Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Monte-Carlo, 2014

No number one in F1 for first time in over 20 years

2015 F1 season

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The FIA has confirmed Lewis Hamilton will continue to race using the number 44 in 2015 instead of using the number one which is reserved for reigning world champions.

It’s only 12 months since the FIA gave drivers the option of choosing their racing numbers, and Hamilton’s decision shows how keenly some of them identify with numbers they used early in their racing careers.

However for Formula One it means the world champion can no longer be readily identified by the iconic number one. This has been a dependable feature of grand prix racing for decades.

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You have to go back over 20 years to find the last grid which did not feature a car bearing the number one. Alain Prost’s retirement as reigning champion left F1 with no one to carry the number one during the 1994 season. Instead his Williams team mate Damon Hill used the number zero.

Coincidentally, the same scenario played out the year before when Hill had also used the number zero. Prior to that Nigel Mansell had won the championship, but switched to IndyCar for 1993.

Before these two seasons there was only a handful of occasions when the number one was not present in the field, or was used by someone other than the reigning world champion.

Damon Hill, Williams-Renault FW15C, Monza, 1993The latter was the case at Brands Hatch in 1985, where John Watson substituted for the injured champion Niki Lauda, and drove his McLaren bearing the number one.

Lauda also missed out on driving in two races with the number one on his car in 1976 following his crash at the Nurburgring which left him with severe burns. Ferrari did not race at all in Austria, and sent a single car for his team mate Clay Regazzoni to the next race in the Netherlands.

There were a few other absent champions in subsequent races, and so no number one in the field. Jody Scheckter failed to qualify the awful Ferrari 312T5 at Montreal in 1980. At the inaugural Detroit Grand Prix two years later Nelson Piquet failed to make the cut after technical trouble on his Brabham.

Hamilton’s decision will no doubt attract complaints that he is breaking with tradition. However it is a fairly recent ‘tradition’. It was only 40 years ago that a reigning champion bore the number one on his car for the first time.

That was Emerson Fittipaldi in the 1975 season. Incidentally, there was one race that year without his number one on the grid – Fittipaldi boycotted Spain’s round of the championship at Montjuich Park on safety grounds.

Not long before that drivers often changed numbers from race to race. They began using the same number throughout the season in 1974, and had Jackie Stewart not retired as champion at the end of the season he would likely have carried the number one, which was used instead by Ronnie Peterson.

Now the idea of letting drivers identify with a single number throughout their F1 career has taken hold, perhaps we will soon see the practice extending to junior categories such as GP2 and Formula Renault 3.5. In a few years’ time the idea of having a season without a champion driving car number one may not seem so strange.

View the updated list of 2015 F1 drivers and teams

Over to you

Does it matter that Hamilton has chosen not to use the number one this year? Have your say in the comments.

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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77 comments on “No number one in F1 for first time in over 20 years”

  1. Perfectly alright for Lewis and F1.

    1. Agreed, let him have his favourite number and be done with it. In the meantime we will just have to suffer a little wave of rigid traditionalists complaining and nitpicking about it.

    2. We know who the champ is anyway, he’ll be the one storming off at the front!

  2. Too much importance is being placed the #1 plate. Look at Motogp, Rossi has never ridden with a #1 on his bike, however he did have it on a small part or his leathers, same for current champion Marquez. Also I could be wrong, but also in NASCAR the champion doesn’t race with the #1.

    1. Agreed, too much importance on a mere number.

      It would be useful if the numbers were displayed in large Nos on the side of the cars rear equip so that it could be seen while racing. Because Vettel changes his hat each race the only way I could tell the difference between him and Ric was to look at the camera – black/yellow. With Hamilton and Rosberg, camera or gloves.

      1. @jan54321 Also I would suggest a consistency in font, font color, size… some of the numbers are plain unreadable on the helmets or on the cars…

      2. @jan54321 “Agreed, too much importance on a mere number.” well, that’s the point of the fixed numbers for each driver, to give importance to them :P

        I think it’s cool they are given the option, just like MotoGP. I like numbers, and having one that’s personalized for you and by you, looks good and also builds stories, like Red 5, #27 and so on… I like that.

  3. Sem (@05abrahamsemere)
    2nd January 2015, 11:56

    We all know who the real number ones in F1 are: Hamilton and Alonso. Riakonnen, Vettel, Button and Rosberg are second-tier number one drivers.

    1. You know your world champions, that’s for sure!

    2. @05abrahamsemere Why can’t Hamilton just use the number 1 and move on…

      1. And why can’t Hamilton just use the #44 and you move on? Surely if it was a problem, neither the FIA nor Mercedes would’ve sanctioned it.

    3. ‘Sem’ you know your stuff, I quite agree

  4. What happened to finger boy? Did he drop the number after his embarrassing season? Or does the FIA only reserve that number for the reigning WDC?

    1. …instead of using the number one which is reserved for reigning world champions.”

      Read the article much?

  5. I am in awe of the sheer F1Fanaticism in this super detailed article. Fabulous.

    1. @lockup Thank you :-)

  6. Great article, I’m personally dissapointed to see #1 rejected, but Lewis has earned the right to choose his own number to be fair.

    1. I bet he won’t be happy, if the drivers are displayed in the descending order of their numbers

      1. True, there’s also a rule where when cars start from the pits with no Q times, it’s ranked by driver number.

        1. Kyle (@hammerheadgb)
          2nd January 2015, 13:08

          That rule was removed at the same time as the preferred number system came in. In the event of no time being set drivers are now ranked on the basis of the most recent competitive session (e.g. in order of priority, Q2, Q1, FP3 etc.)

          1. @hammerheadgb Ah, too many rules to keep track of. This was raised when Red Bull started from the pits in Abu Dhabi, and I believe Ricciardo started ahead from faster FP/Q times.

      2. And what exactly does that signify? Will that mean he’s no longer the WDC if they’re displayed in descending order?

  7. I think it’s a shame – if a World Champion is there to defend his title he should have the #1 on his nose…he wouldn’t have done this if they’d not brought custom numbers in last season and is likely only doing it at the recommendation of whoever looks after his image nowadays saying it would be good for the ‘Lewis Hamilton brand’.

    1. LotsOfControl (@for-unlawful-carnal-knowledge)
      2nd January 2015, 12:39

      Agreed. Most likely too much “44” merchandise left on the shelves.

      1. Yes, I think identifying with a number of merchandising is a big part of this. In NASCAR drivers are inextricably linked with their numbers and it is a huge draw for the fans.

        1. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
          2nd January 2015, 17:07

          In NASCAR the numbers belong to the teams, not the drivers. Austin Dillon is currently running Dale Earnhearts iconic number 3 for instance (also the reason Danny Ric runs the #3 car), whilst Dale Junior is using number 88. I’m fairness Dillon is Dale Snrs. godson, but personally I would love to see junior running with his fathers 3 on the car

          1. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
            2nd January 2015, 20:09

            Having re-read my earlier comment above, I feel I have to hold my hands up to the brazen hypocrisy contained therein. Given how i harped on about ‘Dale Earnhardt’s’ #3 (and considering how my pic demonstrates my support for Candyman Kyle Busch, not Joe Gibbs Racing), I would do well not to argue against NASCAR numbers being synonymous with drivers. Oops.

      2. Surely if this was the main reason they would sell more ‘merc’ (if you’ll excuse the pun) by changing the number to #1 for a season so that old stuff isn’t reused? This is why football shirts change every year.

        Maybe Hamilton just wants to stick with his number from his Karting days to remind him of those times, but I guess that’s far too ‘not like Hamilton’ to do that in some people’s eyes.

    2. I think it is more likely that the last car he drove with a number 1 was the shopping cart in 2009 .

      1. Yeah but the 2015 Mercedes will probably be worthy of #1.. and it’s not like Lewis wanted to be a number 2 driver when he ran #22, #2 and #2 again by 2011.

    3. Rightly said. And also I think Lewis left McLaren to move away from this too much branding / merchadising mentality of McLaren, and look what he is doing now…

      1. @foosa..

        I think you’re getting confused, branding and merchandising is not the same as the increase commitment of sponsorship duties. That was one of the reason Kimi gave for leaving McLaren, the sponsors were demanding too much from the drivers and it gave them less time to do other things.

    4. And is that so bad that he’s looking out for his ‘brand’? It hasn’t hurt the likes of Rossi and Marquez. Drivers are superstitious and like he said, he chose that # because that’s the number he started his racing career with.

      1. It’s nothing to do with his brand @Kgn11. That’s just someone’s malicious invention.

        I was wondering how Keith’s prediction of criticism was going to come true, and the answer was ‘make something up and see who falls for it’.

    5. You make it sound like sportsmen are never superstitious. Is it so hard to believe that he wins the WDC using the number he picked, and doesn’t want to change it as a result of that fortune?

      And so what if #44 is now part of his brand. Isn’t that the whole idea of letting drivers pick their numbers?

    6. he wouldn’t have done this if they’d not brought custom numbers in last season

      Yes, of course he wouldn’t- because it wasn’t allowed under the previous system.

    7. If you saw his interview after the abudhabi race you wouldn’t have said this.
      He said it straight out of the box that he really wants to keep #44 if Mercedes let him.
      He really likes it and it has nothing todo with his brand!

  8. I’ve got greater respect for Hamilton given he’s sticking by his number. I like the style of it.

    1. @cduk_mugello So by your logic, no respect for a driver who abides by the FIA rule?

      1. But it’s not a FIA rule, if it was, he’d be using the #1 plate.

      2. There is no rule. Yes, the #1 is reserved for the champ, but the use of it is entirely optional.

  9. Saves fans buying new items with thier drivers name and number 1 when they win the WC :-)

    1. I believe their are other ways to save Fan money. First and foremost, make the merchandise affordable.

  10. No big deal with that. But am wondering when Lewis got the 1st title in 2008, did he still used #1 on 2009 season? Please refresh me, I forgot it. Thanks

    1. Yes he used the #1 plate in 09 and the numbers after that where nominated by the FIA.

  11. Not having a number 1 on the grid doesn’t bother me.

    It happens in MotoGP (although Esteve Rabat will use it in Moto2 this year) and in IndyCar (not for 2015, but for 2014 it did) and I have no issue with it. I’m sure that it happens in other motorsports too. One thing which does bother me is drivers using the number 1 plate whilst not being the reigning champion. I’m looking at Formula Renault and GP2/3 as the main culprits here. How I see it is that the number 1 should only be used if and only if the reigning champion chooses to do so. If the reigning champion is not present, then nobody should have the right to use the number.

    One way which Lewis Hamilton could have incorporated both numbers would have been to do it in a similar style to Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2013.

    1. GP2 can’t have a reigning champion (champions are banned from the series), so I see no issue with them using the #1 in some other way.

      1. As GP2 does not allow for a reigning champion, I just feel that the number 1 shouldn’t be used in that series. @ilanin

    2. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
      2nd January 2015, 17:16

      Good spot @craig-o. I hope the merc design guys have a keen enough eye to exploit this oppurtunity.

    3. Not having a number 1 on the grid doesn’t bother me.

      It happens in MotoGP (although Esteve Rabat will use it in Moto2 this year) and in IndyCar

      @craig-o Let’s not get into comparing F1 with Moto GP and Nascar. If you are comparing, you don’t know what F1 is.

      1. I didn’t mention NASCAR. Also, I am pretty sure that I do know what F1 is. I just picked two examples of other motorsports where a similar numbering system is used where champions have not used the number 1.

  12. I think it’s good for racing numbers to have some significance. I think I still prefer the system which was in place when I started watching (showing my age here), whereby the champion driver used number 1 the following year, with his team swapping numbers with the outgoing champion team, while the other teams retained the same numbers from year to year. In some cases a number could trace the history of the championship over quite a number of years. For example, how did the number 5, used by Mario Andretti in winning in 1978, get onto Nigel Mansell’s championship-winning car in 1992? If I remember correctly, Mario and Lotus took 1 & 2 for 1979, giving 5&6 to Brabham (which had 1&2 as Niki Lauda joined after winning the title with Ferrari in 1977). Brabham kept 5&6 until 1982, when they passed the numbers to Williams after Nelson Piquet’s title in 1981. Williams and Brabham swapped back and forth after Keke Rosberg and then Piquet again won in 1982 and 1983, leaving 5&6 on the Williams cars again in 1984. Williams then kept these numbers, despite winning the title with Piquet again in 1987, as Piquet took the number 1 with him to Lotus in 1988. So, Mansell had “red 5” in 1992, before heading off to Indy after his title. I do also like the current system where every number has a significance and follows the career path of the driver, number 5 now becoming the identity of Sebastien Vettel whether in a Ferrari or whatever cars he drives in future. This to me is much better than the system adopted in the 1990s and following, and I am quite happy with Lewis Hamilton’s choice to keep his own number. It would be nice to have the numbers actually readable on all the cars, though!

  13. It doesn’t bother me, it’s his choice. Personally I’d take the number 1 instead of my usual number 2.

  14. I think a lot of people commenting here think that Hamilton has asked especially to carry on using #44. He hasn’t.

    When the rules on allowing drivers to choose their own numbers were introduced, it was stated that the reigning World Champion had the option to use #1 or not. Hamilton has chosen not to. The decision was given to him by the FIA in the rules and by winning the championship he can chose whether he wants to race with it, or not.

    There really is nothing to debate here about whether Hamilton has done the right thing because the FIA gave him the option either way.

    Had he chosen #1 there would be equal amounts of comments about how he’s showing off by displaying it no doubt.

  15. I honestly couldn’t mind, it’s a nice step forward and also surely it’s a branding opportuity for Mercedes. People would eat up merchandise with the #44 on it, because of its relation to Lewis. It’s like Valentino Rossi’s #46 in Moto GP, instantly recogniseable.

    1. FlyingLobster27
      2nd January 2015, 19:28

      You’ve hit the nail on the head: it’s a branding opportunity for MERCEDES, because the numbers are written in the font of the team. “We have driver 44” is what it says. Rossi’s 46 is instantly recognisable because it’s his yellow 46, and not a 46 in Yamaha’s preferred font transferred from a 46 in Ducati or Honda’s favoured font. Alonso, meanwhile, will have a number 14 in plain Arial next year, how personal…

      That is why I still disagree with permanent driver numbers, although it’s admittedly not F1’s most profound problem. It’s a bike racing thing really (same as having over-complicated helmet designs and changing them every week), and common practice in car racing is to have numbers attributed to the teams, either by their choice (IndyCar, NASCAR as @fullcoursecaution pointed out) or by constructor standings (F1 prior to 2014, GP2, DTM).

  16. Why not start a new trend, say that the WDC gets a golden car or part of the car?

  17. Lewis is allowed by both the FIA and Mercedes to use #44. But unfortunately the numbers aren’t very visible on TV so they are irrelevant for the intended purpose of identifying drivers. If they were big enough, then advertisers would allegedly suffer a drop in their available surface area, and maybe we consumers wouldn’t buy their Tata.

  18. Why is his choice of number such a great deal? I only think the choice of #1 is significant if it’s the first man/woman to defend their title in that category. Which is why I’m all for Tito Rabat using #1 as a statement of intent as the first Moto2 champion to stick around and defend (if only GP2/WSR3.5 did the same but… off topic). Otherwise, big hook. Saying that, Jorge Lorenzo used the #1 plate once after his first MotoGP title and didn’t after his second.

    In the end, the defending champion is the defending champion, and reusing his number or using #1 both make statements of equal worth and meaning to themselves. The racing won’t change, and the world should still be turning round tomorrow morning. Strikes me as a non-debate that could go on endlessly. For now, I accept that Hamilton will be #44, Marquez the Elder will be #93 in MotoGP, Rabat will be #1 rather than #53 in Moto2, and want to focus on if they can stay as World Champions. If not, who’ll take their crowns? That is what motor sport is about!

  19. The World Champion should carry the number 1 in my opinion. It’s a psychological advance at the very least. To me the previous years achievements are diluted somewhat without it.

    1. psychology, you are correct – one can not imagine Schumacher or Vettel rejecting the #1……..

  20. There is a reason why we call it F”1″ and not just some random number one inherits… Being a WDC and not willing to accept the burden of being a champion showing clearly… Many sacrifices have to be made…

    1. I’m sure if you try harder you can lever in a bit more negativity about Hamilton over this major issue.

  21. Honestly I care less as a fan. I never identified a car or a driver using his/her number but rather using the helmet .

    The choice of using #1 was left to Lewis and he made that choice. I respect that decision either way around. It does not mean that by choosing 1 he is arrogant or by choosing 44 he is disrespectful to F1. He has earned it and it is his choice. Let’s move on.

  22. I can’t really understand why Lewis would not go with the No. 1. He’s given everything for many years to be the best – to be number one – and now when he has the opportunity to display it on his car, he chooses not to.

  23. The numbers only seem to be required for merchandising anyway; they’re not used on the F1 app and they’re not visible at a race or on TV. I think Mercedes-Benz (the automobile company) will be disappointed not to be able to use it for marketing purposes. I wonder if he asked them for permission first?

    1. Why wonder @danieljaksa when you could look it up?

  24. Is this the first time since 1974 that the reigning champion has used a number other than 1?

  25. When Ryan Hunter Reay won the IndyCar championship, they stylised his number 1 to include his original winning number (28):

    Quite a neat solution.

  26. 2015 will be a defining season for Hamilton. He really needs to have another very strong campaign to really solidify his legend.

  27. May be Hamilton lost the respect to that number because it has been used by a worst world champion ever he may not like to follow it.lol

  28. Lewis ran #1 in 2009, so no big deal.

  29. It’s simple – either having the number one is a privilege based on a tradition (“only 40 years” … wars were waged about more shortlived things) in which case Hamilton is wrong for not using it, or it is not, then everyone should be able to take it. Since the FIA still works on the former, Hamilton is indeed wrong for not using it. Then again, an insufferable human being does something insufferable. Gotta give him props for consistency.

  30. Feel sorry for Vettel, as if 2014 was embarrassing enough now that number will taken away from him.

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