The FIA says that it believes it is an appropriate gesture to retire Jules Bianchi’s number 17 from the Formula One World Championship in honour of the dead Frenchman. Car numbers are now personally chosen by each driver and this means that the number can no longer be used for a car competing in the FIA Formula One World Championship.
It is an interesting discussion as to whether this is more of a tribute than allowing the number to be used again. There are, at the moment, very few numbers in F1 that are specifically linked to one specific driver because the system meant that they were always being switched around, particularly if one was successful. The World Champion would take the number 1, or if he retired his car would carry number 0, the old World Champion would get his successor’s previous number.
One thinks, obviously, of Gilles Villeneuve and number 27, which is today being used by Nico Hulkenberg, although some older fans argue that they always link the number to Alan Jones, when he was a Williams driver. The only number with the same kind of status in F1 is number five, which was linked to Nigel Mansell.
The process of linking drivers to numbers is still new in F1 but has been used a lot in US racing where the late Dale Earnhardt, for example, was famous for his number 3. That number was retired for a while after his death, but is now being used by Austin Dillon. Dan Ricciardo, incidentally, chose the number three because he was a fan of Earnhardt.