Can F1 Drivers Change Their Numbers?

A Formula 1 driver’s number is a big part of their racing identity. It is often linked to something special or meaningful in their life, although for some, they just liked the number. Many drivers still use the same number they started their racing life with back in their go-karting days. But are F1 drivers stuck with their numbers once they enter Formula 1, or can they change their numbers? I decided to investigate when and how F1 drivers can change their numbers?

Formula 1 drivers can’t change their numbers unless they win the Driver’s Championship. If they do, they may race with the number 1 in the following season. However, this is the only time F1 drivers can change their numbers, as once they’ve chosen their numbers, they must keep them. 

A driver’s number in F1 is important, as it is a way of identifying them on track, and it is often incorporated into their logos and other things for marketing. Therefore, choosing the right number is essential. Usually, a lot goes into choosing it, but drivers haven’t always had free reign over their racing number. So, read on to find out when drivers started being allowed to choose their numbers, what the current grid’s numbers are and whether F1 drivers can change their numbers.

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Can F1 Drivers Change Their Numbers?

Once Formula 1 drivers enter the sport, they cannot change their numbers, although there is an exception to this rule. If a driver wins the Drivers’ Championship, they can race with number 1 on their cars in the following season.

They can keep using the number 1 until someone else wins the Drivers’ World Championship. However, the last time the number 1 was used during an F1 race was in 2014, when Sebastian Vettel opted to use it after winning the 2013 World Championship.

While having had the opportunity to use number 1, Lewis Hamilton decided to stick with his traditional number 44 that he has used since he was able to choose a number in F1. Nico Rosberg never got the opportunity to use the number 1 on his car, as he retired right after winning his first and only Drivers’ Title.

If a driver switches to using number 1, their old number will be reserved for them for as long as is needed. Therefore, if they win four championships in a row and use the number 1 throughout that time when their reign ends, they can go back to their old number.


Have F1 Drivers Always Been Able to Choose Their Numbers?

Drivers can choose any number from 0 to 99 (excluding 1 if they are not the championship winner). But they may not take a number from another driver currently in the sport. When a driver leaves F1 or retires from the sport, their number is off-limits for the following two seasons.

However, while drivers can now choose their numbers, this has not always been the case. In the past, numbers were allocated by the race organisers and then the teams, based on the Constructors’ Championship standings.

This rule changed in 2014 when drivers were allowed to choose their own numbers, between 0-99. The position drivers finished in the previous season’s Championship set the order for selecting numbers. Therefore, Sebastian Vettel had the first pick of all the numbers, and he chose five. Read on to the next section to see what numbers the 2021 Formula 1 grid uses and why they selected them.


What Is the Meaning Behind the Current F1 Drivers’ Numbers?

Driver Name & Number:Meaning Behind Number:
Lewis Hamilton (44)His dad’s car license plate had F44 on it when he first started karting, so he started karting with 44.
Valtteri Bottas (77)He likes the way 77 looks.
Max Verstappen (33)He used to race with number 3, but when he joined F1, Ricciardo already had it, so he decided to go with two 3’s and choose number 33.
Sergio Perez (11)Ivan Zamorano, a football (soccer) player he admired wore number 11, so he chose it in karting, and stuck with it into F1.
Charles Leclerc (16)He wanted number 7, but Raikkonen already had it, so he went for 16 because 1+6=7 and he is born on 16 October.
Carlos Sainz (55)He wanted number 5 when he joined F1, but Vettel was already using it, so he decided to go for two 5’s. There are also two S’s in his name, so the 5’s represent these two S’s.
Lando Norris (4)Number 4 fits nicely with his logo.
Daniel Ricciardo (3)It was assigned to him when he started karting, but it was also his house number at the time, and his NASCAR hero, Dale Earnhardt, raced with number 3.
Fernando Alonso (14)On 14 July, when he was 14, with the go-kart number 14, he won the Karting World Championship.
Esteban Ocon (31)His most successful year of racing was in 2007, when he won a championship and he raced with 31 that year.
Pierre Gasly (10)Footballer (soccer player) Zinedine Zidane wore number 10 for the French National Team, and he was a big fan of Zidane.
Yuki Tsunoda (22)His first number in karting was 11, but because Perez was already using 11 in F1, he doubled it and went for 22.
Sebastian Vettel (5)He had a successful year go-karting in 2001 with the number 5 on his kart, so he decided to use it and stick with it.
Lance Stroll (18)He won the F4 and F3 championships with number 18 on his car, so carried on using it.
George Russell (63)His brother started karting with 63, so he decided to use it.
Nicholas Latifi (6)Number 6 represents Toronto, Canada, where he is from.
Kimi Raikkonen (7)He had to choose a number, so he went with number 7, although it has no special meaning.  
Antonio Giovinazzi (99)He also had success in the Italian Championship with number 99.
Mick Schumacher (47)It is the sum of his birthday, his mom’s birthday, his dad’s birthday, and his sister’s birthday.
Nikita Mazepin (9)He used to race with 99, but it was taken when he started in F1, so he went with 9 instead.


Watch the current F1 grid reveal the stories behind their numbers:


Conclusion

Once Formula 1 drivers have chosen their numbers, they cannot change them, except if they win the World Championship. If they win it, they are allowed to race with the number 1 in the following season. They lose the right to use it as soon as someone else win’s the championship.

Watch the current F1 drivers participate in a quiz about their fellow racers’ driver numbers:


References

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