When Fernando Alonso competes in the Indianapolis 500 on May 28, he’ll be doing something that’s become increasingly rare, but is far from unprecedented.
A two-time Formula One World Champion, Alonso’s immense skill has many people believing he has at least a decent chance of winning the famous race. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that making the jump from one open-wheel circuit to another isn’t all that easy.
In all, there have been nine F1 drivers who have debuted in the Indy 500 that either went on to win F1 titles in the same years or already had one under their belts. A majority of those bids, though, came over 50 years ago. In recent decades, F1 drivers have become much more specialized, which has resulted in fewer champions making attempts at drinking the milk at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Which is why Alonso’s bid on the bricks has racing fans so excited.
As the racing world begins counting down the days to the 101st Indy 500, we decided to turn back the clocks and see how past F1 champions have fared in their Indy 500 debuts.
(Note: This list does not include Mario Andretti, Jackie Stewart, Jochen Rindt and Jacques Villeneuve, who all won F1 titles in the years after their Indy 500 debuts.)
Alberto Ascari (1952)
The Italian had a great year in 1952, as he won six of the eight F1 World Championship Grand Prix races. His bid for the Indy 500 that year, though, was forgettable. Piloting a Ferrari, Ascari qualified 19th but wound up settling for a DNF after crashing early in the race.
Juan Manuel Fangio (1958)
A five-time F1 world champion, Fangio was 46 years old when he decided to try his hand at the Indy 500. But the Argentinian had a poor practice session, and eventually withdrew from the race. He was probably glad he did, as the race ended up seeing one of the worst crashes in its storied history.
Jack Brabham (1961)
Brabham, like Alonso, was a two-time F1 champion at the time of his first Indy 500. The Aussie wound up doing quite well, as he qualified 13th and finished ninth.
Jimmy Clark (1963)
Clark won his first F1 championship in 1963, a year which also saw the Scot make an impressive debut in the Indy 500, as he qualified fifth and finished second. Two years later, he won his only Indy 500.
Graham Hill (1966)
The only driver on this list to win his Indy 500 debut, Hill prevailed in 1966 after a close battle with Clark. The Brit went on to compete in the race twice more but never was able to replicate his rookie-year run.
Denny Hulme (1967)
Another driver who won his first F1 title in the same year as his Indy 500 debut, Hulme finished fourth at IMS in 1967. He even managed to post the same result when he returned to the race a year later. Hulme also is known for dying after suffering a heart attack during the 1992 Bathurst 1000 touring car race.
Emerson Fittipaldi (1984)
A two-time F1 champion, Fittipaldi is one of the more well-known racers ever to hit any circuit. The Brazilian competed in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing 11 times, including a two victories and a 32nd-place finish in his 1984 debut.
Nelson Piquet (1992)
Piquet’s bid at winning the 1992 Indy 500 couldn’t have gone much worse. The three-time F1 champion never got to compete in the race, as he smashed his ankles in a violent crash during practice.
Nigel Mansell (1993)
Mansell arrived at the 1993 Indy 500 as the reigning F1 champion, and, like Alonso, his bid generated a ton of hype. The Brit mostly lived up to it, as he qualified eighth and finished third.
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