When Fernando Alonso entered the 2017 Indianapolis 500, it caused a major stir. Not just because the double Formula 1 champion was driving in America’s biggest single-seater race, but because he skipped the Monaco Grand Prix to do so. Even with the blessing of his McLaren team, the idea of an F1 driver missing a race to compete in another category was unthinkable to many.
It wasn’t always that way. Back in 1965, Jim Clark skipped Monaco to tackle the Brickyard with Lotus. He scored the first Indy 500 win for a rear-engined car and still won that year’s F1 championship. Oh, and he also found time that year to take multiple race and class wins in Formula 2 and British Saloon Car Championship events.
In Clark’s era, drivers competing in multiple categories wasn’t unusual. In back-to-back weekends in 1968, Vic Elford won the Monte Carlo Rally and the Daytona 24 Hours. ‘Quick Vic’ also raced in F1 and Nascar during his career and won the first ever rallycross event – in a Porsche 911 borrowed from a showroom.
As motorsport has become ever more complex, more cash has flowed in from car makers and sponsors and calendars have swollen, so the days of drivers regularly competing in multiple categories have faded.
But that doesn’t mean that modern drivers don’t want to compete elsewhere, and in recent years there has been a growing trend of stars stepping back from top categories to try their hand elsewhere.
Kimi Räikkönen left F1 at the end of 2009 – just two years after he won the world title – to spend two years competing (and crashing) in the World Rally Championship and Nascar Truck events, before returning to F1 with Lotus in 2012.