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When Your Number's Up…



31 MAR - 03 APR 2016

For the first time in many years, indeed decades, the 2014 drivers have been allowed to pick and choose their own racing numbers.

There are some interesting choices among the 22, which range from 1 to 99. This prompted a visit to the record books: what numbers have flourished, and which have not done so well, in World Championship history?

The first thing to remember is that the 2014 Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix will be the 898th race in the history of the Championship. That includes the Indianapolis 500, which was, between 1950 and 1960, included in the Championship to make it more of a ‘World’ thing.

For our purposes, therefore, we are looking at the 886 events to have gone by the name of ‘Grand Prix’ and to have been included in the World Championship over the last 65 years since the series was inaugurated in 1950.

The #1 has not always been associated with the World Champion driver. Many men who were the season’s reigning champion have raced under different numbers – and not always with the same number all season long.

In fact the first man to win a World Championship Grand Prix in a car carrying #1 was, perhaps inevitably, Juan Manuel Fangio, who made a habit of winning – 25 times in a Grand Prix career lasting from 1950 through 1958.

Not until the 40th race of his 51-race F1 career, however, did the #1 grace his car: a Lancia Ferrari D50 with which he won the British Grand Prix in 1956.

In the Championship’s first decade, the #1 won races only five times; in the Sixties that number rose to 11; it increased steadily as the practice of giving that number to the reigning World Champion for the entire season following his title success became established.

The #1’s success reached dizzy heights in the 21st century, though, thanks to two Germans. In the 14 seasons to date, #1 has been the race-winner on no fewer than 84 occasions, helped considerably by seasons like 2004 and 2013 – when Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel each scored 13 Grand Prix wins.

Seb retains #1 for 2014 – during which he will hope to increase the total number of wins for that number beyond the current 180. But if and when he loses it he will revert to #5, his favourite from karting days.

Since we now have two-car teams, and the World Champion’s team almost always has a pretty handy second driver, the #2 is another of the most successful in World Championship history.

There have been 82 race wins for that car number – including the very first Grand Prix in the official World Championship, staged at Silverstone in the UK in May 1950. The winner, Giuseppe Farina of Italy in an Alfa Romeo, went on to become our first World Champion.

The most recent success for #2? That’s right: our own Mark Webber in his own ninth Grand Prix victory for Red Bull Racing, also at Silverstone, coincidentally, in 2012.

But #2 is not the second most successful of all time: and to help you work out which is, here are a few hints:

  • It first won a World Championship race in 1953 on the Ferrari of Alberto Ascari
  • Stirling Moss used it to win in the USA in a Lotus in 1960
  • Jim Clark’s Lotus carried it when the Scot won in South Africa for Lotus in 1965
  • Mario Andretti had it in his title-winning year of 1978
  • So did Nelson Piquet for Brabham in 1983
  • The most famous of all was the red version that legendary commentator used to love calling out when a compatriot of his was winning races – and the 1992 title

Did you get there? Yes, it’s #5 as used in ’92 by Nigel Mansell for Williams – and more recently by Fernando Alonso en route to the 2005 title with Renault. In all, the #5 has 130 World Championship Grand Prix wins to its credit – the only one other than the fabled #1 to pass the century mark. Maybe that’s why Seb has it up his sleeve…

There are back-stories galore behind many of the numbers, but among the 2014 field, here are a few quirky points to remember.

Lewis Hamilton has chosen #44. That number has won just one World Championship race, but it was the most prestigious of them all.

When Monaco came back on to the calendar in 1955 after a four-year absence, a Ferrari 625 driven by Maurice Trintignant was the winner with the #44 on its flanks. The Frenchman won that race again three years later, but that time he was in car #30.

Brazilian Felipe Massa has chosen #19. That’s another race number that has only one Grand Prix win on its record – on the Benetton driven by Michael Schumacher for the very first of his 91 victories in Belgium in 1992.

Sauber’s Adrian Sutil has gone for #99. That has never been victorious in a Grand Prix – but it did win the Indy 500 in 1951 for Lee Wallard when it adorned his Kurtis Kraft, Offenhauser-engined entry in a race which earned him nine World Championship points.

The highest winning race number was #101 on Alberto Ascari’s Ferrari 500 at Germany’s Nurburgring in 1952.

And last but not least, one man has decided to defy superstition and carry the #13 on his 2014 car. That’s Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, racing this year for Lotus.

Far from winning a Grand Prix, the #13 has only ever competed in one World Championship race! That was the Mexican Grand Prix on October 27, 1963, when local favourite Moises Solana used it on his BRM and was classified 11th.

British driver Divina Galica also carried it on her Surtees-Cosworth TS16 for the British Grand Prix weekend at Brands Hatch in 1976 – but the #13 failed to qualify and therefore did not take the start.

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