In the early days of postwar auto racing, it was not unusual for the best drivers to make guest appearances in other series, winning Formula One grands prix and entering small events and regional championships.
As Formula One became more professional, with increased investment from sponsors and governments, teams began to insist that their drivers concentrate on the sport that was paying their salaries.
But that has been changing. Drivers have begun trying to claim either of racing’s triple crowns, and to do that they have to race for other masters.
The Monaco Grand Prix and the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race compose a triple crown of motorsport, the three most prestigious events on the world auto-racing calendar. An alternate version of the crown is winning Indy, Le Mans and a Formula One world championship.
About 15 drivers have attempted the feat, but many have won only one of the three events. Graham Hill of England is the only driver to have succeeded. He won the Monaco Grand Prix five times, the Formula One world championship twice , and completed both versions of the triple crown in 1972 when he won Le Mans.
This year, Fernando Alonso, who races for the McLaren Formula One team, is hoping to complete another leg of the triple crown by winning Le Mans for Toyota, sharing the cockpit with Kazuki Nakajima and Sébastien Buemi, both former Formula One drivers.
“I’ve never been shy about my aim of winning motorsport’s triple crown — the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indy 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans,” Alonso said when news of his Le Mans entry was confirmed in January. “We tried for Indy last year, came close, but just missed out.
“This year, I have the chance, thanks to McLaren, to race for the win at Le Mans. It is a big challenge, much can go wrong, but I am ready, prepared and looking forward to the fight.”
Of the 180 names on the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans entry list, one or more drivers in each of the four categories has Formula One experience.
While Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship have long been popular destinations for Formula One retirees hoping to extend their professional racing careers, active Formula One drivers were notable for their absence until 2015.
That year, Nico Hülkenberg, then a driver for the Sahara Force Formula One team, won the LMP1 class for Porsche at Le Mans with his co-drivers Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy.
When Alonso, who was driving for Ferrari at the time, was the official starter of the 2014 Le Mans race, he said he wanted to compete there someday. In 2017, while with the McLaren Formula One team, he stepped away to race at the Indy 500, where he led for 27 laps before his engine failed.
“I was close on a couple of occasions when I was at Ferrari, but Ferrari was not very keen on sharing me with another brand,” he said about an earlier attempt to race at Le Mans. “When I joined McLaren, I was very, very close, but in the end it didn’t happen.”
Zak Brown, the chief executive of McLaren, said the team was fine with Alonso’s Le Mans decision.
“It’s no secret that Fernando has wanted to contest the Le Mans 24 Hours,” Brown said in a media release. “And I think everybody within our organization appreciates that a motivated, hungry and happy world-class driver such as Fernando is a formidable asset for any team in F1.”