Piastri explains why he chose number 81 for F1 debut in 2023

2023 F1 season

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Oscar Piastri has chosen 81 to be his race number in Formula 1 for when he makes his debut next year with McLaren.

The Australian, currently the reserve driver at Alpine, explained the story behind his choice on the official podcast of his home grand prix. He first used the number when he raced in karting in Australia.

“Basically, when I did my first race, I had to pick a number for my first race and the car shop I went to only had number ones in stock. And it had to be a one or two-digit number.

“I obviously couldn’t be number one because, for obvious reasons. So I was actually number 11 for my first couple of races.”

When he moved up the karting ladder, Piastri was forced to change his number. “We entered – I think it was the Victorian state titles – and somebody had already entered as number 11. So I don’t know what inspired me to pick 81, but I changed the first one for a number eight and it stuck ever since.”

Biography: Oscar Piastri
Piastri used a variety of different numbers once he joined karting teams in Europe, but returned to 81 when racing in British Formula 4 and in the Formula Renault Northern European Cup, both with the Arden team, in 2017.

He went on to win consecutive titles in the Formula Renault Eurocup, Formula 3 and Formula 2 – all series in which the race numbers are determined by the order teams had finished in the championship standings the previous year. That system was also used in F1 until 2014, since when drivers have been allowed to choose their numbers.

The number 81 hasn’t been seen in the world championship since 1957, when Tony Benadies used it at the Indianapolis 500, which was part of the series at the time. Besides the Indy 500, the number has only been used at a single other race. Maurice Trintignant’s Simca carried the number 81 in the 1951 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.

Piastri will have to formally request use of the number ahead of his grand prix debut for McLaren in the 2023 F1 season. “That will be it as long as nobody pinches that before we put in my number,” he added. “But I think that one’s pretty safe.”

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Author information

Ida Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching photography back in the UK. Currently based...

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29 comments on “Piastri explains why he chose number 81 for F1 debut in 2023”

  1. I always knew he’d choose 81.

    1. Any chance you know what interest rates would next year as well?

      1. @Aquila_GD I don’t quite follow you.

      2. the answer is……EIGHTY-ONE!!!

  2. « It’s the number of times i called Laurent and Otmar without answers! »

    1. Haha, good one!

  3. By a bizarre coincidence, ’81 is also the year Fernando Alonso was born.

  4. I don’t think I support any driver as such. But if anyone ever picks no. 42 – they’ll have my unwavering support for life, the universe and everything.

    1. @bernasaurus You’ll like this one, then.

      After he won the GP2 championship, Fabio Leimer did a single practise session in F1 for Marussia at the Hungaroring in 2015. He used the number 42 for that, which I believe was because it was the number assigned to the team as happens when a reserve is used. But the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy association was not lost on him…


      1. @bernasaurus I just love Kalle Rovanpera’s explanation on his number (69). “I told my grandmother you can see even if I’m upside down ;).”

        1. @qeki, Funny explanation, although while I was aware that the upside-down reference was his reasoning for choosing 69, I’ve never heard this grandmother reference.

      2. @keithcollantine @qeki @jerejj Ha! I had no idea Leimer had used it! Even if it was just assigned – it’s better than the usual ‘my first karting number’ thing.

        Rovanperas’ ‘upside down – grandmother’ is equally good. I think these numbers came about to be distinctive and personal and thus far the choices have been somewhat predictable or boring.

        I think Jonny Edgar uses No.1 in F3. Despite having not won the title, which I think is cheeky, but good fun.

        1. @bernasaurus I think the F3 teams are assigned numbers based on their finishing position in the previous year, similar to the old F1 system.

          1. @red-andy Yes & the same in F2.

          2. @red-andy @jerejj ahhhh – that makes way more sense. I thought it was him just being a naughty.

  5. It’s funny how racing numbers come about… When I used to kart, I started as 96 because the kart we bought already had 96 on it. Then I showed up at a race and there was already a 96 so I became 95 (easier to change 1 number than having to peel both off….)

    Then not long after, I entered a race and there was already a 95 and a 96 there! Rather than mess about with stickers again, we coloured in the gap in the 9 to make it an 8 with permanent marker. From then on (and for the rest of my karting career) I was 85.

  6. 81? I think Alpine wanted to start the huge secret campain next year advertising 81 brand;>

  7. I assumed it was because that’s the number of races there will be per season, assuming Liberty gets their way.

      1. 50 main races plus 31 sprint races.
        Another weekend for pre-season test and final week left for Xmas holidays.

        Sounds so logical to me ….

  8. It is always fascinating to hear the deep and meaningful backstories that the drivers have to tell.
    I’m sure that Oscar has many other motivational and life focusing events to relay to us as and when the opportunity arises!

    1. I’ll hijack your funny comment to add that permanent numbers in F1 are useless. We have all those stories which are the same (“it was my first number when karting”) and nobody cares about. And the average viewer don’t remember nor care for the numbers (I see it around me).
      As racing numbers are an administrative requirement, the old teams raking attribution was doing the job. And it was in use for decades, meaning it was part of the tradition that so many crave about.

      1. 18 years is hardly decades

  9. In Nascar there was (still is?) both #1 and #01, always liked that one!
    Butyeah, permanent numbers are not that impactful when the grid is so small.

    1. Nobody can brand a number like Valentino Rossi did.

  10. I was thinking Oscar 81astri as branding, but I think turning a P into an 8 doesn’t work.

    1. Grosjean briefly referred to himself as ‘R8main’, which didn’t work in English or French…

  11. Is 81 the Judas number?

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