Spanish driver Fernando Alonso is aiming to create history as the first Formula One world champion to win the Dakar Rally when the 12-day marathon gets underway in Saudi Arabia on Sunday.
Alonso, who won F1 championships with Renault in 2005 and 2006, is one of 351 starters in this year’s 7,500-kilometer race, which has moved from South America to Saudi Arabia, a decision which has sparked an angry reaction from human rights organizations.
Alonso will have five-time bike champion Marc Coma navigating his Toyota as he bids to become one of the greatest all-round drivers of all time.
Apart from his success in F1, the 38-year-old Spaniard has also won the Le Mans 24-hour race, and has singled out a victory at the Indianapolis 500 as his priority for 2020. Alonso described the Dakar Rally as the biggest challenge of his career.
Alonso is not the first F1 driver to take part in the race.
Belgian Jacky Ickx, a winner of eight F1 races and a six-time winner of Le Mans, won Dakar in 1983 and came in second in 1986 and 1989. Frenchman Patrick Tambay, who had two F1 wins, finished third in 1988 and 1989.
Given the treacherous conditions — long stretches of sand dunes — Alonso is not overly confident of victory, noting that even nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb was unable to deliver when he raced the Dakar.
Loeb won 13 stages, but could only finish second in 2017 and third in 2019.