Former Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso is 41 years old. In a sport where many of the drivers are about half his age, he still believes he can win a third championship. He asserts that the title won’t come this year but rather in 2024, when his Aston Martin team will be considered title challengers. Is the Spaniard being realistic or simply delusional?
Well, Juan Manuel Fangio won his final F1 title at 46 years old, in 1957. If you survey other disciplines in the motorsports landscape, this feat isn’t even an outlier. There are plenty of other drivers who’ve achieved racing success later in life. Let’s take a look at our favorite autumn racers.
9. Louis Chiron (58)
Alonso will have to race until 2040 if he wants to be the oldest driver to take part in a Formula 1 grand prix. That honor went to Louis Chiron who, at 58, tried to qualify for Monaco—his home race—back in 1958.
He failed to make the field, but it was not for lack of talent. Chiron was a weapon in Bugattis and brought the company numerous podiums. In fact, he was so good that Bugatti used his namesake for its novel supercar in 2016.
Just four years before his failed qualifying attempt, Chiron became the oldest man to win a world rally when he finished first in Monte Carlo while driving for Lancia. That success led to an invitation to drive a Lancia F1 car at the 1955 Monaco Grand Prix. At 55, he remains the oldest man to start a grand prix. He finished sixth.
8. Luigi Fagioli (53)
The title for oldest driver to win an F1 race belongs to Italian Luigi Fagioli. His Alfa Romeo triumphed at the 1951 French Grand Prix. Fagioli was 53. The victory comes with an asterisk, though.
After a mid-race accident, Fagioli’s car was taken over by championship-chasing Juan Manuel Fangio, who drove it to the win. The proud Fagioli stormed off and never raced in another grand prix. Fagioli got credit for the win, though, and has the curious honor of being the only man born in the 19th century to win a Formula 1 race.
7. A.J. Foyt (57)
At 200 laps, mostly flat-out around the tricky Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indy 500 is a test of man and machine. That didn’t stop A.J. Foyt from competing at 57 years old in 1992. He finished ninth in that race.
The Texan entered the following year’s event but withdrew in qualifying—and retired on the spot—to concentrate on running his racing team. Foyt accomplished so much in his lengthy career: He remains the only driver to win the Indy 500 (four times, no less), the Daytona 500, the Rolex 24, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
6. Mario Andretti (53)
Foyt and Andretti were in lock-step their entire career. Andretti holds the crown as IndyCar’s oldest winner when he triumphed in Phoenix during the 1993 season, the same year that Foyt hung up his helmet. At 53 years old, Andretti became the only IndyCar driver to win races across four decades. He retired in 1994.
5. Jack Gerber (68)
For whatever reason, professional sports-car racing seems to serve the older drivers. It could be the stint length, or perhaps the relatively light season schedule.
Take South African Jack Gerber. In 2013, at 68 years old, he recorded a unique triple in Le Mans history. Driving an AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia at the French enduro, he became the oldest driver to start, the oldest to finish, and the oldest to grace the podium. Oh, he was a Le Mans rookie, too.
4. John Force (73)
At 73 years old, John Force is still at home on the plus side of 300 miles per hour. And the 16-time NHRA Champion shows no signs of slowing down. We caught up with the man in 2021 and marveled at his feats. Two years later, he’s still a fascinating study.
Known to command the room and the microphone, Force had to share the championship stage with his daughter Brittany, who brought the NHRA Top Fuel title home in 2022 while driving for her father. As far as 2023 goes, it’s almost a guarantee to see a Force in victory lane.
3. Dave House (75)
The sports-car driver didn’t start racing in IMSA until he was 60. House’s first career victory against professionals came in the series’ Prototype Challenge at Sebring International Raceway in 2018 … at 75 years old.
2. Hershel McGriff (90)
When Hershel McGriff officially retired at the ripe old age of 74, the NASCAR world thought he was slowing down. Not a chance.
In 2018, at 90 years old, McGriff piloted a Toyota Camry stocker in a NASCAR divisional race at Tucson Speedway. He finished 18th. Safe to say, he holds the record for oldest driver to compete in a NASCAR-sanctioned race.
Remarkably, McGriff began racing shortly after World War II. His best finish in a NASCAR race was back in 1954, before Richard Petty ever climbed into a stock car. During his impressive career he eventually competed against King Richard as well as Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, and the Allisons.
In 1986, at the tender age of 59, McGriff won the NASCAR Winston West championship. Two years later at 61, he became the oldest driver to win a NASCAR-sanctioned race.
Fittingly, he was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2023.
1. Sobieslaw Zasada (91)
Age dulls reaction time. No one told Poland’s Sobieslaw Zasada, who started a round of the World Rally Championship at 91 years old, in 2021.
Zasada’s first four-wheel competition came in 1951. By 1966 he lifted the European Rally Championship—a feat he repeated in 1967 and 1971.
After his rally success, he grew a four-person Krakow body shop into one of the most successful businesses in Poland, eventually earning the right to build Mercedes-Benz vans under lisence.
Why did Zasada return to rallying in his tenth decade?
“I’m really curious to see what rallies are like today, compared with the ones that I remember from half a century ago,” he says. “I know I can do it, as I train a lot and I’m still in good physical condition.”
He retired his Ford Fiesta Rally3 with suspension damage on the rally’s final stage. The 91-year-old even outlasted his modern rally car.
I know he doesn’t make headlines so much any more, but Red Farmer is still going strong at 90 at the Talladega Short Track!
Just recently Milton Grant just won a Trans Am race at 74 years young. Making him the oldest Trans Am winner in SCCA history??? Pretty cool.
You forgot about Chris Karamesines.
Retired from Top Fuel at the end of 2020 at 89.
Honorable mention to go to Paul Newman who won a Trans Am race at age 82 at Lime Rock.