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The number of the beast

Submitted by on December 10, 2013

Villeneuve 1981 HollandNews has broken that Formula 1 drivers will now be able to select their own permanent racing numbers – but which are already accounted for by history?

What’s in a number? In Formula 1 terms, numbers emblazoned on racing cars have a resonance and a following all of their own. And ever since those single, double and, on the odd occasion, treble digits have adorned nosecones and rear-wing endplates, fans have had favourites – numbers they’ll forever associate with certain drivers and/or teams.

Recent news that the sport’s governing body has announced that drivers will be able to select permanent numbers – while also pledging to make them more visible on the cars – has spawned all sorts of retrospective reflection and integer enthusiasm.

Plenty of iconic numbers from the full spectrum of classic and contemporary motorsport spring to mind. Peter Brock’s #05 Holden V8s, Stirling Moss’s #7 Ferrari 250 SWBs (he only won once with #7 in F1, incidentally – at the Nurburgring in 1961), Barry Sheene’s #7 bikes, AJ Foyt’s #14 Indycars, Richard Petty’s #43 NASCARs and Valentino Rossi’s #46 bikes certainly strike a chord among purists.

But what about from the top drawer, the F1 world championship? Thirty-nine different numbers (excluding the 11 anomalous Indy 500s between 1950 and 1960) have won a grand prix since the championship was inaugurated in 1950. And the most successful? Fittingly, it’s #1, with 179 victories, eclipsing #5 with 129 top-step appearances. Seven numbers – #21, #31, #38, #44, #46, #71 and #101 – have taken just a single win. Discounting #13, the lowest number never to have appeared on a winning car is #29. The highest, meanwhile, is 101, used by Alberto Ascari in the 1952 German GP. The great Italian double world champion also took the next highest, #71, to its only win at the Nurburgring a year earlier.

Here are 10 numbers that stand out for us. Let us know if you disagree and which ones you’d rather have seen.


Damon Hill 1993 BelgiumUsed by Damon Hill in 1993 and 1994 as a result of Williams world champions Nigel Mansell (’92) and Alain Prost (’93) failing to return the following year with the statutory #1. Damon won nine times in his first two seasons with the British squad while sporting this unique digit.


Scheckter 1976 SwedenForever associated with Ken Tyrrell’s plucky machines, #3 was taken to victory by Jackie Stewart in the 006 during 1973, Jody Scheckter in the P34 six-wheeler in 1976 and Michele Alboreto in the 011 in 1982 and ’83 – Uncle Ken’s last as a race winner.


Mansell 1992 BelgiumNigel Mansell fans won’t need ‘Red 5’ explaining to them. The British ace took 27 of his 31 race wins with it, but it was also part of the arsenal of fellow world champions Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, Nelson Piquet, Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel in their title-winning years.


1986 SpainThe great Ayrton Senna wore #12 for four consecutive seasons, his three with Lotus (1985-’87) and his first with McLaren in ’88. The sight of the Brazilian’s distinctive yellow-and-green helmet and the red-and-white Marlboro livery of the MP4-4 taking eight wins and the world title make #12 a classic.


Prost 1983 FranceCast your mind back to the very French sight of Alain Prost and the yellow Renaults of 1981, 1982 and ’83. The effective pairing was a grand prix winner in all three seasons and a title contender each time, with the black-and-yellow RE30, RE30B and RE40 wearing #15 throughout.


Siffert 1968 EnglandThis one holds a unique place in F1 history, with British world champions Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button securing their titles in the #22 McLaren in 2008 and the #22 Brawn in 2009 respectively. That’s a good enough reason to include it, frankly, but you might also like to know that Dan Gurney gave Brabham its first win in the #22 BT7 in 1964 and Jo Siffert won the ’68 British GP at Brands Hatch in his Rob Walker Lotus 49B while wearing it.


Hunt 1975 ItalyThe last victory for a car sporting #24 came in the Dutch GP at Zandvoort in 1975 when the Hesketh of James Hunt defeated the chasing Ferrari of Niki Lauda. If that doesn’t make it iconic, nothing does. You simply couldn’t miss it, emblazoned as it was on the tall airbox of the British machine.


Laffite 1979 FranceAll six of Jacques Laffite’s F1 career victories came in French-blue Ligiers wearing #26. From the breakthrough success at Anderstorp in 1977 – via back-to-back wins in the first two races of ’79 in the stunning JS11 and a singleton win in 1980 – to a brace of podium toppers in ’81, there are few sights more evocative than the black helmet of Laffite poking out of a distinctive #26 Ligier.


Villeneuve 1981 MonacoAlmost certainly the most famous number in F1, #27 is synonymous with Scuderia Ferrari. And that’s probably thanks to Gilles Villeneuve, who guided the cumbersome 126CK to two wins in 1981. Its legendary reputation was then sealed when Patrick Tambay won at Hockenheim in ’82 in the red #27 machine after Villeneuve had been killed at Zolder a few weeks before. That Michele Alboreto, Nigel Mansell and Jean Alesi went on to win with it only adds to its mythical status.


Gurney 1967 BelgiumThe second of only two world championship wins for #36 (Stirling Moss first used it to win for Maserati at Monza in 1956) came at Spa for the Belgian GP of 1967, when Dan Gurney gave the Eagle T1G its first and only win. And because most race fans rate the Weslake V12-engined machine among the most beautiful competition machines ever created, #36 is here.

This is the latest in our series of  photo specials showcasing the stunning images from the Cahier Archive. The collection, by photographers Bernard Cahier and his son Paul-Henri are part of a massive collection of 400 000 originals of which 17 000+ pictures are currently available on their website.

Images: TheCahierArchive©

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