Formula 1 drivers who conquered the Indy 500

The Indy 500 is called ‘the greatest spectacle in racing’, but how many Formula 1 drivers have taken it on and won?

Formula 1 drivers who conquered the Indy 500
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Rodger Ward – 1959, 1962

  • F1 starts: 12 (1951 – 1960, 1963)
  • F1 championships: 0
  • Indy 500 starts: 15 (1951 – 1964, 1966)
  • Indy 500 wins: 2 (1959, 1962)

The Indy 500 was an official world championship race between 1950 and 1960, meaning that teams and drivers who only competed in the 500 also appear in the final standings of those seasons. It also means that drivers who finished well in the 500 could beat drivers who had a tough F1 season – Ward, for example, won the 1959 Indy 500 and scored eight points in doing so – this finish being enough to beat Graham Hill (who entered seven F1 races that season). 

Of course, the reality is that Ward was an Indy car driver who raced briefly in F1. While 10 of Ward’s 12 ‘F1’ starts come from the Indy 500, he did race in two United States Grands Prix, in 1959 and in 1963. Unfortunately for him, the car he was driving at Sebring in the ’59 edition was a midget with a two-speed-gearbox, which suffered clutch failure after 20 laps.

Four years later, Ward got his hands on a BRM-engined Lotus 24, and started 17th out of 21 cars at the Grand Prix in Watkins Glen, but retired with gearbox failure.

Ward was a hugely talented USAC Championship Car [Indy car] driver, winning the title in 1959 and 1962, and finishing top three for six straight seasons, 1959 through 1964.

Roger Ward

Roger Ward

Photo by: IndyCar Series

Jim Clark - 1965

  • F1 starts: 72 (1960 – 1968)
  • F1 championships: 2 (1963, 1965)
  • Indy 500 starts: 5 (1963 – 1967)
  • Indy 500 wins: 1 (1965)

Jim Clark is considered one of the best drivers ever, and still holds the record for the highest percentage of laps led in an F1 season (71.47% in 1963). He was able to apply this talent to multiple series as well, winning the F1 championship twice, the Tasman series three times, and the Indy 500 once, before he was tragically killed in 1968.

Having finished second behind Parnelli Jones' roadster in the 1963 race, Clark's Lotus took pole in 1964, but had to retire at quarter-distance when a tire threw a tread and damaged his suspension irreparably. He came back the next year and qualified second to A.J. Foyt but then dominated the race, leading 190 of the 200 laps. This made him only the second Brit to win the Indy 500, after Dario Resta's triumph in 1916.

Clark would go on to qualify second alongside Mario Andretti the next year, but on race day found himself classified behind the Lola of fellow Brit and F1 driver Graham Hill. Jackie Stewart, also racing in F1 at the time, was Hill's teammate and was leading in the closing stages when oil pressure problems robbed him of victory and handed the lead to Hill… or Clark, depending on who one believes.

Jim Clark, Lotus-Ford, won Ford's first Indy 500 victory, and the first for a rear-engine car in the 500

Jim Clark, Lotus-Ford, won Ford's first Indy 500 victory, and the first for a rear-engine car in the 500

Photo by: Ford Motor Company

Graham Hill - 1966

  • F1 starts: 176 (1958 – 1975)
  • F1 championships: 2 (1962, 1968)
  • Indy 500 starts: 3 (1966 - 1968)
  • Indy 500 wins: 1 (1966)

Graham Hill is, to date, the only person to win motorsport’s illustrious ‘Triple Crown’ – wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Indy 500, and F1’s Monaco Grand Prix (or F1 world championship). While he took one win at both Le Mans and the Indy 500, his five wins in Monaco earned him the nickname ‘Mr Monaco’, and he has the second highest number of wins in the Principality (behind Ayrton Senna on six, and tied with Michael Schumacher).

Hill won the Indy 500 at his first attempt, though this win wasn’t without dispute. While Hill was awarded the win, second-placed Jim Clark’s Lotus team also thought they had won the race. Clark had spun twice during the race and was able to continue, and theories postulate that a lap might not have been attributed to Clark as a result. However with no official protest launched by Clark or Lotus, Hill's win stood.

Graham Hill, Lola T90 Ford

Graham Hill, Lola T90 Ford

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Mario Andretti – 1969

  • F1 starts: 128 (1968 – 1972, 1974 – 1982)
  • F1 championships: 1 (1978)
  • Indy 500 starts: 29 (1965 – 1978, 1980 – 1994)
  • Indy 500 wins: 1 (1969)

Mario Andretti competed in the Indy 500 four years before (and long after) his F1 career, and has the second highest number of entries his 29 starts being beaten only by four-time winner AJ Foyt’s 35. Mario also holds the record for the most races between pole positions, having taken pole in 1966, 1967, and 1987.

Andretti’s 1969 Indy 500 win was a dominant one – starting from second on the grid, Andretti led 116 of the 200 laps, despite one of his wheels jamming on, and obliging him to run a quite tired Firestone to the checkered flag. He finished over two minutes ahead of F1 contemporary Dan Gurney.

Six years after Andretti earned his F1 crown with Lotus in 1978, he won the CART Indy car title to add to his hat-trick of Indy car crowns during the USAC era, in 1965, 1966 and 1969. However, despite several strong runs at Indy – he dominated in 1987 until engine failure – that ’69 win remains the only one for him and indeed the whole Andretti dynasty at the Speedway.

Mario Andretti

Mario Andretti

Photo by: IndyCar Series

Mark Donohue - 1972

  • F1 starts: 14 (1971, 1974 – 1975)
  • F1 championships: 0
  • Indy 500 starts: 5 (1969 – 1973)
  • Indy 500 wins: 1 (1972)

Mark Donohue had only 14 starts in F1 before he died, following a heavy accident caused by tire failure during practice for the 1975 Austrian Grand Prix. Yet he’d already scored one podium. He’d also taken three wins in USAC and a win in NASCAR, as well racking up huge success in Can-Am and Trans-Am.

Donohue made a total of five starts in the Indy 500, every time starting from the first two rows. His fourth attempt, racing a McLaren for Penske, saw him score The Captain's first of 18 wins in the Memorial Day Weekend classic. It was also McLaren’s first Indy 500 win, scored with the M16.

Roger Penske; Mark Donohue

Roger Penske; Mark Donohue

Photo by: IndyCar Series

Danny Sullivan - 1985

  • F1 starts: 15 (1983)
  • F1 Championships: 0
  • Indy 500 starts: 12 (1982, 1984 – 1995)
  • Indy 500 wins: 1 (1985)

Sullivan raced in F1 for just one year, picking up a single points finish at Monaco in 1983, before returning to his home country and racing Indy cars. His time in the American series offered much more success as he took a total of 17 wins from 170 starts – one of those wins being in the Indy 500.

Sullivan made 12 Indy 500 starts and retired from eight, but his victory in ’85 was scored in spectacular manner. Having made a move on then-leader Mario Andretti, Sullivan lost control and did a full 360-degree spin but somehow avoided hitting anything and was able to continue. From there he resumed his chase of Andretti and, on lap 140, he re-took the lead, and held onto it until the finish.

Danny Sullivan

Danny Sullivan

Photo by: IndyCar Series

Emerson Fittipaldi – 1989, 1993

  • F1 starts: 144 (1970 – 1980)
  • F1 championships: 2 (1972, 1974)
  • Indy 500 starts: 11 (1984 – 1995)
  • Indy 500 wins: 2 (1989, 1993)

Emerson Fittipaldi is one of F1’s most well-known names, and during his time in F1 he racked up 14 wins, two championships and 35 podiums, making him the third most-successful Brazilian F1 driver after Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet.

After nearly 11 seasons in F1 he retired, but had his enthusiasm awoken by a move to Indy car racing. Driving a Pat Patrick-run Penske, he would secure the championship in 1989, but his year is best remembered for his clash with Al Unser Jr as they dueled for the lead of the Indy 500. On the 198th lap, they touched wheels which sent Little Al into the wall, and Fittipaldi had to correct a major slide. The race finished under yellow, and Emmo had his 500 crown.

His second win, in 1993, came with Team Penske, after a late-race pass on reigning F1 World Champion Nigel Mansell, he became the third-oldest person to win the Indy 500. 

The quality of his driving was overshadowed by his decision to drink orange juice rather than the traditional milk, leading to much controversy and heckling from fans.

Emerson Fittipaldi, Team Penske

Emerson Fittipaldi, Team Penske

Photo by: Sutton Images

Jacques Villeneuve – 1995

  • F1 starts: 163 (1996 – 2006)
  • F1 championships: 1 (1997)
  • Indy 500 starts: 3 (1994 - 1995, 2014)
  • Indy 500 wins: 1 (1995)

Unlike a lot of people on this list, Jacques Villeneuve won the Indy 500 before he went to F1.

Joining the Indy car grid in 1994, his first season netted him three podiums – one third, a second place at the Indy 500, and a win at the Road America circuit – before his storming 1995 season.

Much like Villeneuve’s F1 career, his Indy 500 win was not without controversy or drama. On lap 38 he was, unbeknown to him, leading the race when the pace car came out so that marshals could retrieve debris on the circuit. The rules stated that the leader was supposed to line up behind the pace car but, with Villeneuve not realizing he was leading, he passed it twice. When the race restarted he was given a two-lap penalty, dropping him to 27th place.

Pace car problems were not done yet though. By lap 189 the field was again behind the pace car, with Villeneuve in second behind Scott Goodyear. Anticipating the restart on lap 190, Goodyear slowed to create a gap to the pace car, then accelerated. Villeneuve followed and the two gapped third place, but the pace car was still circulating.

Noticing that they would catch the pace car before it entered the pits Villeneuve slowed. Goodyear didn’t, overtaking it in the middle of the last turn. This earned him a stop-and-go penalty, which he chose to ignore and, with five laps to go, the sanctioning body stopped scoring him. This meant that Villeneuve was the winner, becoming the first, and only, Canadian to win the Indy 500, and went on to secure the CART title.

Jacques Villeneuve, Team Green

Jacques Villeneuve, Team Green

Photo by: Sutton Images

Eddie Cheever – 1998

  • F1 starts: 132 (1978, 1980 – 1989)
  • F1 championships: 0
  • Indy 500 starts: 14 (1990 – 2002, 2006)
  • Indy 500 wins: 1 (1998)

Eddie Cheever started 132 world championship F1 races, and failed to qualify for 11 more. He scored nine podiums, and during his time in F1 he was team-mates with some of the biggest names in the sport; he partnered Jacques Laffite in 1982, Alain Prost in 1983, and Riccardo Patrese from 1984 to 1985. Unfortunately for Cheever he didn’t particularly shine in F1, his season-best being a seventh place in 1983 (when Renault team-mate Prost finished second), but he did find more success in America.

In the wake of the U.S. open-wheel split, Cheever went to the Indy Racing League. His first win came at the 1997 Indy 200 at Walt Disney World, which he followed up with a win at the Indy 500 in 1998. In total he took a win in every IRL season between 1997 and 2001, finishing third in the 1996-97 and 2000 seasons.

Eddie Cheever, Jr.

Eddie Cheever, Jr.

Photo by: IndyCar Series

Juan Pablo Montoya – 2000, 2015

  • F1 starts: 94 (2001 – 2006)
  • F1 championships: 0
  • Indy 500 starts: 5 (2000, 2014 – 2017)
  • Indy 500 wins: 2 (2000, 2015)

Juan Pablo Montoya is another driver who spent time in Indy car racing before F1, entering the F1 paddock as an Indy 500 champion. The Colombian took the first of his two Indy 500 victories in 2000, one year after his CART Indy car championship and one year before his F1 debut. Montoya and the Chip Ganassi Racing team led the CART invasion of this IRL race, and it was a dominant performance, leading 167 of the 200 laps.

Following his F1 time at Williams and McLaren, during which he scored seven wins and twice finished third in the world championship, he returned to America and spent several seasons racing for Ganassi in NASCAR. Then in 2013, he got the call from Team Penske to see if he would like to join Will Power and Helio Castroneves in Roger's IndyCar team.

In 2014, he finished fifth at Indy, but the following year, he came from the back of the field after an early incident, and won a duel with teammate Power to take victory by just a tenth of a second. 

Thus Montoya currently holds the record for most years between Indy 500 victories, as well as being one of only 10 rookie winners – a list that also includes fellow F1 drivers Graham Hill and Alexander Rossi.

Juan Pablo Montoya

Juan Pablo Montoya

Photo by: IndyCar Series

Alexander Rossi – 2016

  • F1 starts: 5 (2015)
  • F1 championships: 0
  • Indy 500 starts: 5 (2016 - 2020)
  • Indy 500 wins: 1 (2016)

Alexander Rossi made his F1 debut in 2015, racing for the ill-fated Manor Marussia team at five of the final seven races of the year. The car wasn’t nearly at the level it needed to be, with the team scoring no points in the entire season, though Rossi was able to finish ahead of teammate Will Stevens (who was with them for all 19 races) in four of his five races.

A switch to IndyCar for 2016 proved much more fruitful for the American though, as he won the Indy 500 on his first attempt (becoming only the 10th rookie to win in its history). It was a nail-biter as well – with 10 laps to go the leaders started to pit for fuel for the final time, whereas Rossi's strategist Bryan Herta elected to gamble and leave his man out on track.

The plan worked. With one lap to go, Rossi had a 20-second lead, and this dropped to just 4.4s by the time the flag fell and he coasted over the line at 137mph, but the win was in the bag.

While he hasn’t been able to replicate the success of his rookie Indy 500, he has become one of IndyCar’s regular frontrunners, and a star at Indy, climbing from the back of the field to finish fifth in 2018, and then only losing the 2019 race after a tense duel with Penske's Simon Pagenaud.

Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport Honda

Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport Honda

Photo by: Barry Cantrell / Motorsport Images

Takuma Sato – 2017, 2020

  • F1 starts: 90 (2002 – 2008)
  • F1 championships: 0
  • Indy 500 starts: 11 (2010 – 2020)
  • Indy 500 wins: 2 (2017, 2020)

Takuma Sato never found much success in F1, competing in often mediocre machinery and scoring only 14 points finishes (including a single podium in the 2004 United States Grand Prix), although he did star for the small Super Aguri squad in 2007.

A switch to IndyCar in 2010 brought some fortune, with Sato finding the podium five times in his first six seasons. Yet arguably the highlight was a DNF – his all-or-nothing dive to the inside of Dario Franchitti on the final lap of the 2012 Indy 500 ended in the wall but made him a star.

A switch to the AJ Foyt Racing squad in 2013 saw him win in Long Beach but his Indy 500 fortunes flatlined. The move to Andretti Autosport for 2017 changed that. Starting from the second row, Sato stayed in and around the front pack throughout and was one of 15 different leaders (an Indy 500 record). He would win by just 0.201sec after an entertaining fight for victory with Penske's Castroneves.

Last year, now at Rahal Letterman Lanigan, Sato won again, this time with his fuel very marginal after passing long-time leader Scott Dixon. When the race fell under caution five laps from home due to a major crash for his teammate, Sato had his second Indy win.


Photo by: Scott R LePage / Motorsport Images

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