Formula 1’s move to permanent numbers for each driver next season gives grand prix racers their first chance to develop an iconic number identity as their peers in motorcycle racing and American motorsports have done. AUTOSPORT‘s statistics partner FORIX has delved into F1’s history to highlight the numbers already in the record books.
DRIVERS’ TOP NUMBERS
Jacques Laffite holds the record for the most grands prix with one number. His long stint with Ligier during the period when teams’ numbers only changed due to title wins meant 132 of his 176 starts were with #26.
That run started when he joined the team at its inception in 1976, was interrupted by his Williams stint in 1983-4, then resumed when he rejoined Ligier for ’85. A crash at Brands Hatch in 1986 then ended Laffite’s F1 career.
Second on the list is Michael Schumacher, who started 120 races with #1, thanks to having seven titles to defend.
Sebastian Vettel’s four championships mean he has now done 58 races with #1, second in the record list for that number. Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna are next up for #1 with 48, just ahead of Nelson Piquet (47) and Niki Lauda (45).
The third highest tally for an F1 driver with a single number belongs to Gerhard Berger, who carried #28 for both his 1987-’89 and 1993-’95 Ferrari sojourns and with McLaren in the 1990 season, a total of 112 races.
Ricciardo Patrese is just one behind with 111 races as #6, which he carried at Brabham in 1983, Williams from 1988-92 and Benetton in 1993.
Neither Berger nor Patrese had any right to carry those numbers with them between teams, they simply ended up bearing them for different employers by coincidences of which teams swapped numbers as a result of championship wins.
Of the current field, Fernando Alonso has accumulated the most GPs on one number with 76 races carrying #5. That is due to spending four seasons at teams that had been third in the previous year’s constructors’ standings, two at Renault (2005 and ’08) and two at Ferrari (2011-12).
F1’S MOST SUCCESSFUL NUMBERS
Unsurprisingly, the #1 has more wins than any other number, with defending champions taking 181 wins.
Next up is #5 on 130. Under the post-1996 system, all numbers from #3-#6 have accumulated plenty of wins as unsurprisingly the teams taking second and third places in constructors’ championships remain front-runners.
The reason #5 moved ahead of #3 and #4 is because #5 and #6 swapped between a variety of teams in championship contention, while #3 and #4 effectively became Tyrrell’s permanent numbers as it never repeated its early title successes.
McLaren, Lotus and Brabham all used #5 and #6 before they settled with Williams from the mid-1980s into the early 1990s, when they went to Benetton for its dominant 1994 campaign.
With several of those teams having clear number one drivers (e.g. Nelson Piquet at Brabham, Nigel Mansell at Williams, Schumacher at Benetton), #5 pulled clear of #6.
That is also reflected in the championship win stats. A record 12 titles were won by defending champions carrying #1, with #5 second in that list on nine.
Champions’ teammates fared only moderately well. #2 is third in the all-time wins list, but its tally of 83 is a long way behind #1 and #5, while Alain Prost is the only man to win a title carrying #2, which he did in 1985, ’89 and ’93.
Top of the list for mechanical failures is #22 with 274 breakdowns through history, just one ahead of #15.
In recent years, with those numbers falling to those from the middle or rear of the constructors’ championship, that comes as little surprise. But their 1980s heritage thrust them to the top of this list, as works Renaults and Alfa Romeos,both of which had poor finishing rates, ran #15/#16 and #22/#23 respectively.
The unlucky #22 was later passed through tail-end squads such as Osella, Rial, Scuderia Italia and Forti.
Intriguingly for conspiracy theorists, world champions’ teammates have retired much more often than the champions.
#2 cars have notched up 221 mechanical retirements compared to 163 for #1.