FIA retires number 17

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.

68 thoughts on “FIA retires number 17

  1. and Jules Bianchi’s first choice of number was…

    Maybe one day there’ll be another generation of Bianchis racing (despite the family frowning on it, etc – racers will race) and a fitting occasion to bring no.17 out of retirement.

  2. I was gutted when the system was introduced and nobody chose 42. They would have instantly become my favourite driver!

  3. “Dan Ricciardo, incidentally, chose the number three because he was a fan of Earnhardt”.

    I just learned something. Always nice to see an F1 driver who can see outside F1, or indeed their own ego. Excellent.

  4. Joe how would you respond if I said I preferred the numbering system f1 used to have between 1996 and 2013? I also believe the defending drivers champion should be forced to carry the number 1 whether they like it or not. These permanent numbers are a silly marketing stunt.I also think keeping number 17 available for use would have been a greater tribute to Jules.

      1. It is still too much of a gimmick for me . How about giving numbers in order of drivers’s championship finishes the previous year, that is much better surely? Drivers who did not compete in the previous year will have their numbers decided by the alphabetical order of their surnames. I believe my system would be easier to understand hence making it better. I also think it is ironic that Kimi ( the man Bianchi may have replaced at Ferrari) wears the number 7 ( Bianchi’s first choice number) on his car

        1. I like current system, though I would like to always see a ‘1’ on the grid.
          My least favourite system is the one to which you refer, used until 2013, which resulted in a total dissociation of any number with a driver. As many have noted above, at least the system prior to that allowed some aura to be built up around certain numbers, even if only by chance. The numbers were meaningless in the ‘constructors order’ system.

          You could say that personalised helmets (a la Senna, Mansell, Hill etc) are also a gimmick – just a gimmick with more history to it. But they add something interesting to the sport, in my opinion.

            1. Exactly. Gimmicks are things like DRS, push-to-pass, fanboost, rewards ballast, reverse grids, drivers championship playoffs/chase, high-degradation reality TV tires and double points. I like the numbers the way they are now.

              1. I don’t see DRS as a gimmick. Push to pass, fan boost, ballast, reverse grids, play-offs, TV tyres and double points all are!

                1. I personally believe DRS is a gimmick because it simply boosts overtaking numbers without adding any excitement. The only two DRS-assisted passes that were ever exciting were the two that Hamilton made at Monaco the year he had a coming-together with Maldonado; however, that required skill (outbraking), strategy (double use of KERS before and after the finish line) and bravery (very narrow approach). In that instance, it is a good addition to the sport, but in every other application it has removed excitement from the race.

                  It is no longer a case of “catching him is one thing, passing him is another.” I watched in sheer frustration as Schumacher’s brilliant drive on a drying Montreal track was dismantled, one by one, as three or four cars performed bland one DRS drive-by after another. No longer do we have any chance that Gilles’ epic defensive driving in Spain in 81 could be replicated; instead of the top five cars finishing in 1.24 seconds, they would be strung out and Gilles would have had a defenseless fifth place finish.

                  That said, there were definitely problems that needed addressing; however, the FIA went about it in typically bass-ackwards fashion. Rather that solving the obvious by increasing mechanical grip and lowering front-wing sensitivity, with a bonus option of wider tires and other draggy items, they made the wings more complex, more crucial to total car aerodynamics, did little to the mechanical grip, and then gave the following driver the option to simply press a button and drive by.

                  The least they could do is have DRS close when the overtaking car’s nose is even with the leading car’s tail… at least then there might be a chance they would be side-by-side into the corner.

                  No, I’m not bitter. 😉

                2. I also feel that I should add that DRS was introduced the same year as Pirelli reentered the sport. What many don’t realize is that they used tires that actually do have more mechanical grip than the Bridgestone hockey pucks did, which ended up boosting passing. A great example was Turkey in 2011; there was passing all over the track, not just the DRS zone. There was even passing out of the long, fast Corner 8 leading up to the chicane, *before* the DRS zone.

                  Pirelli then went conservative, and now we’re stuck with drivers unable to pass until they can open their wings and drive by. What we need is a company like Michelin that can provide a grippy yet durable tire that the drivers can use and abuse; there should be no pitstops, and all passing will have to be done on the track. Push hard at the start? You may use up your tires by the end and have other cars breathing down your neck.

                  Lastly, the suggestion that Michelin would provide hard, boring tires is ridiculous; they are the only provider to LMP1 teams (just by chance, not by rule), yet have not taken the easy route and provided conservative, boring tires like Bridgestone did when they became sole supplier for F1.

                  Sorry Joe… always lots on my mind about tires and DRS, and how they could do away with DRS this weekend and the show would improve… and that they could bolt on Michelin’s WEC rubber next year and the show would improve even more.

    1. +1 Stephen, but that is the purist in me speaking, I fully understand that it’s all about the money these days, as clearly there isn’t enough of it in F1!

    2. I think it’s a brilliant idea for them to have their own numbers, but it hasn’t matured yet. In motorbike racing this has been the way for years, and Rossi’s 46, Haydn’s 69, Sheene’s 7 for example are now almost as famous as the men themselves. The only comparable one in F1 in recent years in Mansell’s ‘red 5’ – the kind of thing that was ended when the number system changed in 1996.

      F1, as usual, just isn’t making enough of it – mainly I would argue as the numbers just aren’t prominent enough. You can see the 46 of Rossi coming a mile off – you can barely see most of the F1 numbers if the thing’s right next to you…

      It’s a nice gesture, but there’s room for 17 to reappear in the right circumstances (a family member of course, or if Max Chequebook somehow got another drive he may wish to have his friend’s number). I believe it was only Bianchi’s 3rd or 4th choice anyway (27 and 7 were certainly higher).

  5. While I think it’s noble to retire Jules number, I don’t think it’s appropriate. Had Jules made his mark on F1, as say Gilles did, then I’d agree. Unfortunately that never happened. Who knows? If Jules had been picked up by Ferrari as Gilles was, perhaps things would be different. To have your number retired means that you have to have had a major impact on the sport. Regretfully, Jules never had that opportunity.

    1. I think it is appropriate to retire No. 17 temporarily. Not for eternity, which would be unfortunate for new F1 drivers in the interval who have sentiment with the number.

      1. I think I agree with this. I commented in an earlier thread that I didn’t think that those running F1 had the grace to do something like this, but your article makes me think again, Joe. Maybe the solution is to retire it for a “generation” – only when none of those currently racing in F1 are still active should it be re-used.

        Just a thought.

  6. I associate 27 with Alesi, never quite understood how Ferrari had 27 and 28 and the others seemed to go in order of Championship position

    1. Ferrari had 27 because Williams won the title in 1980, the year after Ferrari won it with Scheckter. Thus Williams took 1 and 2 in place of Ferrari and Ferrari inherited 27 and 28 from Williams

      1. Tyrrell Racing ran with numbers 3 and 4 for donkeys’ years. I guess that the numbers were allocated post-Stewart and nobody cared.

    2. The numbering system, pre-1974 (73?, 75? think it’s 74) used to be on a per-race basis, so varied.

      Between 1974 and 1995, the numbers were the same from season to season, with the exception that the (drivers) championship team would be 1 and 2 (or 0 and 2) and the previous champions would swap places with them.

      Tyrell for example, were second in the championship in 1973, so got numbers 3 and 4. Since they never won it again, they kept their numbers.

      Ferrari became 27 and 28 and they swapped with Williams when they won in 1980, having been 1 and 2 that season. Alain Prost then won the title with Ferrari in 1989, so for 1990 they became 1 and 2 again, and swapped places with the previous champions (McLaren) who became 27 and 28 for that year. As it happens, Senna won the championship for McLaren that year, so they swapped back again, hence why 27 and 28 become so synonymous with Ferrari.

      1. I reckon Ferrari would have been delighted with that extra WDC in 1989. would have made that 21 year wait much easier to bear.

  7. Personally, while it might sound like a nice way to honour Bianchi its not really a great step, its more like an empty gesture.
    As you mention, the number 17 has been with many a driver, last to win with that number was J. Herbert. Do we honour him too?
    And wouldn’t it be nice if someone in the future could pick this number exactly like Hulkenberg (wasn’t that Bianchi’s first choice too? 17 was his 4th pick) picked 27.

  8. I feel a more appropriate gesture would be for the team to change the chassis designation to JB in his honor, the same way Guy Ligier did with his cars.

  9. Dillon is the grandson of Richard Childress, who was the senior Mr. Earnhardt’s team owner, and the history of the one-time NASCAR privateer driver’s decision to go from driving and owning his independent operation to hiring a driver in the middle of the 1981 season has led to his legacy. The grandchildren, and the junior Earnhardt, both believe the number belonged to Mr. Childress. That’s why the Twitter between Mr. Ricciardo and Mr. Earnhardt Jnr have become prevalent over the years, even paying the licencing arm (the senior Earnhardt was well known for his licencing work, with his friend Sam Bass; don’t be surprised to see Mr. Ricciardo and Mr. Bass work together on a helmet design!)

    The University of Mississippi gridiron team’s honours Chucky Mullins, paralysed in a 1989 game who died 18 months later, by allowing a player who wins the Mullins Award during the spring practice sessions the right to wear Mullins’ #38 for the season. The school retired the number for a few years, but it was an unpopular decision, and returned to using the #38 for the award winner.

    If Ferrari or the FFSA endows a memorial award for Jules (as I would expect), then the FIA should take heed and allow either organisation to have the right to #17 as the Bianchi Award, including the right to use it in F1. The Chucky Mullins idea would work.

    In Australia and North America, that number has been associated with numerous motorsport legends — a Bathurst legend in Australia, and two different NASCAR Hall of Fame drivers, one in the 1960’s, and one in the 1980’s.

  10. This is a needless distraction in the face of an enormous loss for his family. The FIA could have waited (I know Todt was close to Jules, but still….), if it had felt the need to act at all. If Nicolas Todt was not Bianchi’s manager, I very much doubt we would be having this discussion.

  11. Can I just say thank you, the last few stories and blogs have been exactly what I wanted to read, and indeed why I started following the blog in the first place. I was about to delete you due to retoric of f1 is bad because of commercial right etc that seem to be every other story. I get it, I really do, but fed of reading negative comment on your views. These recent peices have been fresh entertaining and well worth the read, more please.

    1. I’m not sure if I’m flattered or not. The commercial stuff needs to be said and who is saying it?

      1. Indeed it needs to be said. I think jasonb is just suggesting that you have been repeating it rather a lot recently.

          1. Some people like the commercial side.. and ideas are better than just writing about problems.

            That said the last few have been great too… some just disagree with Jasonb and follow Joe for the commercial side mostly

  12. My two favorite number-inspired moments remain with Patrick Tambay’s time at Ferrari — when he won with 27 at Hockenheim the day after Didier Pironi’s career-ending accident, just months after Villeneuve’s death, and again when he won in 27 at Imola the next spring, inheriting a surprise victory when Patrese crashed out and then he ran out of gas on the cool-down lap and got mobbed by the thrilled Italian fans. I had tears in my eyes at the time.

  13. A nice touch from the FIA, in honour of Bianchi, connected with the acrimoniuous feeling we will never know what could have been. We can only imagine, in hindsight of his short career.

    Concerning the numbers, I would prefer the fixed number system for each team over the drivers owning the numbers. Speaking of tradition, for years 3 and 4 was Tyrrell, 11 and 12 was Lotus, 25 and 26 was Equipe Ligier, and, of course, the numbers 27 and 28. Almost everybody knew about that. It contributed (at least) as much to F1´s image as current system with driver-bound numbers does imo.

    1. It is only because F1 has not had time to build up brands like Petty’s 43, Gordon’s 24 or Earnhardt’s 3

      1. so the iconic 3 and 4 of Tyrell and 27 and 28 of Ferrari indicate nothing more than once great teams in the doldrums (lost no. 1 and couldn’t get it back)?

        fascinating as usual, joe

  14. What a shame, and a tremendous overreaction. I am all for tributes, and think that he should be recognized for the talent and personality that he was, but I heard a poignant quote from a woman who had just lost her husband in a crash at the Isle of Man TT. When asked if she thought the race should be cancelled, she said that the race is bigger than any single rider (implicitly including her husband). I feel that F1 is bigger than the drivers, and while tributes should be made, retiring numbers elevates a driver beyond the sport and I don’t think that’s right.

    Think back to Alesi’s emotional victory in the #27 Ferrari in Montreal; barely a dry eye on the island, yet this situation cannot happen with the number 17. A victory at Suzuka, or a heroic points finish at Monaco for the 17 car would be a much more fitting tribute rather than avoiding the number altogether.

  15. It’s a nice gesture. Good on the FIA.

    Senna’s three years with number 12 stuck with me. I bet is no coincidence Nasr drives number 12.

    1. I agree entirely. There’s plenty of other numbers to chose and the gesture is appropriate. I think it should be left at that.

  16. I think given the rate of F1 driver deaths from driving accidents these days it is appropriate to retire a number when someone dies – regardless of whether it is their first or 300th GP, it’s a significant and not commonplace event, thankfully.

    Whether to retire it permanently or not is another discussion. I kind of like the idea of re-issuing it in 10 years time or so.

  17. in my view you cant create a numbering system designed purely to connect the fans to the drivers more with individual F1 drivers, subsequently then have almost 9 months of most of the grid using the #JB17 hashtag to show their support and thoughts had been with Jules Bianchi and his family through those difficult months, and then say oh well the numbers arent that important or connected when the fans seem to have made the connection with the number and driver and ask for it to be retired as is the example in most other forms of motorsport in similar instances where drivers or riders have lost their lives through racing.

    it doesnt matter the #17 & Jules Bianchi didnt win a world championship together,or a race,or achieved a podium or that it was associated with Jules for only a brief amount of time,its the number that was on his car during his last race, and its entirely appropriate the FIA retire that number from F1 for the forseeable future.

    Dorna similarly have retired Daijiro Kato’s #74 from MotoGp and Shoya Tomizawa’s #48 from Moto2 racing and I believe Marco Simoncellis #58 was also retired following a request from the Italian Motorcycle federation.

  18. Red 5 for Mansell. #27 for Gilles. #43 for Richard Petty. #3 for Earnhardt. F-1 doesn’t seem to have any big connection between drivers and numbers, whereas, NASCAR thrives on it. #24 for Jeff Gordan, etc. I’d prefer F-1 not get into the business of retiring numbers. On Petty’s death, I could see it, but don’t feel the same with doing it in F-1, and I’m not a big fan of modern day NASCAR (cookie-cutter, all-the-same cars and no respect or attention to the drivers that “made” NASCAR).

    1. “I’d prefer F-1 not get into the business of retiring numbers. On Petty’s death, I could see it”
      It’s not just numbers for me in Nascar but liveries too. I still feel funny seeing the STP 43 out on track, braver man than me taking on that mantle. Even when it’s not STP, it’s usually the sky blue.

  19. Have you forgotten the most famous driver, number pairing of all …..Stirling Moss and #7

  20. A long time ago, in a book far, far away, I read that Ferrari used the number 27 as that was the house number that Enzo ran the racing team from. Sorry I can’t be any more precise about the source.

    For me number 5 is as strongly linked to Jim Clark as to Nigel Mansell. I’m sure that Takuma Sato’s Lotus Indy Car of a few years back carried the number 5 as a tribute to Jimmy.

      1. This may come in manny ways, age, country or those one draw as a kid, just to name a few. Piquet was a hero to me when he became champion with the number 5.

        1. I’m 31… But as a kid I had a book that was written in 1969 about F1, so that shaped my view along with reading a tonne about Gilles as at that time he was the only Canadian to have won a GP. I was a big motorsports nerd as a kid! Well, still a motorsports nerd, to be honest.

  21. The numbers are not really visible anyway in my opinion, helmet recognition being far more important and often the only way to spot differences between team mates. A nice gesture in the aftermath but, practically speaking, meaningless.

    1. Something that recently occurred to me – the car numbers are no longer displayed on the sides of the car, only the front (there’s some exceptions – eg Williams, but it’s clearly no longer a regulation as it used to me.

      I can’t for the life of me work out why they would have changed that rule?

  22. I have to agree with malcolmstrachan, Villeneuve’s number is 12. He won his first F1 race in 12. He finished second in the championship in 12. Yes, he did Monaco and Jarama and Zolder in 27, but I much prefer to Remember Gilles in a parka with a jeroboam of Labatt 50 than any other way. Salut Gilles!

    Heck, I remember 27 more for Alesi’s win!

    Joe, remember that in NASCAR the numbers are leased by the team owners from NASCAR. The drivers have little choice in the matter. RCR has for all theses years payed for the lease on the number 3. When Dale Jr. left DEI (say this with a southern drawl, “his Daddy’s company”) he could not leave “with” the 8 and obviously no amount of negotiations would ring it from their hands.

    I think it a bit overboard retiring the number 17 in F1 but I have no other suggestions so I must accept it as a nice gesture.

  23. Being a Gerhard Berger fan, I always link 28 with him. I know he drove several numbers but for Ferrari he was always 28.

  24. Joe, after how much time(read years) ,if a drivers leaves F1, his # would be available to any other driver if he(any other driver) wishes to have that #?

  25. My apologies up front and I’m not trying to make light of Jules passing but F1 retiring his number in my opinion is ludicrous . In all other sports the only numbers ever retired are those that belonged to legends in that particular sport not just any participant involved that may of retired or passed on . Jules had he enough time in F1 might of become a legend but at the time of his passing hardly qualified for the title . Therefore the FIA should not be retiring his number . Placing it on ‘ hold ‘ for a year out of respect could be considered a reasonable reaction . But retiring it is simply the FIA’s over reaction in an attempt to give meaning to an inevitable event that could happen to anyone not to mention the action feeling like a vain attempt by the FIA and F1 to draw media attention to itself . Somehow I knew when F1 changed the numbering system something would go amok because of it and here we are .

    1. The point is made somewhere above that a death on track (or as a direct consequence) in F1 is thankfully so rare these days* that it may be worthy of remembering in this way.

      *Touch a whole forest’s worth of wood…

      1. I truly wish what you’re trying to say was true. The unfortunate reality is I know better than to assume any level of altruistic thinking/consideration on the part of the F1 leadership as well as that of the FIA . Both only concerned about profit and image not to mention the marketability of any given action rather than any genuine concern for the event , emotions , driver involved , his family members as well as the pubic at large . And as I stated previously . No one retires the number of a common participant regardless of the circumstances . That is an honor , as in HONOR reserved for icons and legends . Or in the case of DE’s #3 – dollars and cents . So why is a sport on the supposed level/magnitude of F1 doing that which even the minor sports will not do ? My answering my own question both above and in the previous post of course

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