In the early years of Formula One, there was no such thing as a “system” for race numbers. The numbers painted onto each car at a given Grand Prix were, rather like those given to track athletes, simply handed out by the race organisers at the start of the event. As you can probably imagine, this is exactly the kind of free-for-all to drive the kind of person who is sad enough to write a blog about car liveries (and, by extension, car numbers) a bit mad.
Fortunately, the organisers of F1 are capable of being anally retentive as well, and so in 1973 they decided it was time to impose some order on things. A system was trialled in the second half of the season whereby each team would be assigned the same numbers for each race (no matter who happened to be sitting in the car) – and this was then formalised in 1974, when every team was given a “permanent” set of numbers, based on their then position in the constructors’ championship.
These numbers persisted for the next two decades, with the only changes occurring when a driver became world champion (at which point whatever team he drove for the next season would get #1 and #2, swapping places with the previous incumbents) and when a team lower down the grid decided to shift upwards into an empty space. But by the end of 1995, the system had become a bit messy: there were far fewer teams than there had been only a few years previously, and some of the newer ones that remained hadn’t moved up into the gaps that were left. Rather than simply reshuffling under the existing rules, the FIA decided to tidy things up with a new system entirely. Now, each year the numbers would be handed out based on the previous season’s constructors’ standings, with the champions taking #3 and #4 (unless they also happened to employ the drivers’ champion) and so on.
This system worked well enough for the next couple of decades, but the FIA being the FIA, they decided to mix things up a bit again in 2014, introducing a setup that had actually been suggested by many fans over the years: now, each driver would be given a permanent number for the entirety of their career in F1 (with the initial choices being given in preferential order based on the 2013 drivers’ standings). The thinking behind this was that the numbers could be better used for marketing purposes, and help to give the individual cars a stronger visual identity. So far, despite some initial scepticism (including from yours truly) it’s worked pretty well.
But you know all of this already, of course. So why do the numbers on F1 cars hold such interest for some of us? Well, for many – particularly those of us already into liveries and sponsors and stuff – they can hold similarly iconic weight, particularly when a certain number is heavily associated with a particular team or driver. And in the hands of a good livery designer, they can be just as integral a part of a good paint job as any sponsor or set of colours.
As well as this, I found myself intrigued to discover – aside from the question of which numbers were particularly iconic – if there were any numbers that were more particularly inclined towards success in the championship, or if a particular driver in the pre-“personal” era had managed to have a surprisingly lengthy association with an individual number. So, naturally, I sat down and worked out exactly where and when every number had appeared since the introduction of the first codified system in 1974. What follows is incredibly long and incredibly geeky… but you might just find it remotely as interesting as I did. So let’s kick things off at the beginning, with the only real place to start: number… zero?
The big fat zero has only been used twice in F1 since 1974: and both times, by the same driver. It came about because in both 1993 and 1994, the previous year’s champions (Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost) had promptly retired after winning. As such, Williams were entitled to the first two numbers in the entry list (although whether this is because they were “the team the champion had driven for” or “the reigning constructor’s champions” is unclear, as in both instances they were both) – but unlike in 1974, the rules were changed so that a non-champion could not bear the coveted #1. Instead, while first Alain Prost and then Ayrton Senna were given #2, it was second driver Damon Hill who got the nought. He didn’t do too badly with it, all things considered.
Throughout 2006, I was desperately hoping that Michael Schumacher would win the title and then retire, so that Ferrari would have to carry “0” in 2007 – but it wasn’t to be. As it is, the number will probably never be seen in F1 again, at least under the current rules. Of course, if the new rules hadn’t been brought in, then we would have seen it in 2017, thanks to Nico Rosberg’s sudden retirement!
Unsurprisingly, given that he’s won the most titles, Michael Schumacher has carried #1 on his car the most times, with seven in all. Only twice, meanwhile, has a driver that wasn’t the reigning champion been allowed to drive with it: firstly in 1974, when the numbering system was introduced. 1973’s champion Jackie Stewart had retired, so constructors champions Lotus were allowed to take #1 and #2, giving the former to Ronnie Peterson. And in 1985, John Watson briefly substituted for Niki Lauda at McLaren. While you suspect that if that happened now (or, rather, in the pre-2014 era) he’d have to have had #0, back then he simply kept the same number. As such, it’s the only time #1 has been carried by more than one driver in the same season.
You’d think #1 would be the most successful race number in terms of championships won while carrying it, and… well, you’d be right, but only as a result of Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel’s streaks of success in the 2000s and 2010s respectively. Before the turn of the century, a driver with #1 on their car had only won the title four times: Prost in ’86, Senna in ’91, Schumacher in ’95 and Mika Hakkinen in ’99. Since then, however, it’s happened four more times for Schumacher, once for Fernando Alonso, and three times for Vettel.
An extremely unusual set of circumstances – the new number rules, Hamilton’s repeated title successes and choice to race with #44, Rosberg’s post-victory retirement – have meant that 2020 is going to be the sixth successive season without a #1 car on the grid.
Surely #2 is a number that nobody wants, a number that’s associated with failure, or at the very least with second-string status? And looking down the list of perennial runners-up (or, to be more charitable, “trusted backup drivers”) who’ve had it on their cars down the years – Barrichello, Coulthard, Webber, Berger – that seems to be the case.
But there’s one driver for whom it isn’t true, and that’s Alain Prost. Incredibly, three out of his four titles were won with #2 on the car (and the other, in 1986, was when he was reigning champion and so had #1). Admittedly, in 1993 he was firmly Williams’ number one driver (and probably chose #2 because it had been lucky for him before) – but in 1985 and 1989, he was in the same team as the reigning champion, and beat them anyway. For Prost, it seems, #2 didn’t mean “runner-up”, it meant “next guy in line to win”.
It came close to happening again in 2007 and 2008, but in both cases Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa ultimately finished as runners-up. The only driver to use it so far in the “permanent” era is Stoffel Vandoorne, who failed somewhat to live up to those standards.
By virtue of having finished second in the 1973 championship, Tyrrell were given the numbers 3 and 4 for the 1974 season; and by virtue of neither producing nor hiring a world champion for the remainder of their history, retained them right up until the last season of the original system, in 1995. The drivers who held it for the longest all did so for three seasons each: Jody Scheckter in 1974-76, Martin Brundle in 1984-86, Jonathan Palmer in 1987-89 and Ukyo Katayama in 1993-95. Michele Alboreto was also carrying it when recording the team’s last ever race win, in 1983.
From 1996 onwards, it was usually used by the reigning constructors’ champions – except in cases where they also had the drivers’ champion racing for them. As such, it became more readily associated with teams in a position of strength, with Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher winning titles with it in 1997 and 1999. Under the 2014 renumbering system, it was chosen by Daniel Ricciardo, who put his choice down to having used it extensively while karting, as well as paying tribute to the late Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Tyrrell’s “other” number was perhaps most associated with Patrick Depailler due to his five-year stint from 1974-78; and then Jean Alesi’s memorable impact on the sport despite only being there for a season and a half in the early ’90s. It bounced around various drivers without much distinction in the 1990s and 2000s, before being chosen by Max Chilton in 2014 because it enabled him to style his name as “M4X”. It’s the lowest number not to win the title – Lando Norris, who began using it in 2019, will hope that changes.
While it may not seem the most immediately iconic, there’s a reasonable case for calling #5 the best number in F1. More drivers have won titles with it than any other: Emerson Fittipaldi in 1974, Mario Andretti in ’78, Nelson Piquet in ’81 and ’83, Nigel Mansell in 1992, Michael Schumacher in ’94, Damon Hill in ’96, Fernando Alonso in 2005 and Sebastian Vettel in 2010. Truly, it’s an era-spanning indicator of success.
That said, only one of those drivers (Piquet) managed to do so more than once, so Vettel may come to regret choosing it as his permanent number based on its prior success. Aside from title wins, the number is most strongly associated with Nigel Mansell and his “red five”, which adorned his Williams from 1985-88, and again in 1991-2. Indeed, the number was so iconic that when Mansell briefly substituted at Williams in 1994, they gave him a “red two”.
It came as little surprise when Nico Rosberg picked #6 as his permanent number, as it was the same number his father Keke won the title with in 1982. Even more so than #2, it’s otherwise a number that has a strong association with number two drivers in successful teams, perhaps down to Williams carrying it for so much of the 1980s (and some of the 1990s). Riccardo Patrese carried it with that team from 1988 to 1992, and even ended up with it at Benetton in 1993, to boot. He’d also had it at Brabham in 1983, in between Rosberg’s title win and another two-season spell for the Finn having it at Williams.
Also in among those two, however, Nelson Piquet wound up with it for two seasons, and won the title with it in 1987. And his son Nelson Jr actually beat Nico Rosberg to the punch as far as copying his father’s number goes, as he coincidentally had it on his Renault in 2008. Only the Rosberg family, however, has had two champion drivers carry it.
In a surprise move, 2020’s only rookie on the grid, Nicholas Latifi, chose 6 as his number – stating that it was down to his home town of Toronto and its nickname of “the six”, but we’d be surprised if the chance to take a number vacated by a recent champion was far from his mind…
Another one that surprisingly doesn’t have a title win associated it, #7 was most commonly seen on the Brabhams, but switched over to McLaren for a six-season stint between 1979 and 1984. It was carried by John Watson (who’d also had it at Brabham in ’77) for the first five of those. Appropriately enough, it was the number used during the one season that David Brabham raced for the team of the same name, in 1990.
Through much of the 1990s, it was probably most recognisably a McLaren number, although it also adorned Damon Hill’s car in his ill-fated last season at Jordan – at the start of which he’d proudly played up the connection with Barry Sheene, who famously had the number in motorcycle racing. In 2014, it was chosen as the permanent number of Kimi Raikkonen, who stated with trademark insouciance that he only picked it because it was the same number he’d had on his Lotus the previous year.
Speaking of Hill, #8 was the number on his Brabham when he made his F1 debut in 1992. Despite seemingly being a “number two driver” number, it’s actually got two title wins – both with McLaren, as Niki Lauda won in 1984 and Mika Hakkinen repeated the feat in 1998.
It’s now in the hands of Romain Grosjean; who, like his then team-mate Raikkonen, also already had it by virtue of constructors’ championship placing at Lotus in 2013, but did also say that it had personal significance to him and his family.
They might be key numbers in football, but there’s very little of interest around this pairing in F1. For the first couple of decades, they switched between a few different middle-to-lower-order teams: but unlike other numbers that tended to swap, this wasn’t because of teams moving to take the vacated 1/2, but simply because several of the teams that ran with them ended up falling by the wayside. March, ATS, RAM and Zakspeed all had them in the 1970s and 80s, before they were taken over by Arrows in 1990.
From 1996 onwards, they tended to represent a team that had either fallen to the lower end of the so-called “big five”, or who had just broken into it from the lower orders. McLaren and Jordan had racewinning success with them in 1997 and 1998, but otherwise it’s a quite unremarkable set that no one driver or team really made their own. In 2014, 9 and 10 were chosen by Caterham drivers Marcus Ericsson and Kamui Kobayashi; with neither driver really giving a compelling reason for having picked them, the suspicion is probably that the backmarking (and soon-to-be-defunct) team just wanted to get as high up the entry list as possible. Ericsson subsequently took the #9 over to Sauber, while Pierre Gasly took on #10 in 2017.
As Ferrari and McLaren traded titles in the 1970s, so too did the number #11 bounce between them. James Hunt won with it for McLaren in 1976, then Niki Lauda returned the favour at Ferrari in ’77. Jody Scheckter also got in on the act, winning for Ferrari with it in ’79. For most of the 1980s, it was at Lotus (who picked it up as a result of Scheckter taking #1 to Ferrari), and was most frequently carried by Elio de Angelis until his tragic death in 1986. It briefly spent a year on the McLarens – as a result of Piquet winning the ’87 title and then moving to Lotus – but returned to Lotus in ’89 and marked their final throes.
Vacated upon Lotus’ collapse in 1994, it (along with 12) was picked up by Simtek for ’95, but was even unluckier for them as they folded before the season was out. Its use under the post-1996 system was largely unremarkable, and it was chosen in 2014 by Sergio Perez, who made it his first choice thanks to having used it while karting.
Unsurprisingly, the fate of #12 tended to go hand in hand with that of #11, although as Lauda was still ostensibly Ferrari’s number 2 driver in 1974, it was with #12 that he won his first title. At Lotus in the 1980s, it was carried by two very notable figures: Nigel Mansell between 1981-4, and Ayrton Senna from 1985-87. Having notched up his first race win with the number while at Lotus, Senna coincidentally ended up with the same number at McLaren in 1988, and promptly won his first title with it. It’s also worth noting that Gilles Villeneuve drove almost twice as many races for Ferrari with #12 as he did with his more famous/iconic #27…
Perhaps surprisingly, so far Senna’s fellow Brazilian Felipe Nasr is the only driver to have picked this iconic number in the permanent era.
F1 drivers are a superstitious lot, and so for the entire span of time that race numbers were handed out to teams, #13 was never used in a race – although it was on the car of Divina Galica when she failed to qualify for the 1976 British GP. Then in 2014, along came Pastor Maldonado, who you suspect chose the number purely to be a contrary bastard. “In Venezuela it is not an unlucky number,” he said, although his race results since then would suggest otherwise.
A lucky karting number for Fernando Alonso – although he had little luck at either Ferrari or McLaren after choosing it as his permanent number. Having started out at BRM, the number was briefly used by Emerson Fittipaldi at the team that shared his name (also known as “Copersucar”), before spending the ’80s bouncing around various lower-mid-grid teams including Ensign, ATS, Zakspeed and AGS. It was also briefly used by Renault when they ran a third car in 1985.
It wasn’t until 1992 that it began to be paired with #15 – before then it had almost entirely been used by single-car entries – but Fondmetal took on the pairing after the collapse of Leyton House freed up the latter number. Fondmetal only lasted a year, and the vacant numbers were taken by Jordan, with Rubens Barrichello notably running under #14 for all three remaining seasons of the old system. In the post-1996 era, meanwhile, it was most strongly associated with Red Bull, due to their consistent seventh-placing in the constructors’ championship.
As of 2019, this is still the lowest number yet to be chosen by a driver as their permanent number. It’s one of two that became indelibly associated with Renault in the 1980s, as first Jean-Pierre Jabouille, then Alain Prost and finally Patrick Tambay ran with it on their striking yellow cars until the team’s departure in 1985. After a brief stop-off with the short-lived Haas team, it was carried for four seasons by Mauricio Gugelmin at March/Leyton House.
In a nice bit of roundabout history, Prost’s own team would later have the number due to championship placings in 1997 and 2000.
Perhaps the stronger of the two associated Renault numbers, due to Rene Arnoux’s four seasons with it from 1979 to 1982. It had previously been run by Shadow for the ill-fated Tom Pryce, and later at March/Leyton House Ivan Capelli had it for five years. The short-lived Pacific team picked it up along with #17 in 1995 (moving from their previous pairing of #33 and #34), but it proved to be a poor omen and they didn’t see out the season.
Charles Leclerc began using it for Sauber in 2018; if his Ferrari team actually ever sort their nonsense out, he might yet give it its first title win.
Notably used by Arrows in the 1980s, the number #17 was chosen by Jules Bianchi after all three of his initial choices (#7, #27 and #77) were already unavailable. In the wake of his tragic death, the number has been retired from the sport.
A somewhat uninspiring number, used variously by Surtees, Shadow, March, Arrows, Osella and AGS without much distinction. Jean-Eric Vergne of Toro Rosso was the last driver to have it based on his team’s constructors’ placing, before Lance Stroll chose it for his debut season with Williams in 2017.
This seemingly innocuous number nevertheless carries a reasonable amount of significance, thanks to being on the Toleman of Ayrton Senna when he made his F1 debut in 1984. As the team became Benetton, the number stayed with them, which meant that it was also taken on by Michael Schumacher when he joined the team in 1991 – and scored his first win with it in 1992. In a nice piece of symmetry, Bruno Senna got the chance to use it at Williams in 2012; while Felipe Massa chose it as his permanent number for the same team in 2014. The Brazilian didn’t mention any Senna influence, however, referring to it as having been his number when karting.
A few reasonably distinguished drivers have used this one, but not for any great length of time – Emerson Fittipaldi had it at his self-named team in 1980, Jody Scheckter had it at Wolf before then, and Keke Rosberg had it at both teams either side. It was the Benetton team’s #2 car throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s, with the likes of Boutsen, Berger and Brundle passing through – and so did Nelson Piquet, breaking up the “B” stranglehold. Minardi had it for much of the 2000s, and in 2014 it was picked by McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen.
This one seems to have been a particular favourite of Brazilians and Italians, thanks in part to being held by Osella/Dallara/Scuderia Italia (who favoured drivers of their own nationality) throughout the ’80s. Chico Serra, Mauro Baldi, Piercarlo Ghinzani, Alex Caffi, Nicola Larini, Emanuele Pirro, Michele Alboreto, Pedro Diniz, Jarno Trulli, Tarso Marques (those last two in the same season), Enrique Bernoldi, Cristiano da Matta, Giancarlo Fisichella and Bruno Senna have all raced with it; although Mexian Esteban Gutierrez rather ruined the effect by picking it as his permanent number. It’s also worth noting as the number under which Fernando Alonso made his F1 debut with Minardi in 2001.
Two quirks of circumstance meant that this otherwise unremarkable number is one of only four (the others are 1, 11 and 44) to have adorned back-to-back world champions. First, McLaren’s disqualification from the 2007 world championship meant that for 2008, they were bumped to the back of the eleven-team field, and so Lewis Hamilton won the 2008 title with #22. And then in 2009, the Brawn team were considered a new entry rather than being allowed to take Honda’s slot; and so instead of having #19, Jenson Button took over #22 as well – and promptly won the title with that.
It was no surprise, then, that Button went on to choose it as his permanent number in 2014.
Carried by Minardi (who picked it up from fellow Italians Alfa Romeo) from 1986 through to the end of the original system in 1995, #23 then ended up usually being the highest number in F1 under the constructors-rankings system (paired with #22). Only in 1997 (for one race), 2002 and 2010-2 were there enough teams for there to be higher numbers. As of 2019, it’s in use by Alexander Albon.
The other number run by Minardi under the old system, but perhaps more notable as the number under which James Hunt and Hesketh arrived in the sport in 1974.
The highest number to be used under the post-1996 system (Rosset at Lola, McNish at Toyota and Di Grassi/D’Ambrosio/Pic at Virgin/Manor/Marussia), and chosen permanently by Jean-Eric Vergne in 2014. But this one’s mainly of note, of course, for being carried by the Ligier team between 1979 and 1995. However, while carried by the likes of Rene Arnoux and Martin Brundle, it definitely holds second place in the memory to…
… the fabled number 26, which Ligier carried for all but one of their seasons in the sport. Jacques Laffite had it in the team’s very first season in 1976, and kept it all the way to 1986 (aside from in 1983/4, when he was at Williams) – making it surely the strongest association between any one driver and a single number. It was then out of the sport entirely post 1995, as Ligier had to take #9 and #10 for their final season in 1996 under the new rules. Since choosing it in 2014, however, Daniil Kvyat has yet to explain exactly what it means to him.
Easily the most iconic number in F1 – moreso than various other more successful ones – thanks to its indelible association with Scuderia Ferrari. That it ended up there was actually due to little more than chance: having briefly been used by Guy Edwards for the Embassy-Hill team in 1974, it came onto the grid permanently in 1977 with the new Williams team. They held it for four years, before Alan Jones became the highest-numbered driver so far to win the world championship, in 1980. This meant that with Williams taking 1 and 2 for 1981, the 27/28 pairing went to the previous incumbents, Ferrari. And it just so happened to adorn the car of Gilles Villeneuve for his glorious, flickering and ultimately tragic final pair of seasons in 1981 and 1982 – granting it immediately iconic status.
Due to not winning a title for the entirety of the 1980s and 1990s, Ferrari kept the number for almost that whole period – with Patrick Tambay, Michele Alboreto (who, at five seasons, is actually the driver who has had the number the longest) and Nigel Mansell carrying it at various points. It was only when Alain Prost switched to the Scuderia for 1990, taking the champion’s #1 with him, that it went temporarily to McLaren – and, as luck would have it, the car of Ayrton Senna, giving it even more immortality.
When Senna won the 1990 title (the second, and so far last, driver to win with 27), the number went back to Ferrari, where it stayed (mostly in the hands of Jean Alesi, but also briefly with Prost and Nicola Larini) until the numbering system changed in 1995. Incidentally, if the new system hadn’t come into place, due to Michael Schumacher’s move to Ferrari it would have been at Benetton (and again with Alesi) for 1996, and stayed with that team until Fernando Alonso’s title win of 2005 – when it would thence have gone to… Ferrari.
As it is, due to the decreased number of teams in the sport, it wasn’t seen again for nearly two decades. Nico Hulkenberg chose it as his permanent number in 2014 – however, it looks increasingly unlikely that he’ll ever get that move to the Scuderia…
Not quite as iconic as the one above, even though it was on a Ferrari for exactly the same number of seasons, and it’s not like Gerhard Berger (who also had it for its one year at McLaren) was a slouch. But it is easy to see why it doesn’t have quite the same iconic status – Didier Pironi didn’t excite the imagination in quite the same way as his rival Villeneuve. Stayed off the grid post-1995, of course, until Will Stevens picked it for his first full season at Marussia in 2015 – and then Brendon Hartley picked it up for 2017 and 2018.
(Hartley is, incidentally, the only driver of the “permanent” era so far to use two different numbers in a season – he was a temporary driver at Toro Rosso in 2017 when he used #39, then became a full-time race driver and chose the #28.)
This pair of numbers were used for five seasons by Arrows (#29 had been unused prior to 1979, but #30 had two seasons at Copersucar), before spending several years at Larrousse in the late ’80s/early ’90s without much distinction, and finally three seasons at Sauber. Neither had been seen in the sport since, until #30 was picked by Jolyon Palmer at Renault in 2016.
Bounced around Ensign, Martini, Rebaque, Osella, ATS, AGS and Coloni, before landing at Simtek for one last season with David Brabham in 1994. Was off the grid since then due to there never being enough teams for it to qualify on the post-1996 system, and was first chosen as a permanent number by Esteban Ocon in 2016.
Also used by Osella and Coloni, along with a couple of brief stints on the 1976 RAM and 1978 Theodore. But most notable for being the number under which Michael Schumacher made his debut with Jordan in 1991; and, regrettably, the number on the car of Roland Ratzenberger’s Simtek when he died in 1994. Again, it hasn’t been used since – although unlike Bianchi’s #17, this isn’t considered an “official” retirement of the number.
Used for a handful of new-entry teams towards the end of the old rules system. Jordan paired it with #32 (1991-2), Pacific with #34 (1994), and Eurobrun with both (1988 and then 1990). Was also used by a handful of drivers at McLaren in 1974, when they occasionally ran a third car. Now in the hands of Max Verstappen, who may well win a title with it one day.
Unused until a single season for Johnny Cecotto at Theodore in 1983; then picked up at the turn of the decade by Zakspeed, Eurobrun, Lamborghini Modena and the ill-fated Andrea Moda enterprise. Last seen on Bertrand Gachot’s hopeless-but-not-as-hopeless-as-Andrea-Moda Pacific in 1994.
Arrows and Toleman both made their F1 bow with this pair of numbers – and they were last used as a pair by Onyx, in 1990. #35 survived in the sport a little later, as it was the second number for Andrea Moda in ’92. Had a single season in 2018 as the number of Sergey Sirotkin at Williams. #36, meanwhile, was temporarily used by Antonio Giovinazzi in 2017.
A group of numbers used only sparsely in the sport. #37 was carried by Arturo Merzario at his eponymous team in 1977/78, and then by Bertrand Gachot and JJ Lehto in the 1989 Onyx. #38 only made a single appearance, on Christian Danner’s Rial in 1989; while #39 was also used by Rial that year, and then on the shockingly bad Life in 1990. #40 was used by Stefan Johansson’s Spirit for all of six races in 1983, and then in 1990 AGS paired it with #41. Many of the high 30s and low 40s were also used for an assortment of entries into specific individual races between 1974 and 1980, with varying degrees of success.
As mentioned above, Brendon Hartley used #39 for one race in 2017, and in the same season Paul di Resta carried #40 in a temporary appearance at Williams.
The lowest number not to be used for a full season’s entry; and what’s more, a number that’s only ever actually competed in a single race since 1974, courtesy of Tom Pryce driving for Token at that year’s Belgian Grand Prix.
It was also used on two other cars that same year – David Purley also at Token, and Ian Ashley at The Chequered Flag – but both failed to qualify for their respective races. And Alexander Rossi was entered into the 2014 Russian Grand Prix under it, but Marussia eventually decided to run only one car in that race following Jules Bianchi’s accident, so he didn’t turn a wheel in anger.
Most notable as the number carried by Nigel Mansell when making his three-race debut in a third Lotus in 1980. Otherwise, used for just four races in 1974: two for Gerard Larrousse at Scuderia Finotto, and two for Leo Kinnunen at AAW. Larrousse qualified for his two, Kinnunen didn’t.
When it comes to championships-per-seasons-entered, #44 is the most successful number in F1 history. It had never made it into a race (Leo Kinnunen and Tony Trimmer had each had an attempt at qualifying for a single race with it, in 1974 and 1977 respectively) before Lewis Hamilton chose it as his permanent number in 2014, hearkening back to his old karting days – and he’s since won the title in all but one of the six seasons he’s entered with it (if you don’t count those prior one-offs). It’s also the only number other than #1 under which the reigning champion has ever raced, as he elected not to take the #1 in 2015, saying “44 is my family number. It’s the number I had when I first started racing. I won my first championship with 44. It means something to me. The number one, Vettel’s had it, Schumacher’s had it, all the champions have had it. None of them had 44. 44 is mine.”
The purist in me baulked at Hamilton’s decision at the time; but you have to admit that the big red (until 2019) number 44 directly below the cockpit is a hugely iconic piece of modern F1 imagery.
Two numbers that in the “permanent driver number” era have each only been used for a single race – and in the same season (2014), with the same team (Caterham). First, Andre Lotterer used #45 when stepping in at the Belgian Grand Prix; and then Will Stevens took #46 when doing the same for their last bow at Abu Dhabi. This makes Stevens the only driver other than Vettel to have raced under two different numbers since 2014. #45 was also on the car of Brian McGuire for his failed attempt to qualify for the 1977 British GP.
Had never been used in F1 before getting a single race with Stoffel Vandoorne as a McLaren reserve in 2016…
… meaning that #48 is now the lowest number not to have been used since the introduction of the fixed number system in 1974!
When entering F1 for the back half of the 1980 season, RAM used #50 on Rupert Keegan’s car – making it the highest number to be used by a “proper” (i.e. non-special-event) entry pre-2014. But the team also ran two different drivers (Kevin Cogan and Geoff Lees) under #51 that year, for a race each. Again, though, neither qualified.
The low 50s – with the exception of #53, for some reason – were also used by assorted drivers making single-race appearances at the Japanese Grands Prix of 1976 and 1977.
Oh, and because I’m sure you’re all dying to know, #52 is what I race under in F1 2019.
Absent from the sport entirely until Alexander Rossi’s five-race stint at Marussia in 2015. It was initially unclear whether this was down to a love of The Love Bug or not, until he tweeted thusly.
Used by Mario Andretti for the two North American rounds of the 1974 season, and by Jean-Pierre Jarier when he replaced the late Ronnie Peterson at Lotus for the last two races of 1978, this one then had a long wait before returning to the sport in 2015, courtesy of Carlos Sainz.
Almost used by Nigel Mansell at the 1980 United States GP (his previously-used #43 had been taken by Mike Thackwell in a third Tyrrell) – but he had to give up his Lotus to Mario Andretti, so ended up not entering the event.
Chosen by George Russell on his entry into the sport with Williams in 2019, the reason seemingly being that it could be stylised to look like “GR” on his helmet.
Another one used by a driver entering the last two races of 1974, this time Mark Donohue of Penske; but also given to Nelson Piquet’s third Brabham in the last race of 1978 in Canada.
You’d think Valtteri Bottas – who picked this number to match the two Ts in both his first name and surname – would be the first driver to use #77, but you’d be wrong. In 1976, Rolf Stommelen was set to drive for RAM at the German Grand Prix, but the team’s cars were impounded by police due to legal action. Instead, he was given the opportunity to drive a third Brabham, taking #77 presumably to match the #7 on their lead car.
Used by Rio Haryanto upon joining Manor in 2016, and then Robert Kubica at Williams in 2019. We really hope at least one of them is a Back to the Future fan.
Chosen by Pascal Wehrlein for 2016, the 1994-born driver having previously raced with it in DTM. And yes, that does make us feel old, thanks for asking.
Chosen by Roberto Merhi while driving for Marussia in 2015, we can only assume because it was the next-highest number available to choose, after…
… which Adrian Sutil presumably picked upon the introduction of the new system back in 2014 just to be a smartarse. I’m almost glad he hasn’t had a race seat since. Antonio Giovinazzi then picked it up to use in 2019.
But despite what you might think, #99 isn’t the highest number to be seen on an F1 car since 1974, because…
Thankfully, it didn’t actually make it into a race. But yes, there’s been one occasion on which a three-digit number was allowed to enter. Leila Lombardi entered the 1974 British Grand Prix with a Brabham, under the team name Allied Polymer Group. And she drove under #208 as that happened to be the medium wave radio frequency of one of her sponsors, Radio Luxembourg.
So yeah, you think marketing ruining the look of F1 cars is a modern thing…?