Very likely you’ve heard of “The Triple Crown” which typically refers to thoroughbred horse racing and is composed of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. There have been 13 horses to win all the races in a season - only one more than men who have walked on the moon so it’s a pretty exclusive club.
Did you know there’s a Triple Crown of Motorsport and the club is even more exclusive? Many of the greatest F1 drivers have tried, and many have failed.
What Is The Triple Crown of Motorsport?
It depends on who you ask. What’s universally agreed upon, however, is that two of the three jewels in this crown are the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500. The third jewel is where there’s some disagreement.
In some camps it’s the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix, while in other camps it’s the Formula 1 World Champion. I fall into the former camp because personally I feel it makes little sense to compare single races against an entire season, but either way you lean, only one man has completed the Triple Crown of Motorsport: Graham Hill — father of F1 champion (and Sky TV commentator) Damon Hill.
Graham Hill won the Indy 500 in 1966 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1972, which takes care of the first two jewels in the crown. Regardless of which third jewel camp you fall into, Hill has you covered. He won the Formula 1 World Championship in 1962 and 1968. He won the Monaco Grand Prix a staggering 5 times in 1963, 1964, 1965, 1968 (same year he won his second F1 championship) and 1969.
Only Michael Schumacher matched his 5 wins there and only Ayrton Senna bested him with 6 wins at the iconic track. For comparison to the current Formula 1 era, Lewis Hamilton has won Monaco a paltry three times. Max Verstappen? His single Monaco win came just last year in 2021. And they’re some of the greatest F1 drivers today.
Who Else Has Tried To Achieve This Feat?
And why is it so difficult to do? To be clear, unlike the horse racing version, one does not need to complete the Triple Crown of Motorsport in a single season. Doing so is essentially impossible. There are a few Formula 1 names you likely know who have had a crack at it, most recently Fernando Alonso. He has covered the Formula 1 requirements (both as F1 champion and has two time Monaco Grand Prix winner). In 2017, while at McLaren, he competed in the Indy 500, which was held the same weekend as Monaco that year.
This led to Jenson Button fulfilling reserve driver duties at McLaren and a very funny radio call. Alonso qualified at Indy very well — 5th — but he ended up finishing 24th. He has tried twice more at Indy but his first outing was his most impressive. Alonso does, however, have the 24 Hours of Le Mans jewel in his crown winning with Toyota Gazoo Racing in 2018 and 2019. Additionally he won the World Endurance Championship (of which Le Mans is part) in the 2018-2019 season before returning to Formula 1 for 2021 at Alpine.
Other F1 names who have two of the three jewels in the Triple Crown of Motorsport include Mario Andretti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Phil Hill, Jochen Rindt, Jacques Villeneuve, and McLaren-team-namesake Bruce McLaren.
There have also been many Formula 1 drivers who went on to win at Le Mans including Brendon Hartley, Nico Hulkenberg, Martin Brundle, Johnny Herbert (seems most of the Sky F1 commentators have won at Le Mans), Alexander Wurz (currently chairman of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association), Phil Hill, and Jackie Ickx.
Why Is The Triple Crown of Motorsport So Difficult To Achieve?
To begin with, the racing disciplines for the jewels in the Triple Crown of Motorsport are quite different. You may think Indy and Formula 1 are very similar because the cars look similar - and I wouldn’t fault you for this. In fact, for these events the disciplines are exceptionally different.
Monaco is a street circuit where the barriers are at the edge of the track. There is no wiggle room for mistakes. Nelson Piquet quipped that a lap around Monaco was like, “riding a bicycle around your living room.” Don’t hit anything, and now ride your bicycle around your living room for 78 laps. The amount of concentration required is immense, and only the greatest F1 drivers can take first in this race — and that’s just the first race of the Triple Crown of Motorsport.
The Indianapolis 500 couldn’t be more different from Monaco. Instead of twisty streets it is held on a banked oval circuit. Oval driving is very different and the speeds here are much faster than Formula 1. Not just at Monaco, but anywhere. Top speeds in Formula 1 are achieved at Monza - the Temple of Speed - and Baku. Here we’ve seen 220 mph. Indy leaves that behind with speeds approaching 240 mph in cars with significantly less downforce. While F1 cars are typically planted at high speed, Indy cars dance. These kinds of speeds punish engines like no other circuit can do.
But the granddaddy of all Triple Crown of Motorsport races - the 24 Hours of Le Mans - is where motorsport dreams are either cruelly crushed or fulfilled in magnificent glory. Endurance racing - particularly the 24 hour races - are especially difficult because they punish all parts of your racing program. Not just the cars themselves - engines, brakes, tires, etc - but your entire staff. Your drivers, mechanics, engineers - everyone - is racing against time, fatigue, and often the weather to win. It is said that simply finishing Le Mans is a feat in and of itself, never mind winning it. Just ask former Formula 1 driver Mark Webber.
At the close of the V8 era Webber retired from Formula 1 and joined Porsche’s World Endurance Championship team with an eye on winning Le Mans. In 2014 the team qualified their car second, but after 22 hours an anti-roll bar broke and they had to retire. The next year they qualified second and placed second, though they won the WEC championship overall. In his final try at Le Mans in 2016 his team qualified second, but finished 13th overall due to a water pump failure. Close, but no Triple Crown of Motorsport.
Complicating the 24 Hours of Le Mans is the fact that there are four different classes of cars racing all at the same time. Faster cars must take care in lapping slower cars and slower cars must give way to those coming through. Collisions between cars of different classes at different speeds is common, resulting in shattered dreams for two teams at once. It in fact occurred at this year’s race.
If you haven’t seen them, the documentaries Truth in 24 and Truth in 24 II follow Audi’s Le Mans attempts in 2008 and 2011. They are excellent and give you an idea of just how grueling the race is and truly how much of a team sport endurance racing is.
Will we see another member to the super exclusive club that is the Triple Crown of Motorsport? Only time will tell, but given the very different disciplines and different skills required to pull it off, for whomever achieves the Triple Crown of Motorsport, it will be universally agreed that they are a magnificent racer, truly one of the greatest F1 drivers in history.
After more than 7 months without a race visit, it was really time to be live at the track again. Since the event at the Imola race track is also the first race of the 2022 season in Europe, there was no question that we had to travel to Italy! Although we could already hear the sound of the cars in Barcelona (in front of the entrance to the track), and were lucky enough to meet drivers there as well, a race experience is, of course, a completely different highlight. So, off we went to the small town of Imola for the Imola F1 2022 race!
A Wild Journey Across Europe
The journey to the south of Europe began at 4 am since our plane to Munich was scheduled to take off shortly after 6 am. We were only too happy to leap out of our warm beds, excited about arriving at the Imola race track, even if a little bleary from the early hour. Once we arrived in Munich, we freshened up before heading to the gate. We were already late, so we walked quickly to the boarding area.
Once there, however, the expected flight information display did not await us. After checking the large boards for departures, we realized with panic that the gate had been changed. At breakneck speed, we set off and managed to board the plane at the last second — our names were already being called out!
We used the one-hour flight to recover so that we could land in Bologna with normal pulse rates, immediately buying coffee from the vending machine. Caffeine was provided as well as mobility — a gray Citröen would convey us on our adventure to the Imola F1 2022 race track. Actually, we had expected that this would start right at the arrival terminal since the drivers also had to arrive somewhere. However, this assumption turned out to be wrong. So, after waiting and driving around for a bit, we finally visited a supermarket to supply ourselves with food for the next few days.
As always, we were excited to see the fabulous Italian food on offer but then decided to keep it simple. It was clear to us that we didn’t want to cook in the evenings, as time was at a premium. Arriving at the spacious and warm (God bless it!) apartment, we prepared delicious wraps for the evening tour to Bologna.
According to public tips, there were two hotels in the Medieval city that drivers liked to stay in. However, the result was only wet feet and horrendous prices for highway use and parking. You can't always get what you want!
A Rainy First Day in Bologna
Thankfully, we had better luck the next morning and were able to meet two German compatriots. With umbrella in hand, we bumped into Sebastian Vettel and Mick Schumacher, who was in the throes of signing the Haas cap he’d brought along. After this experience, we made our way to the Imola race track, found a safe parking place, and went about one of our usual pursuits: breakfast in the car. Well fortified, we went to the track, again armed with an umbrella. The rain had already made the area quite muddy — something our white shoes could have done without. Fortunately, though, the Imola F1 2022 event area hadn’t yet descended into complete chaos, so we closed our eyes and plowed through.
Our seats at Acque Minerali Park for Imola race track were well chosen. Quite a few pilots had encountered difficulties because of the wet asphalt, ending up in the gravel or against the guard rail, so action was not in short supply.
For more action we went to the fan zone, which offered less than expected. To protect ourselves from the rain, we positioned ourselves under the Imola race track’s main grandstand. Here we unexpectedly ran into some Formula 1 celebrities, so we couldn't have chosen a better place to protect ourselves from the rain. Here we also met our Mexican fans, who we had become fond of in Barcelona, before the qualification for the Sprintrace pulled us back to the grandstand.
Speaking of pulling, as we made our way back to our car in the evening, a tractor was busy pulling stuck cars out of the muddy parking lots. So the weather had caught up with us again, after all. Luckily, we parked our rental car further away from the Imola race track on a paved road!
A Saturday at the Races
Saturday we started very early to have a chance to meet other riders together with some of the fans. The excitement at Acque Minerali was contagious. We thought we might have a chance to meet our great idol, Lewis Hamilton, leaving us weak-kneed and tongue-tied. But before his conspicuous Mercedes approached, hours passed, so that when the car finally arrived we were back to our senses.
In the driver's seat was none other than Toto Wolff, who took more time than anyone else for the fans. Of course we spoke to him in German and he happily signed the autograph card for our (directly quoting Wolff) "nice granny". This meeting was really the highlight of the whole trip to the Imola race track, compelling us to hug each other and jump for joy.
The weather also put us in a good mood, enabling us to drive to the track, grinning happily. For this day, we had decided to wear Ferrari gear. In the red shirts, we also explored the inner park of the Imola race track and the Ayrton Senna Monument. Here under the trees it was ideal to relax, close our eyes, and compensate for our lack of sleep. With the beginning of the sprint race, we went to our seats and enjoyed the sound of the cars. The sounds and atmosphere always vindicate our motto, “Attending races is our kind of vacation!” This includes (unfortunately) the traffic chaos after the Imola F1 2022. It took us more than 2 hours to drive what usually takes 30 minutes, get home and enjoy dinner.
One Last Day
We had much more fun at the Imola race track the next morning. We started the Sunday race with a family reunion of the Sainz dynasty. We ran into Carlos Senior and Junior, and the older of the two even recognized us. His sly eyes examined us, confirming that he’d already seen us in Austria the previous year. Apparently, that short meeting over 10 months ago had remained in his memory. We also met Pierre Gasly, who was dressed stylishly as always, and he wondered where our Alpha Tauri merch was. Next time, we definitely know what we’ll wear!
After our sunny morning, the clouds returned and as soon as we’d parked our car in the grass at the Imola race track, heavy rain started. Although it stopped after the end of the Drivers Parade, we feared a mess in the parking lots. This time we didn't have the chance to park on solid ground, so we came up with a rescue plan — we would leave the race early to avoid the muddy track. Until then, we enjoyed the day in the grandstand. The spectacle had drawn a crowd, with the majority cheering for Ferrari, of course. As we all know, there was less to celebrate as early as the first lap, when Sainz (who we’d met earlier) lost his car and had to retire.
As planned, we gave up our place early and hurried to our car. It was definitely the right decision to leave the Imola F1 2022 race track early, because we were already sliding down the slope and were barely able to avoid a crash into another car.
Ciao, Bologna — Until Next Time!
Once home, it was time to pack our bags and get everything ready for departure. At 3 am, the alarm clock rang. Fortunately, the streets to the airport were empty, in contrast to the departure hall itself. Obviously, many fans had booked early flights and were waiting, just as tired as we were, for their flights home. We arrived at Munich International without any further incidents and started the washing machine once home.In any case, our trip to the Imola race track for Imola F1 2022 was unforgettable, bringing us closer to Italian life — even though we didn't eat a single pizza!
If you’re looking to learn more about Formula 1 behind the scenes, you’ll love Netflix’s Formula 1: Drive To Survive. The first two seasons were famous for breaking down the drama past the podium in a way that’s accessible to newcomers and still thrilling for die-hard fans. But does season three, all about the 2020 season, live up to its own reputation?