- Top ten ... drivers to win at Le Mans and in F1
ESPN StaffJune 14, 2012
With 25 ex-F1 drivers set to tackle this weekend's 24 Hours of Le Mans, we look at back at ten of the best drivers to have won both in F1 and at the famous endurance event
Jacky Ickx won his first Le Mans race in 1969 © Sutton Images
Jacky IckxSix Le Mans wins, eight F1 wins
A six time winner at the 24 Hours over three decades, Ickx was one of the best all-rounders of his generation and drove some of the most iconic cars in Le Mans history. Four of his wins came in Porsches, three with the often forgotten but hugely impressive 936 and one with the iconic Group C 956 on its debut in 1982. But perhaps his most famous win, and certainly his most dramatic, was his first in 1969 driving a Ford GT40. It was the last race to feature a traditional Le Mans start, where drivers would run from one side of the track to the other, jump in their cars and tear off - often without their seatbelts fastened - on the first lap. Ickx felt this was unnecessarily dangerous and as a protest walked to his car, climbed in, did up his seatbelts and pulled away dead last. "In fact I did have to run the last few metres to my car, or I would have been run over," he told Motor Sport recently. British driver John Woolfe died after crashing his Porsche 917 on the first lap of the race, most likely because his belts were undone. Ickx was co-driving with Jackie Oliver in the GT40 and the pair made their way through the field so that late on Sunday morning they took the lead. However, the Porsche 908 with Hans Hermann at the wheel was in close pursuit and the two cars embarked on a tight battle for the lead. Heading onto the final lap Ickx made sure he was behind Hermann going on to the long Mulsanne Straight, knowing that he could use the slipstream to pass the Porsche and then hold the lead for the rest of the lap. As Ickx crossed the line in front It was the closest competitive finish at Le Mans. "I would not have looked good if I had lost the race by the amount of time I used up in my demonstration at the start," Ickx said. "But fortunately, like all the best stories, it had a nice ending."
Phil HillThree Le Mans wins, three F1 wins
Of his 14 entries in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 1961 F1 champion Phil Hill only finished three times ... but it just so happens that he won every one of them. Co-driving a Ferrari with Belgian Olivier Gendebien on each of his successes, Hill was also the first American to win the event. His maiden win came in 1958 at the wheel of a Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, in which he had to contend with 15 hours of horrendus rain. Opposition came in the form of privately-entered Jaguar D-Types, all of which retired, and Aston Martin's DBR1s, which also failed to make the finish. In 1961 he was at the wheel of an upgraded works 250 TR and had to see off the threat of an identical car entered by the North American Racing Team and driven by the Rodriguez brothers, Pedro and Ricardo. In the end the NART Ferrari succumbed to a broken con-rod, leaving Hill and Gendebien to take victory. His third and final victory at Le Mans came the next year in a Ferrari 330 and again the Rodriguez brothers put up a fight in a lesser-powered Ferrari 246 before being forced to retire.
Jose Froilan GonzalezOne Le Mans win, two F1 wins
In 1954 Enzo Ferrari paired Gonzalez - known as the Pampas Bull - with Maurice Trintignant (also a winner in Formula One) to take the fight to Jaguar, which had dominated the previous year's 24 Hours and now had the new D-Type at its disposal. But while the Jaguar exhibited the best of British engineering, with a monocoque-style chassis, disc brakes and low-drag aerodynamics, Ferrari's tactic was simply to add power, with a 4.9-litre V12 engine at the heart of the Gonzalez/Trintignant Ferrari 375 Plus. Fortunately Gonzalez's stocky frame was a match for the extra oomph and he led the early stages of the race, only once worried by the Jaguar of Stirling Moss that eventually retired with fuel flow and brake problems. Rain fell through the night but Gonzalez bullied his way through it, with Trintignant on hand to offer the odd hour of relief when it was needed. Heavier rain came in the morning but Gonzalez's lap times barely faltered and he arrived at his final pit stop with a one-lap lead. Then came a problem. The 4.9-litre V12 refused to start, allowing the Tony Rolt/Duncan Hamilton D-Type to get back on the lead lap. After more than the regulation amount of mechanics gathered around the Ferrari and got it restarted, Gonzalez, who had not slept since the start the previous day, jumped back in the car and took the win by 90 seconds. It was a fantastic victory that summed up what the Pampas Bull was all about.
The Ferrari 250LM of Jochen Rindt and Masten Gregory came from ten laps down to win Le Mans © Sutton Images
Jochen RindtOne Le Mans win, six F1 wins
In one of the slightly more bizarre victories of the 24 Hours, Jochen Rindt and Masten Gregory won in 1965 driving a North American Racing Team Ferrari 250LM. It was a stellar driving line-up, but all the attention pre-race was on the prototype Ferraris that were expected to be challenged for the win by Ford's 7-litre GT40 Mk IIs. However, reliability issues accounted for the expected front runners and when one bank of NART 250LM's V12 stopped firing, it looked like it was the end of the race for Rindt and Gregory too. While the team searched for the problems in the pits, Rindt made for his hire car to leave the circuit and he would have gone had his car not been blocked in. The 250LM was eventually fixed, but now 10 laps down on the leaders, Gregory had to tempt Rindt to carry on. The pair made a pact that they would drive on the limit for the remainder of the 24 hours and if the car packed in then so be it. By Sunday morning they were running second to a Belgian-entered 250LM driven by amateurs Pierre Dumay and Gustave Gosselin. Rindt and Masten were able to close in at over four seconds a lap and finally took the lead when a rear tyre blew on the Belgian car. "The big excitement came when we passed the Belgian Ferrari," Rindt said. "We had been catching it slowly for a long whole and then a tyre blew on the straight. When I saw it carwling around to the pits on the rim I knew we had the race in our pockets." But the intense pace had taken its toll on the NART 250LM and when Masten took over for the final 90 minutes he only just managed to nurse it aceoss the line. The victory was Rindt's only win at Le Mans and also Ferrari's last.
Pedro RodriguezOne Le Mans win, two F1 wins
Rodriguez's Le Mans journey started at the tender age of 20 when a US importer of Ferraris, Luigi Chinetti - himself a three-time Le Mans winner - sent Rodriguez and his younger brother Ricardo to run in Ferrari 250 Testa Rossas. Ricardo finished second, but Rodriguez's race ended after 22 laps. Undeterred, he returned every year and was rewarded in 1968. As a result of workers' strikes in France the race was delayed until September and run under new regulations with prototypes limited to 3.0L engines and sports cars 5.0L if more than 50 had been built. Rodriguez found himself in a Gulf Ford GT40 after the injured Jacky Ickx's replacement Derek Bell had been called up as a Ferrari standby for the Mexican Grand Prix. The experienced Rodriguez teamed up with Lucien Bianchi in one of the three entered GT40s expected to battle against the new Porsche 408s. Following a wet start the Porsches led early on but electrical problems slowed them and Rodriguez took the lead when the GT40 of Paul Hawkins and David Hobbs hit clutch trouble. It was far from straightforward from then on as heavy rain fell during the night and the pair came under pressure from the Matra of Johnny Servoz-Gavin and Henri Pescarolo, but Bianchi brought the car home as Rodriguez began to emerge as one of the best all-rounders in the sport.
Graham HillOne Le Mans win, 14 F1 wins
Such was Matra's determination to win Le Mans, it had spent over $1million on building three new MS670s and updating an old MS660, then testing all of the cars extensively to find weaknesses. Having already won the Formula One World Championship twice, Hill's Formula One career was winding down and he'd joined Matra's sports car team to make his first appearance at Le Mans since 1966. With one Matra having dropped out early, Hill was battling it out with Howden Ganley's 670 on the Sunday morning when a rainstorm caused Ganley to ease off. As he slowed, Henri Greder's Corvette ploughed in to the back of him, causing Ganley to have to pit for repairs and leaving Hill with an easy run to the flag. Though the race was remembered for the tragic death of Joe Bonnier, it also secured Hill's place in history as the only man to complete the 'Triple Crown' of victories having previously won the Indy 500 and Monaco Grand Prix - a record that stands to this day.
Michele AlboretoOne Le Mans win, five F1 wins
In 1996, Alboreto had been part of the Joest Racing team which entered a Tom Walkinshaw Racing-designed Porsche WSC-95 and had subsequently taken pole position for the race. The car would go on to win, but not Alboreto's which retired after 300 laps. In 1997, history started to repeat itself as Alboreto's WSC-95 was again on pole - this time with Stefan Johansson and Tom Kristensen in the line-up. Following on from the previous year's success the Joest entries were the favourites - despite not being factory Porsches - and early on the pole-sitting car pulled out a lead. The WSC-95 wasn't quick enough to retain it though when it was forced to pit more often than its rivals, and had slipped back after two hours. With just three hours to go, the factory Porsche 911 GT1 was leading by a minute but being caught by Kristensen (in his first Le Mans race) when the 911 caught fire on the Mulsanne straight. That left the Alboreto/Johansson/Kristensen car to make it back-to-back wins for Joest. Sadly, four years later while testing an Audi R8 for another tilt at Le Mans, Alboreto was killed at Lausitz. Kristensen went on to win that year too in a Joest R8.
The Sauber Mercedes C9 that took Jochen Mass to Le Mans victory in 1989 © Getty Images
Jochen MassOne Le Mans win, one F1 win
Peter Sauber's dream of winning Le Mans was strengthened as the partnership with Mercedes-Benz continued, and the Sauber Mercedes C9 turned out to be the car that delivered as it was married with the new Mercedes M117 5.0L turbocharged V8 - the engine which had been causing Mercedes to hold back from its own full-time entry while it was developed. Mass had suffered embarrassment in 1988 when he was part of the Sauber team forced to withdraw from Le Mans due to safety concerns with its Michelin tyres, but the following year was much more productive. Teamed with Manuel Reuter and Stanley Dickens, Mass drove almost half the race. With the car in a competitive position, Reuter got sick in the night and could only complete a total of five hours. Dickens fulfilled his eight hours but Mass took on the extra driving to be in the car for 11 of the 24. The result was partly due to the fragility of the opponents - the winning Sauber only took the lead for the first time around 7.30am on the Sunday - but Mass described it as "a relief" to finally win as he was concerned about the safety at the Circuit de la Sarthe, claiming he could have "won the damn thing many times" if he hadn't often driven within himself.
Mike HawthornOne Le Mans win, three F1 wins
The 1958 Formula One world champion won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1955 with co-driver Ivor Bueb, albeit in tragic and rather controversial circumstances. Hawthorn and Bueb's victory was completely overshadowed by the death of more than 80 spectators after Pierre Levegh's Mercedes crashed heavily on the pit straight and burst into flames. Hawthorn had been involved in the incident, triggering the crash when he slowed for a pit-stop ahead of Lance Macklin's Austin Healy. Macklin collided with Levegh, sending the Mercedes into the barriers where it disintegrated and caught fire. It was the worst disaster in motor racing history and Mercedes withdrew its remaining two cars several hours later, one of which - the Juan Manuel Fangio/Stirling Moss 300SLR - was leading the race at the time. Hawthorn and Bueb had been in contention with the Mercedes of Fangio and Moss, and may have mounted a challenge late in the race, but in the end won by five clear laps. Some sections of the media blamed Hawthorn for the crash after the race but he was not held responsible by an official inquiry. While it was not his finest 24 hours and the race arguably should have been called off (organisers said they didn't want to disrupt the flow of emergency vehicles with traffic, while most teams and drivers were unaware of the severity of the accident), Hawthorn was the first driver to have both a Le Mans victory and a Formula One title to his name.
Bruce McLarenOne Le Mans win, four F1 wins
McLaren shared his 1966 Le Mans victory with Chris Amon, another driver who would have made this list in his own right had he won a race in F1, but it can also be argued that he shared it with Ken Miles and 1967 F1 champion Denny Hulme. After three years of trying, Ford finally won at Le Mans with its GT40s outlasting the Ferrari P3s to take all three steps on the podium. The Miles/Hulme GT40 was leading heading onto the final lap, but Ford wanted to hammer home their supremacy by having the lead two cars cross the line in formation. Unfortunately Miles appeared to let off the throttle ahead of the line, giving McLaren the win. The ACO ruled that McLaren and Amon were the victors and because they had started behind Miles and Hulme they had won by eight metres. With that little controversy in mind, McLaren's name is on the list not only celebrating his own achievements in F1 and at Le Mans, but also those of Hulme and Amon ... not to mention Miles, who had been central to the development of the GT40 and was on for a sports car 'Triple Crown' with wins at Sebring and Daytona in the same year.