Strange debutants

Both came into Formula One with tyres smoking. Both drove for Jordan and Ferrari. Both won many hearts, but not the championship. They are Jean Alesi and Rubens Barrichello. Now, they are trying their luck at the IndyCar Series. And they’re doing it at the tender of 47 and 39 respectively. Are they nuts? Not really. If statistics are anything to go by, they are old enough to win.

Since its inception as Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) in 1979, only 10 Formula One drivers had a go at it (re-christened as Champ Car World Series in 2004). Of them, four managed to nail the championship while six had to return with their tails between their rear wheels.

Those belonging to the “tail between the rear wheels” club are:
Enrique Bernoldi, Timo Glock, Justin Wilson, Antonio Pizzonia, Roberto Moreno, and Tora Takagi.

Those belonging to the “nailed the championship” club are:
Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti , Alex Zanardi and Nigel Mansell.

Except Alex Zanardi, the rest were Formula 1 champions to begin with. Mario Andretti was F1 champion in 1978. Emerson Fittipaldi won the F1 title twice – 1972 & 1974. Nigel Mansell won his much-deserved F1 championship in 1992.

Sadly neither Jean Alesi nor Rubens Barrichello are F1 champions. But what they have on their side are two very important things:

Racing Experience
With 202 & 326 grand prix drives respectively; Jean Alesi and Rubens Barrichello have more racing experience than Emerson Fittipaldi (149), Mario Andretti (131), Alex Zanardi (44) and Nigel Mansell (185).

Old Age
Barring Alex Zanardi who won the title (CART World Series) in 1997 at the age of 31 years, each of the other three drivers won it only when they were about 40 years or older. Emerson Fittipaldi won the IndyCar World Series in 1984 at the age of 43. Mario Andretti won it in 1989 at 44. Nigel Mansell won it in 1993, becoming the only man to win both Formula 1 and IndyCar titles back to back. He also became the only man in history to hold both titles in a year, as the 1993 F1 title was still undecided when Mansell was crowned IndyCar champion.

Of the two, Jean Alesi probably has a better chance as he’ll be driving for Newman / Haas Racing, the second most successful team in Champ Car with 8 titles – just one title behind Penske Racing. It’s worth noting that of the four F1 champs who also won IndyCar Series; two did it with Newman / Haas Racing (Mario Andretti and Nigel Mansell). Rubens Barrichello, driving for an obscure KV Racing, simply has to pray for a miracle.

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