Insight: Formula 1's iconic numbers

Formula 1 did not adopt a regular numbering system until early in 1973, when car numbers were awarded based roughly on the constructors' standings

Insight: Formula 1's iconic numbers

Those numbers became 'permanent', with only the team running the champion driver changing for the following year and assuming #1 and #2 for its cars. The team previously holding #1 then took the numbers left vacant by the new #1 runner.

This system was maintained until 1996, when the present numbering method based on annual constructors' championship positions took effect.

F1 teams in permanent numbers push

ICONIC NUMBERS

The first F1 number to earn iconic status was the #27 that Gilles Villeneuve carried in 1981/2.

Although he only spent 20 of his 67 grands prix with that number (compared to 30 races running #12), the peaks of heroism he achieved during his 1981 campaign in the uncompetitive Ferrari and the fact that he carried #27 when he died in '82 meant it would always be associated with Villeneuve.

As Ferrari then failed to win any titles over the next two decades, it kept #27 for almost the entire remaining period of that numbering system, allowing the likes of Patrick Tambay, Michele Alboreto and Jean Alesi to make their own additions to the #27 legend.

The only exception was when Ferrari signed reigning champion Alain Prost from McLaren in 1990, but with Ayrton Senna winning the next title for McLaren, Ferrari was soon back to #27 and #28

Nigel Mansell's fans also adopted the 'red 5' tag from his championship-winning 1992 Williams. The Briton used that number for 93 of his 191 grands prix, including all his Williams appearances bar his late 1994 return.

His departure for IndyCar after winning the 1992 crown and successor Alain Prost's retirement following his '93 championship win meant that F1 had no #1 in 1993/4, with Williams's Damon Hill carrying #0 for both seasons.

The way championship victories swapped between teams and outfits came and went from the grid meant that few squads carried their post-1973 system numbers for long periods.

The exception was Tyrrell. As 1973's crown for Jackie Stewart was the team's last, its #3 and #4 remained right through to the end of the era in 1995.

Ligier also maintained its original #26 from its 1976 debut until the '96 change.

NUMBERS ELSEWHERE IN MOTORSPORT

In motorcycle racing riders stick to their own personal numbers throughout their careers, while in American motorsport teams' numbers tend to be permanent, particularly in NASCAR.

Numbers in those series therefore become an integral part of marketing campaigns, with NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt's #3 enduring just as current Sprint Cup benchmark Jimmie Johnson's #48 is likely to, even those they originated with the teams rather than the drivers themselves.

Valentino Rossi's use of #46 in MotoGP is a classic example of motorcycle racing's exploitation of permanent numbers for marketing. Champion riders do have the option to take the #1 plate, as Nicky Hayden and Casey Stoner did after their titles, and Jorge Lorenzo did following his first crown in 2010.

Conversely 2013 title-winner Marc Marquez looks set to retain his #93, and Rossi did not take #1 after any of his championship wins.

AUTOSPORT's statistics partner FORIX contains full data - including all entry lists and numbers - from every race in Formula 1 world championship history.

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Formula 1 teams pushing for permanent numbers for drivers
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