It’s A Numbers Game

It’s A Numbers Game

Christine from Daily F1 Blog (and now of Sidepodcast fame) got me thinking earlier today about the numbers racing drivers use when they are driving around the circuits. I started to wonder how numbers are assigned to each to each driver, when the number thirteen was last used, and if today’s modern drivers still believe in the superstition?

Every Formula One driver is assigned a number which must be displayed on the front and side of their car (usually on the rear wing endplates). The number is designated by the governing body, the FIA, but there is a procedure which they follow to determine which number goes to which driver. The world champion is automatically assigned number one, even if he changes teams between the end of his winning year and the start of the next – the world champion is always number one. His team mate then gets the number two. The numbers follow on in the order of each team’s position in the previous year’s title race.

Damon Hill with number zero on his Williams - 1994There are exceptions to this rule, as things never go that straight-forward in Formula One. Should a driver retire after winning their world title, the number zero is used for the drivers of the previous championship winning team. If you look at photos of Damon Hill in 1993 and 1994, you’ll see him race with zero, because Nigel Mansell retired at the end of 1992, and Alain Prost retired at the end of 1993. The team mate of the zero driver races with the usual number two.

So for 2007, Fernando Alonso will race with number one as he is the reigning champion. Alonso’s team mate Lewis Hamilton will race with the number two. As Renault were the constructors champion of 2006, their lead driver, Giancarlo Fisichella, will take number three and team mate Heikki Kovalainen will use number four. Ferrari were next so Felipe Massa gets number five, and his team mate Kimi Raikkonen is awarded with number six.

Prior to 1996, championship winning teams were allowed to swap their numbers with the previous champion, leaving the rest of the teams to use their numbers from before. This is why Ferrari raced for so many years with 27 and 28, regardless of where they finished in the final standings. In 1996, this system was replaced with the current one, and allowed Michael Schumacher to carry his number one from Benetton to Ferrari when he switched teams prior to the 1996 season.

However, Jarno Trulli will race with twelve emblazoned on his Toyota this upcoming year, and David Coulthard will have fourteen on his Red Bull. So what happened to thirteen?

Well, I’ve done some quick research and all I seem to get is the repeated Wiki page information, stating that the number hasn’t been used since 1974. I scoured the results of all the 1974 races, but it appears that number 13 didn’t qualify for any of the races. Then I found some information on AtlasF1 that stated the number 13 had been used twice. Firstly at the 1963 Mexican Grand Prix when Moises Solana raced a BRM P57 and was classified as finishing 11th, despite suffering an engine failure. But he was close enough to the end of the race (lap 57 of 65) to get classified. The second time the number thirteen was used was in 1976 at the British Grand Prix, when female racer Divina Galica attempted to qualify her Surtees TS16 Cosworth. Divina could only manage 28th, and as only 26 cars were allowed to compete she was forced to sit out of the event.

Oh, and modern day Formula One drivers are still as superstitious as before. Massa wears a lucky pair of underpants (which apparently powered him to victory in Brazil earlier in the year) and Wurz always used to wear different coloured boots – Green for his left foot and red for his right. Or was it the other way round…?

Update: Added a photo of Davina Galica bearing the number thirteen and found a short snippet on why Alex has two oddly coloured boots.


  • it would make more sense if the FIA assigned drivers a ranking based on performance (wins, podiums etc), similar to what they currently do in tennis.

    how stupid is it that hamilton gets a #2 on his car just because he knows a man who knows alsono?

  • Part of me agrees with that (because it does make logical sense), but part of me says that unlike (most) tennis matches, Formula One is a team sport. And because of that, it should be that the numbers of the two drivers from one team follow on from each other. Until now, I have never paid much attention to the numbers, and despite my efforts, I don’t think many people will in the future. It is purely a tradition that one day, will no longer be.

    How many people actually identify a driver by their number? No, number one identifier is the car and position, then the helmet and maybe the colour of the camera. The numbers are simply too hard to see and are a waste of advertising space (in the hard to see place) and potential revenue for the team.

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