Will anyone ever match Graham Hill’s incredible feat of winning the Monaco Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500 and Le Mans 24 Hours? Guest writer Tom Bellingham thinks not.
What is the greatest achievement in motor sport? Michael Schumacher’s seven world championships? Sebastien Loeb’s six world rally titles? Valentino Rossi’s nine championships on motorbikes?
They are all incredible records that may never be broken. But in my opinion one record eclipses all these, yet is often overlooked.
Three greats races
On June 11 1972, Graham Hill took the chequered flag to win the world’s most famous endurance race, the Le Mans 24 Hours. However, unlike any other racing driver before him, Hill had also won the Monaco Grand Prix, no fewer than five times, as well as the Indianapolis 500.
The motorsport world named this feat “The triple crown” and Hill’s achievement has never been matched.
Of course, back in Hill’s era the Formula 1 schedule wasn’t as hectic as today. Both the Indianapolis 500 and Le Mans 24 Hours clash with F1 races this year.
Hill’s era was a time when many F1 drivers took part in the 500 mile race, including famous names like Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart. Despite this it was nearly 40 years before another driver joined Hill by winning the Indy 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix.
Indy racing went from strength to strength and in the early nineties was bigger than it had ever been with Nigel Mansell joining the series as the reigning Formula One world champion.
Mansell had come close to winning both the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indy 500 but failed to win either despite claiming both the F1 and Indy Car titles. The series had gotten so popular the FIA even considered having oval races on the Formula 1 calendar.
In 1996 the US series split in two and, despite their recent reunification, open-wheel racing in America has never been the same since. The Indy 500 still brings in the crowds in the US but hardly gets a mention in the UK or Europe any more even if a local driver takes the victory.
Indy Car isn’t somewhere teams look at any more and it is unlikely any top Indy Car driver will be taken on by a competitive Formula 1 team in the present climate.
Despite not yet having won either of the famous races, Marco Andretti could yet join his grandfather, Mario Andretti, as a winner of two legs of the triple crown. He finished third in this year’s Indy 500 and famously almost won in his first attempt at the 500, being overtaken for the lead just metres before the line.
There’s a good chance the young Andretti could still go on to win the Indy 500 and this year he’s racing at the Le Mans 24 Hours, keeping the Andretti dynasty’s ties with the famous endurance race intact.
Montoya and Villeneuve
The last two competitive drivers to cross the Atlantic, Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Pablo Montoya, won the Indy 500 and went on to have successful F1 careers.
Villeneuve won the F1 title just two years after he won the Indy 500. In 2008 Villeneuve competed in the 24 hours of Le Mans and finished second.
Juan Pablo Montoya is the only current driver who could realistically take the motorsport triple crown, with a win at the Indy 500 in 2000 and a win at the Monaco Grand Prix in 2004. Montoya has not shown any apparent interest in joining the famous 24 hour race, although he has enjoyed success in endurance racing, winning the 24 hours of Daytona.
It seems modern drivers have no desire to match Hill’s impressive record, with racers choosing to focus on dominating their chosen series.
Another triple crown features in endurance racing which includes the three famous races; 12 hours of Sebring, 24 hours of Daytona and the Le Mans 24 hours.
No such achievement exists in Formula One ask drivers which three F1 successes they would most enjoy and they’re likely to set their sights on winning the Monaco Grand Prix, their home race and the world championship. This feat was most recently achieved by Lewis Hamilton in 2008 and Fernando Alonso in 2006, though of course not every F1 driver has a home race.
Will Hill’s record ever be matched? The thought of one driver conquering the narrow streets of Monaco, the high speeds of Indianapolis and the gruelling length of the Le Mans 24 Hours may have a romantic appeal for fans but it seems few drivers share the same vision.
And that’s a great shame. Anyone who repeated Hill’s achievement today would rightly be hailed as one of the greatest racing drivers of them all.
Read more: F1 drivers in the 2010 Le Mans 24 Hours