Numbers count for F1 drivers
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The number’s up for Formula 1 drivers this year. The sport’s governing body has introduced new guidelines aimed at making it easier for fans to identify drivers as they speed past on the track.
Some teams have elected to put the three-letter driver designation on the cars either instead of, or together with, those numbers.
On the evidence of last weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, the change had limited success. It seemed as though the numbers were still almost invisible on some of the cars.
Most teams complied with the driver abbreviations clearly visible on the Renaults and McLarens and the numbers in full view on the dreadful “shark’s fin” on the others.
Others seemed to have ignored the edict, with the Force India team being fined €25,000 (suspended) for failing to comply.
It certainly was not difficult to figure out who was who in the epic battle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, but back in the pack it was not quite so easy.
The idea of car numbers has been around since racing began and it was comparatively recently, for the 2014 season and on, that the FIA decided to follow the example of some other series and allocate permanent numbers to the Formula 1 drivers.
It was an idea that was pounced on by some drivers who reserved either a favourite, a lucky number, a historic one or a number from a hero of the past.
I think it is a good idea that will slowly gain traction as the fans associate a number with a particular driver.
Many numbers in motorsport are still synonymous with drivers, albeit unofficially.
In Nascar racing the number 43 will always be that of “The King” Richard Petty. That number is now used on one of his team cars driven by Aric Almirola.
The number 3 will forever be associated with Dale Earnhardt, 24 with Jeff Gordon and so on.
In MotoGP I am not sure there will ever be a more famous number than the bright yellow 46 of Valentino Rossi.
In Formula 1 the numbers, up until the 2014 season, have moved between drivers but “red 5” will always be associated with Nigel Mansell and 27, with Australian World Champion Alan Jones certainly, but primarily with the Ferrari of the late Gilles Villeneuve.
In 2017 those numbers are used by Sebastian Vettel and Nico Hulkenberg respectively.
Today’s Formula 1 drivers chose their permanent numbers for varying reasons. Former world champ Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo, chose the number they had on their very first racing experience in a Kart.
The now-retired Nico Rosberg chose the number of his father, Keke, while Valtteri Bottas, or perhaps his advisors, chose 77 because of the marketing possibilities associated with that number and the TT in his first and last names.
Kimi Raikkonen had a less than emotional reason for picking the number 7, saying: “It’s the number I already had last year and I saw no reason to change it.”
With the drivers of today’s Formula 1 cars hidden low in the cockpits and many of the helmet designs being similar due to the obligatory team sponsors’ logos, as well as the cars of each team, by regulation having an identical livery, it is only by the numbers that you can pick who is driving.
The FIA, or perhaps new F1 owners Liberty Media, have attempted to address this issue, but more must be done.
There has to be an area put aside on each car for the number and name of the pilot in the cockpit.
It will be difficult to achieve with the cost of advertising space lost to a team, even for the smallest recognisable area, being in the millions of dollars.
Perhaps the FIA could buy the required space from each team then charge the team an extra couple of million dollars for the licence to race.
Or they could follow New Zealand’s Toyota Racing Series and have the driver number on the front of the car, as it is now, and also the top rear corner of the rear wing in a representation of the driver’s national flag.
Liberty Media is making huge strides to make the sport more ”user-friendly”. So, if they really wanted to, they could achieve the objective.