Is the Triple Crown the greatest team achievement of all time?
We look at how motorsport’s ultimate accolade stacks up against other sports
What do Bruce McLaren, Juan Pablo Montoya, Fernando Alonso, A.J. Foyt, Tazio Nuvolari, Jochen Rindt and Maurice Trintignant all have in common? They’ve all chased motorsport’s ultimate prize, the Triple Crown, and come agonisingly close to being immortalised in racing’s most exclusive hall of fame.
Each has won two legs of the Triple Crown but misses a key piece of the puzzle. Our founder, Bruce, won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Monaco Grand Prix but sadly never got his hands on the Indianapolis 500’s Borg-Warner Trophy before his death.
However, the team he created in his name, McLaren Racing, has won all three. So where does the Triple Crown stand among sport’s most significant achievements?
You’ll have to stick with us on this one because it might cause a stir. Sports fans are famously tribal. Whether it is their sport, their team, or their sportsperson, their favourite is undeniably the greatest. There’s no room for objectivity.
And this goes for their achievements, too.
Our founder, Bruce McLaren, won two legs of the Triple Crown
Sport’s greatest underdog story? For some, it is undoubtedly Leicester City lifting the Premier League trophy in 2015/16. For others, it is South Africa’s Rugby World Cup victory in 1995. Or maybe you believe it was the United States hockey team’s gold medal win in the 1980 Olympics, also known as the Miracle on Ice. We could go on and on and on, but we’d never get the majority of you to agree with us.
How about team sport’s most remarkable comeback? The Boston Red Sox’s overcoming a 3-0 series deficit to defeat the New York Yankees in 2004's ALCS is a worthy contender. As is Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League comeback over AC Milan.
And what about the overall greatest team achievement in sport? It would probably feature some form of underdog or comeback element to it, combined with prestige and history, the number of previous winners, and most importantly, how difficult it was to actually achieve.
Let us be bold for a second and throw our papaya-coloured hat into the ring: It’s the Triple Crown of Motorsport. To those of you who have been paying attention over the past month, that will come as no surprise.
We imagine many of you reading this will be nodding in agreement – others will be cracking their fingers as they prepare to tell us why we’re wrong in the comments on social media. Ultimately, we’ll never get you all to agree, and it’s impossible to quantify, but hear us out.
Masanori Sekiya, Yannick Dalmas and J.J. Lehto on the podium at the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans
What is the Triple Crown of Motorsport?
We covered the topic in depth here, but in short, it is the three single greatest motor racing challenges on the planet, as chosen by the fans.
All three races present entirely different challenges.
The Monaco Grand Prix tests a driver’s ability to manoeuvre their machinery around the tightest of streets on the grandest of stages, with absolutely zero margin for error. It’s no coincidence the circuit holds the record for the fewest cars to finish a modern F1 race.
The Indianapolis 500 has a similarly finite margin for error but for very different reasons. Dubbed the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” it’s the ultimate test of bravery and commitment, with a grid of 33 drivers racing at speeds of more than 220mph on the most brutal oval America has to offer.
And then there’s the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the ultimate test of endurance and consistency. The race’s longest recorded distance is a staggering 5,410km, equivalent to driving from London to New York in a straight line.
Alain Prost won McLaren's first Monaco Grand Prix in 1984
Only one team (McLaren Racing) and one driver (Graham Hill) have won all three in the last 100 years. Many have tried and failed, but none have achieved it. Winning even one is considered a career-defining achievement.
Johnny Rutherford won us our first Indy 500 as a factory team in 1974. Our maiden Monaco Grand Prix win followed with Alain Prost at the wheel in 1984. We completed the set in 1995, when JJ Lehto, Yannick Dalmas and Masanori Sekiya took victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The latter was a true underdog story: achieved on our debut in what was technically the third fastest class of car. In fact, the McLaren F1 GTR was never even meant to be a race car, having initially been designed and produced as a road car.
Each requires a unique style of car and a distinct set of skills, but theoretically, a driver could choose the strongest team and the quickest car on the grid.
To win all three, we had to design and build three purpose-built cars, employ three different sets of staff, and then pair them with drivers capable of winning motorsport’s three hardest races. Getting even one of those combinations right is difficult, let alone all three.
Johnny Rutherford won the 1974 Indianapolis 500
What are the other contenders?
The closest comparison would be horse racing’s own Triple Crown. Most countries, including England, the United States, Australia, and Ireland, have their own horse racing Triple Crown, all based on the same concept of their three most challenging and prestigious races. The most famous is the Thoroughbred Triple Crown, which consists of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
Sticking with threes, the most obvious non-racing example is football’s treble, achieved when a team wins the domestic league and cup as well as the European Cup in the same season.
The most notable example is Manchester United’s historic treble of the Premier League, the Champions League and the FA Cup in 1999. Becoming the first English side to achieve the feat, Manchester United’s treble wasn’t built on quality alone, but a never say die attitude – the crowning moment of which was their injury-time comeback against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final.
Many sports actually have a Triple Crown titled accolade in some form or another. In European basketball, it is effectively the same as the treble in football, and has been achieved 22 times by 12 different basketball clubs.
In Rugby Union, it began as an unofficial honour but is now an official trophy, awarded in the Six Nations to any team who beats all three of the other original home nations – England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. It was most recently achieved by Ireland in 2023. Baseball and american football also have a Triple Crown, but both are player-won honours.
📆 #OnThisDay: In 1999, Manchester United beat Bayern Munich to secure the Champions League trophy and complete a continental treble 🏆🏆🏆— Man United News (@ManUtdMEN) May 25, 2020
The first and only English team to ever do so 🔝 #mufc pic.twitter.com/OsQwOy20Io
In English County Cricket, Warwickshire have come the closest to winning all four trophies available. Brian Lara’s team completed a treble in 1994, winning the County Championship, Sunday League and the Benson & Hedges Cup, but lost in the NatWest Trophy final to Worcestershire.
With teams needing to win against different opposition in different tournament formats, these honours are all comparable to the Triple Crown of Motorsport. However, Manchester United could use the same squad of players and were playing to the same rules. Whereas, the Indy 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Monaco Grand Prix all require different cars and have different regulations. But then, it should be said that winning all three titles in a single year is mightily impressive.
Another footballing example would be Arsenal’s Invincibles season in 2002/03, when they remained unbeaten for an entire Premier League campaign, winning 26 matches and drawing 12.
There’s a similar but even more impressive record in the world of NFL. In 1972, the Miami Dolphins completed a perfect season, winning all 17 games, including the Super Bowl. That same year, the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA achieved 33 wins in a row.
As stated above, the legacy of the achievement matters: the longer it has existed, the more it means, and going by that logic, Yachting’s America’s Cup deserves a mention. First contested in 1851, the America’s Cup is the oldest international sporting trophy in the world. By comparison, the inaugural Indianapolis 500 was in 1911, the first 24 Hours of Le Mans took place in 1923, and the Monaco Grand Prix was first raced in 1929.
The most famous America’s Cup victory came as recently as 2013. In a best-of-17 format, the USA Oracle Team were 8-1 down, with any hope of them winning seemingly lost. Somehow, they turned it around to win all of the remaining races and the America’s Cup.
In 1972, the @MiamiDolphins completed the first perfect season in NFL history.— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) November 15, 2022
50 years later, and still no one has been able to match the feat 💪 pic.twitter.com/eTUTUgvDOG
The National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup is widely considered the hardest trophy in sport, with winners needing to play up to 16 playoff games and 28 total games to be crowned. Football’s FIFA World Cup – hosted only every four years – and the NFL Super Bowl would both dispute that, but like the America’s Cup, and unlike the Treble or any of the Triple Crowns, they are single trophies, based on one event alone, and have a winner every time they’re hosted. The Triple Crown of Motorsport has been achieved only twice.
Where do you believe the Triple Crown of Motorsport sits among sport’s greatest achievements? Let us know in the comments on social media or by using the hashtag #FansLikeNoOther.
With the help of our partners, Arrow Electronics, NTT DATA, and SmartStop, we’ll be celebrating all three victories throughout our 60th anniversary year as part of #McLaren60: Johnny Rutherford’s 1974 Indianapolis 500 victory in the McLaren M16C/D, Alain Prost’s 1984 Monaco Grand Prix victory in the McLaren MP4/2, and our 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans victory, won by the #59 McLaren F1 GTR, at the hands of JJ Lehto, Yannick Dalmas and Masanori Sekiya. Download the McLaren App and follow our social media channels to keep up to date with everything we’re planning.
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