2013 Hungarian Grand Prix

Ever since I started watching Formula One in the late 1990s, while Mika Häkkinen was winning back-to-back World Championships with McLaren, I have heard about the great crowds of Finnish fans who descend on Budapest every summer, making the Hungarian GP their de facto home race.  I always assumed that, without a Finnish GP, they just chose a race in a country without it’s own great motor sport tradition, where the tickets were relatively cheap and available, and made it their own.  Those factors may still be applicable, but, spurred by a quote from Kimi Räikkönen in F1.com’s destination guide for the Hungarian GP, I have now discovered the real reason the Finns chose Hungary.

hakkinenPhoto credit: Ben Sutherland via Flickr

By the way, the destination guides on the F1 site are actually well put together and I think would be useful for anyone planning a trip to a grand prix.  There are a lot of things to complain about when it comes to Bernie Ecclestone and Formula One Management, but their website is not one of them.  To go with the most technologically advanced sport on Earth, F1 has a great website with tons of interesting information.

Anyway, in the guide Kimi is quoted as saying, “Many Finns come to the race because there are some historical links between Hungary and Finland, so it’s the closest I get to a home grand prix during the year.”  As a historian (according to my formal training . . . surprisingly, I did not go to university to be an F1 blogger), my interest was immediately piqued.  It did not take long to figure out that the Iceman is right.  It turns out that Finns and Hungarians share the same ethnic ancestors and Finnish and Hungarian are part of the same linguistic group.

flag and kimiKimi Räikkönen at the Hungaroring.
Photo credit: Cameron Rogers via Flickr

The linguistic relationship is apparently something that would only be noted by a linguist, as there are very few common words in the two languages (and it seems a good many of those are related to either fishing or reindeer).  Still, both languages are part of the Finno-Ugric languages, which originated in the region around the Ural Mountains in Russia.  The shared ancestors of the Finns and Hungarians lived in this region and then migrated out into Europe more than 4,000 years ago (Estonians are also part of this group).  This has caused consternation (see p. 28 of the linked document) for some Hungarian nationalists, who prefer to think that they are descended from the Sumerians and Scythians, each of whom had large empires in the ancient Middle East, rather than some mountain people from Russia.

Regardless, there is a clear affinity between the two countries, manifested not only in the Finns at the Hungarian GP, but also through cross-cultural studies and economic partnerships.  So now you know why you will see so many Finnish flags in the grandstands this weekend, cheering on Kimi Räikkönen and Valtteri Bottas, the ‘hometown’ boys.

One final note on the Finns in Hungary: current Caterham reserve driver Heikki Kovalainen, another Finn, has started 109 grands prix in his career.  He has exactly one win and, surprise, it came at the 2008 Hungarian GP.  Finnish drivers won four Hungarian GPs between 1999 and 2008 (Häkkinen in 1999 and 2000 and Räikkönen in 2005).

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