Formula 1 has a strange relationship with the Indianapolis 500. Invariably clashing with Monaco Grand Prix, holding two events of such historic importance on the day sounds like a good thing.
Yet so often events from Indianapolis can completely pass Formula 1 people – lost in the fallout of whatever’s just happened in Monte Carlo – by.
With many drivers racing on both sides of the pond over the years, here’s our celebration of the F1 stars who conquered the self-styled Greatest Spectacle in Racing…
Rodger Ward (1959, 1962)
Strange as it may seem to a contemporary audience, the Indy 500 was classed as a Formula 1 World Championship race for 10 years between 1950 and ’60.
A leading figure on the US racing scene throughout that decade was two-time USAC Champion Rodger Ward, who made 10 of his 12 F1 appearances at the famous Brickyard, winning the Indy 500 for the first time in 1959 before adding another to his name in 1962.
Ward’s other two F1 starts were also on American soil, coming at Sebring ’59 and Watkins Glen ’63.
Mechanical problems forced him to retire on both occasions.
Jim Clark (1965)
Twice a World Champion in Formula 1, Jim Clark’s sheer versatility only added to the allure of one of the greatest drivers of all time.
Clark made five trips to Indy in a Lotus-Ford between 1963 and ’67 – becoming only the second British driver in history to win the race in 1965 having led all but 10 of the 200 laps in what was the first 500 success for a rear-engined car.
He was a contender from the very start, qualifying no lower than fifth in his first four appearances at Indy – including pole position for the 1964 race – and finishing second in ’63 and ’66 (more on that shortly…).
Graham Hill (1966)
Graham Hill stands alone as the only driver to win the so-called Triple Crown of motorsport, winning the Indy 500, the Monaco Grand Prix and the Le Mans 24 Hours.
The original Mr Monaco proved to be quite handy at the Brickyard too, winning on the first of three attempts in 1966 albeit in quite controversial circumstances.
Hill was awarded the victory ahead of Clark, whose race – after twice spinning and continuing – was mired in confusion over a single lap that may not have been correctly attributed to the Scot.
Clark’s team stopped short launching an official protest of the result and Hill – himself surprised to have been classified first – kept the win.
Mario Andretti (1969)
Mario Andretti, the 1978 World Champion, managed to fit it all into a wonderful racing life, his tally of 29 Indy 500 starts bettered only by AJ Foyt’s 35.
He set three pole positions in Indianapolis and holds the record for the longest gap between poles, having started P1 in consecutive years in 1966/67 before adding another – at the age of 47 – in 1987.
Andretti’s only Indy victory came in dominant fashion, winning the 1969 race by more than two minutes in front of compatriot and fellow motorsport trailblazer Dan Gurney.
Mark Donohue (1972)
What might Mark Donohue have achieved had he not been killed in an accident at the 1975 Austrian GP, having made the podium in the first of just 14 F1 starts?
His fine record at the Indy 500, qualifying no lower than fifth in five outings between 1969 and ’73, is the mark of another of the sport’s lost greats.
Behind the wheel of a Penske-run M16, Donohue cemented his place in the history of Bruce’s team by taking the first win for a McLaren at the Brickyard.
His margin of victory to Al Unser in second place? Three minutes.
Danny Sullivan (1985)
Danny Sullivan spent just a single season in Formula 1, scoring points on a single occasion for Tyrrell in Monaco, but the Kentucky native enjoyed a far more productive career back home.
IndyCar Champion in 1988, Sullivan was the victor of the famous ‘Spin and Win’ race of 1985 after a dramatic 360 while putting a pass on Andretti for the lead at Turn 1.
Fortunate to avoid hitting the wall, Sullivan dusted himself down and performed a better execution around 20 laps later.
He wasn’t quite so lucky for most of his other 11 appearances at Indianapolis, suffering eight DNFs in total.
Emerson Fittipaldi (1989, 1993)
Having become the youngest-ever World Champion in 1972 and added another title in ’74, Emerson Fittipaldi went on to translate his F1 success to the IndyCar scene in the 1980s.
His maiden Indy 500 triumph came during his title-winning season of 1989, crossing the yard of bricks two laps ahead of second-placed Al Unser Jr, and Emmo took advantage of Nigel Mansell’s inexperience with Indy-style restarts to add a second victory in 1993.
On that occasion, however, Fittipaldi refused to adhere to the long-standing tradition of Indy 500 winners drinking milk in celebration, choosing instead to down a bottle of orange juice.
Safe to say it did not go down well…
Jacques Villeneuve (1995)
Jacques Villeneuve conquered America before making the transition to F1 with Williams, his 1995 victory coming after two controversial moments with the pace car.
Unaware he was the race leader when it was deployed for debris, Villeneuve passed the pace car twice to incur a two-lap penalty and find himself demoted to 27th.
Villeneuve had recovered back up to second when, preparing for a restart with around 10 laps to go, he realised the field risked catching and passing the pace car before it had returned to the pits and promptly slowed.
Race leader Scott Goodyear did not, overtaking the pace car at the final corner and landing a stop-go penalty.
He refused to serve it and was disqualified with five laps to go, clearing the way for a Villeneuve triumph.
Eddie Cheever (1998)
Eddie Cheever made 132 grand prix starts in 11 seasons but, with a modest nine podium finishes to show for it, did not make much of an impression in the F1 arena.
His day of days would come at Indy in 1998, when representing Team Cheever he became the first driver since AJ Foyt (1977) to win the race in his own car.
“I had about 15 guardian angels help me today,” he mused in Victory Lane. “I had five or six close calls, but I squeezed through all of them.”
“I wasn’t gonna finish second, second was not on the books today.
“[I was] either gonna win, or not finish at all.”
Juan Pablo Montoya (2000, 2015)
Juan Pablo Montoya was another to shine in IndyCar before switching to F1, his enormous potential confirmed after winning the 500 at the first attempt – from a starting position of P2 – in 2000.
The Colombian would go on to win grands prix for Williams and McLaren, refusing to bow to Michael Schumacher along the way, before suddenly walking away from F1 halfway through the 2006 season to race in NASCAR.
Montoya returned to IndyCar on a full-time basis in 2014 and, in 2015, overtook Penske team-mate Will Power with four laps remaining to win the 500 for a second time.
Now 47, the 2003 Monaco GP winner is running out of time if wants to share the Triple Crown with a certain G. Hill.
Alexander Rossi (2016)
Alexander Rossi was denied a proper shot in F1, forced to share a woefully uncompetitive Manor Marussia with Spain’s Roberto Merhi for five of the final seven rounds of 2015.
Yet the rate of his improvement alongside Will Stevens – outqualifying the regular driver in Austin, Mexico and Brazil – hinted at someone with an astonishing capacity to learn quickly.
That skill made Rossi only the 10th rookie to win the Indy 500 in 2016, a race with an extreme emphasis on fuel consumption.
Gambling on making it to the end as others headed for pit road, Rossi’s lead rapidly tumbled from 20 seconds at the start of the final lap to just 4.4s at the end of it as he just managed to hold on.
Takuma Sato (2017, 2020)
Fernando Alonso captured the world’s imagination by breaking off from a bruising season with McLaren to race at Indy in 2017, but the two-time World Champion was upstaged by another member of F1’s class of 2005/06.
Takuma Sato was Honda’s homegrown golden boy – the Japanese manufacturer even setting up a new team, Super Aguri, to keep him on the grid in 2006 – but too often flattered to deceive during a shortened F1 career.
Representing Andretti Autosport, Sato became the first Japanese winner of the Indy 500 in ’17 – a race in which a record 15 different drivers led.
To prove that was no fluke, he only went and did it again for Rahal Letterman Racing in 2020.
Marcus Ericsson (2022)
With a best finish of P8 in a five-year career for Caterham and Sauber, Marcus Ericsson slipped quietly off the F1 grid at the end of 2018.
He would find a happier home in IndyCar, finishing second in just his eighth race in the category in 2019 before winning in Detroit and Nashville in 2021.
It was to get even better in 2022 as Ericsson – competing with a helmet design in tribute to Ronnie Peterson – became only the second Swedish winner of the Indy 500 after Kenny Brack, representing the team owned by Chip Ganassi.
Proof, perhaps, that every dog has its day – a truth that captures the very essence of the Indy 500’s charm.