The FIA has announced that it will retire Jules Bianchi’s number seventeen from the Formula 1 World Championship to honour the Frenchman, who passed away last week as a result of the critical injuries he sustained in last October’s Japanese Grand Prix.
Car numbers are now personally chosen by each driver, meaning that #17 can no longer be used by any driver competing in Formula 1 in the future.
The announcement has triggered a mixed response in the motorsport community and among Formula 1 fans, who are split in their opinions as to whether this is more of a tribute than allowing the number to be used again.
While being the first driver to have died as a result of injuries sustained in a Grand Prix since Ayrton Senna – the longest period in the sport’s history – Bianchi is also the first to have run with a permanent number.
It sets an interesting precedent, as there are currently very few numbers you would consciously link to a specific driver given the permanent numbering practice has only been in place for less than two seasons.
Pre-2014, driver numbers were always being switched around, depending on the success of the team they were driving for, or if they became World Champion.
There are a few drivers in Formula 1 history who are associated with certain numbers. The late Gilles Villeneuve’s #27 and Nigel Mansell’s #5 are raced today by Nico Hülkenberg and Sebastian Vettel as tributes to these former greats.
The concept is more widely known in North American racing, where the late Dale Earnhardt’s #3 was retired in the wake of his death, only to be subsequently revived. Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo, incidentally, chose that number as he was a fan of Earnhardt.
It should be noted as well, however, that Bianchi’s original preference for his car number was 7, 27 or 77 – these were taken by Kimi Räikkönen, Hülkenberg and Valtteri Bottas respectively, who were all given preference by dint of finishing higher up the Drivers’ Championship standings in 2013.
Image via XPB Images