Why there is no number 13 in Formula 1

The FIA Formula 1 World Championship entry list does not have a number 13. The number is generally considered to be an unlucky number. It was used in the early years of the sport but in the 1920s it was dropped after the Delage factory team suffered two fatal accidents with the number in the course of just a few months. The first was Paul Torchy, who crashed into a tree during the San Sebastian Grand Prix in September 1925 (below).

That was the last major international event of the year and the Delage factory team did not reappear until the Targa Florio in Sicily in April 1926. Italian Count Giulio Masetti was in the number 13 on that occasion and was killed when his car went up an embankment and overturned near the village of Sclafani Bagni, near Caltavuturo. He was crushed beneath the car (below).

After these incidents the Automobile Club de France stopped using the number. Since then it has been a tradition not to use the number in top level motor racing. There have been two occasions when the number has been used in F1. The first was at the Mexican Grand Prix in 1963 when Moises Solana used the number on a BRM at his home event in Mexico City (below).

The second occasion was in 1976 when Divina Galica tried to qualify for the British Grand Prix in a Surtees entered by Nick Whiting, brother of the FIA’s Formula 1 Race Director Charlie Whiting (below). She failed to qualify.

Other countries have unlucky numbers, notably the Japanese. They do not think the number 4 is lucky. Thus when Tyrrell employed Satoru Nakajima and later Ukyo Katayama both raced the number 3.

30 thoughts on “Why there is no number 13 in Formula 1

  1. Also may I add that EJ Viso started the 2009 IRL season with the number 13 and retired 7 times in a row before finishing his next two races in 7th and 13th place, after which he had another string of bad luck and poor results again…

    …so there you go.

  2. In Japan, as well as China and Korea, the number 4 is considered unlucky because it is pronounced in the same way as the word for death. Therefore it is seldom used to represent something. However, when Honda had it’s act together briefly, finishing in Second place in the championship in 2004, it dismissed this superstition, and used the numbers 3 and 4 on their cars the following year, with Japanese driver Takuma Sato driving the number 4 car. In hindsight… maybe they shouldn’t have done that…

  3. Thanks for the insight Joe.

    Although this post was worth it just for the pics of the old racing cars – look at the size of the tyres on the Surtees!

  4. The rear tires on that Surtees look wicked, especially compared to the fronts, I wonder if the proportions are gonna be like that next year ?

    You should see the condo buildings here, there is no 13 fl, no 4,14,24 etc, and the first 6 floors might be the parking garage. So if you think you bought yourself a unit on say the 20th floor, you are probably on the 3rd floor actually haha

  5. Speaking of countries with unlucky numbers, the Italians feel the same way about 17 as most of the rest of the world does about 13. There is no seventeenth floor in many buildings in Rome, there is no seat seventeen on Alitialia flights and the Renault 17 was re-badged as the Renault 117.

    The reason is because 17 is XVII in Roman numerals, an anagram of VIXI, which roughly translates as “I lived”, implying that someone is dead. Esteban Tuero, the Argentine driver who did a stint with Minardi in 1998, was notoriously superstitious and refused to run with cars carrying the numbers 13 or 17 when he moved to Argentine touring cars after he left Minardi.

    True story.

  6. That Surtees looks like a drag racer – I shudder to think how much a piece those tyres cost.

    Speaking of pronounciations not travelling well, you know they never sold the Toyota MR2 in France, because if you take the French pronounciation of the letters, well, work it out yourself. Em-Air-Deux. Say it quickly… And actually, it was not that bad a car!

  7. I am surprised to come to know that such a thing exists in F1 which claims to be the pinnacle of technology. I think anyone can come up with many such incidents proving a number to be lucky or unlucky and present a case as to that number being lucky or unlucky without any logic at all…. so i m very surprised that modern sport has some very primitive beliefs

  8. Slightly off subject, but, if you want to see F1 cars in the 1970’s , watch this excellent video clip from George Harrison. Check out the chauffeur.

    Getting back to the subject, I have been in buildings in Japan and Korea, where there is no 4th or 13th floor.

  9. The Reality is that its just a Number, and doesn’t make any difference. Its funny that all that engineering R&D super computers etc. to produce these cars can be oversighted by the Number 13!

  10. Great article! I’m really geeky about car numbers in racing so this was right up my street. As far as I’m aware, the team assigned #14 and #15 can request to use #13 and #14, in which case #15 will be skipped as to not have to change the rest of the entry list. I don’t think anyone will ever bother though.

  11. @ Prisoner Monkeys

    The bad luck No. 17 is also connected with the Roman XVII Legion which was together with the XVIII and XIX annihilated in the Battle of Teutoberg Forrest 9AD.

    Since then these three numbers – 17, 18, 19 – were considered unlucky in the Roman Army and were never again used to name military units.

  12. Interested to hear about the origins of the 13 thing – I’d always assumed it was just one of those givens.

    But to prove it’s all true, one only has to mention the great prewar English driver Dick Seaman, who had a real thing about 13. So needless to say, he died 13 laps from the end of the Belgian GP in [19]39, having been in the lead for 13 laps, and driving car number 26, which made him the 13th car in the entry list (out of 13). If that’s not enough, he crashed next to the 13km post (near La Source), and someone has worked out that there were 13 vertical bars in the front grille of his Mercedes. The Red Cross hospital room where he died was number 39

    Creepy or what !

  13. Gradirei sapere quando è stato deciso di non apporre sulle vetture di F1 il numero identificativo, utile in passato per riconoscere le auto senza il commento del cronista.

  14. During the 60’s odd numbers were introduced to European Grand Prix.
    (odd numbers appear at different years at different circuits. 1962 for Belgium, but 1967 for Netherlands.)

  15. FIA is to retire the number 17 from the list of those available for Formula 1 drivers as a mark of respect following the death of Jules Bianchi. So Italians were right to be afraid of number 17?

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