Why did 2021’s F1 drivers pick their race number?
Ever wondered why Sebastian Vettel swears by the number five, or why returning double champion Fernando Alonso goes for #14? They, and the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, explain why they chose their race numbers.
#44 LEWIS HAMILTON – MERCEDES
‘Still I Rise’ – these are the words emblazoned across the back of Lewis Hamilton’s helmet and tattooed across his shoulders, and ever since annihilating expectations with one of the greatest rookie performances in F1 history in 2007, that is literally all he has done: risen to the top of the all-time pole positions list ahead of his hero Ayrton Senna, surged into first place in the wins column surpassing the inimitable Michael Schumacher, and then matched the legendary German’s seven world titles.
Lewis Hamilton’s personal number is derived from the license plate of his father’s car back when he was just 8 years old. He was going to participate in his very first ‘go kart race’ with a kart that his father had rebuilt. They did not know which number to choose at the time, which is why the number came from his father’s car and that number was F44.
Hamilton: “It is the number that my family recognise most, the number that is loyal to me and to my friends.”
#5 SEBASTIAN VETTEL – ASTON MARTIN
Born and raised a Bull, then a Prancing Horse, and now the face of Aston Martin’s Formula 1 revival, F1’s poster boy of early achievement had won more than all but two drivers in history by the time he was just 26, including back-to-back world titles between 2010 and 2013.
Sebastian Vettel’s personal number is #5 and this is derived from the year 2001 which was a very successful year for him. During this year he had number 5 on his go kart. Later, Vettel learned more about another world champion Nigel ‘Red Five’ Mansell and chose #5 as a homage to him.
Vettel: “The number #5 kept popping up here and there and everywhere.”
#18 LANCE STROLL – ASTON MARTIN
There is no such thing as too much too soon for Lance Stroll, a teenage sensation with a wet weather predilection. One of the cool kids on the grid, Stroll was unveiled shortly after his 18th birthday by Williams – before he finished high school and got his road licence.
The #18 number means a lot to Lance Stroll, it represents history and remembering winning the Formula 4 and 3 championships.
Stroll: “A little bit superstitious, not too superstitious, but little things like that are important to me and I just stuck with it, I do not want to change that.”
#11 SERGIO PEREZ – REB BULL RACING
He is the fighter with a gentle touch from the land of the Lucha Libre. Perez’s reputation in F1 has been built on opposite approaches to Grand Prix racing. On the one hand, he is a punchy combatant who wrestles his way through the pack and into the points. Never afraid to add a bit of spice to his on-track encounters, even his teammates do not always escape the Mexican’s heat.
Sergio Perez’s number is derived from a former professional football player who had the number #11 on the back of his jersey. Perez admired this football player and also wanted to use this number when he was still karting.
Perez: “Until today I have always used number #11, up to my e-mail address it is number 11.”
#22 YUKI TSUNODA – ALPHATAURI
Tsunoda’s ascent to the top tier of motorsport has been astonishingly rapid: he has gone from racing in Japanese F4 to a Formula 1 seat with AlphaTauri in just over three years, having arrived in Europe in 2019 with no knowledge of the circuits. But after a slow start in F3, followed by a hugely impressive debut F2 campaign that saw him finish third in the championship and pick up three wins along the way, Tsunoda proved he had the speed and the race craft to force his way on to the F1 grid.
The first number used by Yuki Tsunoda in karting was #11, but this is the number Sergio Perez is using.
Tsunoda: “So, I just added 1 to both numbers and that makes it #22.”
#3 DANIEL RICCIARDO – MCLAREN
The self-styled “Honey Badger” is fuzzy on the outside and feisty on the inside. Drivers beware because behind Ricciardo’s laidback persona and big grin is a razor-sharp racer with a bite. The Australian combines all-out speed with impressive race craft. Never afraid to push to the limits if it means pulling off a pass, Ricciardo is a proven race-winner for Red Bull, capable of consistently finishing at the business end of the championship table.
For Daniel Ricciardo, it also all started during go karting back in the days. At that time, there were no numbers to choose from and it was purely coincidental which number was to be assigned. For Ricciardo, it was number #3 and at the time his house number was also number 3. In addition, this number was also used by a Nascar driver that Ricciardo was following.
Ricciardo: “When we were allowed to choose our own number in Formula 1 in 2014, number #3 was obviously my first choice and I got it. I’m actually very proud to be number #3.”
#33 MAX VERSTAPPEN – RED BULL RACING
He is Max by name, and max by nature. Arriving as Formula 1’s youngest ever competitor at just 17 years old, Verstappen pushed his car, his rivals and the sport’s record books to the limit. The baby-faced Dutchman with the heart of a lion took the Toro Rosso – and then the Red Bull – by the horns with his instinctive racing style. F1’s youngest points scorer soon became its youngest race winner – at the age of 18 years and 228 days – with an opportunistic but controlled drive on debut for Red Bull in Barcelona 2016.
Max Verstappen’s favourite number is #3, he always stayed with #3, no matter what he did in terms of racing. When he entered Formula 1, Daniel Ricciardo already had number #3.
Verstappen: “Actually my favorite number is 3, but it was taken already by Daniel Ricciardo, so I couldn’t but then also, I’ll just add another 3 behind it; its double luck.”
#16 CHARLES LECLERC – FERRARI
Born in the Mediterranean idyll of Monaco, Leclerc arrived in F1 on a tidal wave of expectation. Practically peerless on his way to the GP3 and Formula 2 crowns, he showcased a dazzling array of skills from scorching pole positions, commanding victories – even when his car caught fire twice at Silverstone – to an ability to muscle his way through the pack. Winning back-to-back championships also taught Leclerc how to handle pressure, another useful tool in the big pond of Formula 1 racing.
Leclerc: “I wanted number #7, but it was taken, I wanted number #10, but it was also taken, and finally I ended up with number #16 because 1 plus 6 equals 7 and I was born on the 16th of October.”
#4 LANDO NORRIS – MCLAREN
Lando Norris may not be named after Star Wars rebel Lando Calrissian – his Mum just liked the moniker – but he has flair and fighting spirit in bountiful supply. McLaren had the British teenager on their books for two years before fast-tracking him into F1’s galaxy of stars in 2019. A firecracker in his junior career, with a penchant for pole positions and wheel-to-wheel tussles, Norris did not let them down.
Norris: “11 and 31 were the two numbers I had in Formula Renault, 3 and 4 and I think those were already taken by the time I joined Formula 1. Number 4 was the best number in the end, mainly because this number fits my logo best.”
#55 CARLOS SAINZ – FERRARI
He’s the matador from Madrid racing royalty. Entering F1’s Bull Ring paired alongside Max Verstappen at Toro Rosso in 2015, Sainz quickly showed his fighting spirit. A tenacious racer, Sainz puts the car on the edge as he hustles his way through the pack. No wonder he has earned the nickname Chilli. But the Spaniard is intelligent as well as instinctive, thinking his way through a race and into the points. This calm temperament follows him off track where he remains unfazed by the pressures of forging a Grand Prix career with a famous name.
Sainz: “One S of Sainz is a 5 and the other S is another 5, so that makes #55. My favourite number is 5 but Sebastian Vettel already has #5, so I came up with this ‘word game’ with my own name.”
#7 KIMI RAIKKONEN – ALFA ROMEO RACING
He is the world-famous racing driver who just wants to be left alone. Raikkonen has a cult status in F1 like no other driver of his generation, but if you ask him why he just shrugs. Maybe it is because of the rugged, raw talent that inspired Sauber to give him his debut in 2001 – and re-sign him for 2019. Or the fast and fearless racing that led to memorable McLaren wins. Or the never-say-die attitude that clinched the 2007 world title for Ferrari by a single point. Or maybe it’s because this is the ‘Iceman’ who jumped straight into a Jacuzzi on his yacht after retiring in Monaco and who enjoyed an ice cream when a soggy Malaysian GP was red flagged but still live. Raikkonen literally does his talking on track. Out of the car, the Finn is famously taciturn. Although those who know him well say privately, he is an amusing bon viveur, as well as a devoted family man.
Raikkonen: “I just had to choose a number, so I simply picked this number. There was also a chance that I would get number #6 because I won the championship with it, but I knew Rosberg wanted this number because his father won the championship with it, so I kept number #7 and that’s fine with me.”
#99 ANTONIO GIOVINAZZI – ALFA ROMEO RACING
He is the Italian steed with speed from the stable of the Prancing Horse. Antonio Giovinazzi flies the flag for Italy as the motorsport mad nation champs at the bit for its next F1 star. The pilota from Puglia can punch his way through the pack and pull off a plucky pass. He showcased this natural racing acumen during a blistering 2016 GP2 campaign where he finished a close runner-up to teammate Pierre Gasly. Giovinazzi concedes he went from hero to zero after two races as a stand-in for Sauber in 2017 when a brilliantly composed F1 debut in Melbourne was followed by two shunts in Shanghai. But a stint as Ferrari reserve gave him time to re-group and reflect ahead of his first full season in 2019, paired alongside Kimi Raikkonen at Alfa Romeo.
Giovinazzi: “The only numbers left were 13, 17 and 99. Of course 13 and 17 are not lucky numbers in Italy, so I chose #99 and the funny thing is that this is the last number, and my mother always says that the last one will be the first, this is what we say in Italy, so for me it is the perfect number.”
#31 ESTEBAN OCON – ALPINE
If there is one word that dominates Esteban Ocon’s career, it is ‘sacrifice’. Back when he was just a promising karter, Ocon’s parents sold their house, put their jobs on hold, and began a life on the road, living in a caravan and travelling from circuit to circuit to support their son’s burgeoning career. Sacrifice, see – but it worked. 2014 saw Ocon breakthrough in the world of single seaters, as he beat a certain Max Verstappen to the European F3 title.
Backed by Mercedes, he won the GP3 title the following year and was halfway through a season of DTM in 2016 when he was offered the chance to replace Rio Haryanto at the minnow Manor team from the Belgian Grand Prix onwards. That opportunity led to a full-time seat the following year with Force India, where his wheel-to-wheel duels with highly rated teammate Sergio Perez quickly marked him out as a rising star. But when Lawrence Stroll, father of racer Lance, stepped in midway through 2018 to secure the squad’s financial future, the writing was on the wall for Ocon, who was moved aside at the end of the year to allow Stroll Jnr to join from Williams. Ocon bided his time, though, and after a year on the side lines as Mercedes’ reserve driver, he found his way back into a race seat with Renault in 2020.
Nothing in Ocon’s motorsport career has come easy – but if Ocon has managed to return to the F1 grid, it is through a combination of self-belief, determination and a talent that is up there with the very best.
Ocon: “In 2007 I won the championship with number #31, this is still my most successful year until today, so I am going for #31 for the rest of my career.”
#9 NIKITA MAZEPIN – HAAS F1 TEAM
Nikita Mazepin might be bringing a healthy chunk of budget with him to the Haas team, but do not be fooled into thinking he has not also got the driving chops to go with it. The Russian – the fourth to compete in F1 after Vitaly Petrov, Sergey Sirotkin and Daniil Kvyat – has an impressive CV in the junior formulas, finishing runner-up in the 2018 GP3 championship with four race wins. And after taking his time to find his feet in his first season of F2 in 2019, he came into his own in 2020, notching up six podiums – including two victories – on his way to fifth in the standings.
Mazepin: “I have normally raced with the number #99 because this is the year I was born and it happened to be a quite lucky number in the races I won back in the early days, but #99 was taken so I was able to take number #9.”
#10 PIERRE GASLY – ALPHATAURI
If there is one man who knows how big a rollercoaster ride an F1 driver’s career can be, it is Pierre Gasly! The flying Frenchman was called up to make his 2017 debut in Malaysia in place of Daniil Kvyat and, after proving his mettle, he was named a Toro Rosso driver the following year. A further 21 races into his fledgling career, Gasly was moved up again – this time to replace Red Bull big gun Daniel Ricciardo.
Gasly seemed to have a knack of being in the right place at the right time – a quality that is equally handy on track. A series of impressive 2018 performances for Toro Rosso – including a brilliant fourth place in Bahrain – showed exciting promise for what he might do with the ‘A’ team in 2019. Unfortunately, that promise only appeared in flashes – and he quickly suffered from unfavourable comparisons with superstar teammate Max Verstappen. So much so that after the summer break, he was sent back to Toro Rosso, with another young up-and-comer – Alex Albon – being given a shot in the ‘senior’ Red Bull seat.
But Gasly bounced back, as only Gasly can. In the season’s remaining nine races he scored almost as many points as teammate Kvyat managed over the entire year – and secured his best-ever race result with P2 in Brazil. That trajectory continued in 2020, peaking with an emotional maiden win at the renamed AlphaTauri team’s home race in Italy.
Gasly: “I raced with this number back in 2013 when I became Formula Renault European champion, and I was, and I still am a big fan of Zinédine Zidane and he was number #10 for the National team of France which is the second reason I am driving with this number.”
#47 MICK SCHUMACHER – HAAS F1 TEAM
Plenty of sons of former F1 drivers have joined the sport over the years – two have even emulated their fathers to become world champions – but carrying the Schumacher name is surely an extra level of pressure for Mick, given his father Michael’s extraordinary achievements in Formula 1. But Schumacher Junior, a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy, arrives in F1 with Haas after clinching the F2 title in 2020, to add to the F3 championship he won in 2018 – so there is zero suggestion he has been elevated to the top level of motorsport because of his name. It is talent that has brought him this far and he will need to show more of the same as he acclimatises to F1, if he is to one day follow in his father’s footsteps and claim a race seat with the Scuderia.
Schumacher: “This will be the first time using this number and it is quite simple actually because if you add up all the number of our birthdays it makes #47 and some fans sometimes say that you can read it as ‘for Michael, so for 7’ which is also a nice thought and also a kind of true.”
#6 NICHOLAS LATIFI – WILLIAMS
Thirteen is an advanced age to begin your karting career these days. But that is how old Toronto native Nicholas Latifi was when he took his first steps in motorsport. Just 11 years later, he became a fully-fledged Formula 1 driver. That ascension into racing’s top category was largely thanks to his most impressive season to date in Formula 2 in 2019, with Latifi – who’d finished a disappointing ninth in the series’ 2018 standings – pulling up his bootstraps to claim second in the championship. That result, combined with the Williams/Robert Kubica union failing to mesh in 2019, meant Williams made the call to promote their affable Canadian reserve driver to a full-time drive alongside George Russell for 2020.
Latifi: “The 6 represents Toronto, my home city and the place where I grew up.”
#63 GEORGE RUSSELL – WILLIAMS
He is the driver with the motto: “If in doubt, go flat out.” George Russell has lived by it in his F1 career to date, out-qualifying seasoned teammate Robert Kubica at all 21 Grands Prix in his rookie season and repeating the feat against Nicolas Latifi in 2020 – and proving Williams right in identifying him as a hard worker and a tenacious talent.
Russell: “#63 was my brother’s number, he started karting in an indoor karting centre and he always had number #63, so this has been our family number ever since.”
#77 VALTTERI BOTTAS – MERCEDES
Learning his craft on Finnish roads of ice and snow, he was born to be a Grand Prix racer. Bottas explains that if you can drive on the frozen roads of his homeland then you can drive anywhere. Then there’s the Finnish mentality –reserved, diligent and calm the fast lane of F1 does not faze him. Making his F1 debut with Williams in 2013, Bottas soon became part of the family. Points and podiums followed with the reliable racer even amassing the most points without a win, a record he resented but that showcased his ability. The fact the Finn was such a points machine saw him suddenly promoted to the most coveted seat in F1 – Nico Rosberg’s vacant championship-winning seat at Mercedes.
Bottas: “I was actually going to choose number #7 initially but then I decided #77 could be nice so I just liked the number, I’m not really superstitious or anything, initially there was a bit of a plan to use the two sevens instead of the T’s in ‘Valtteri’ and ‘Bottas’ as a design, but I’ve never used it anyway.”
#14 FERNANDO ALONSO – ALPINE
Michael Schumacher was the undisputed king of Formula 1 in the early 2000s, picking up wins and championships at a rate that was simply unheard of at the time. It was going to take someone very special to topple the Ferrari legend from his throne – and that it was Fernando Alonso who did it, tells you all you need to know about the Spaniard. Fiercely competitive, Alonso is not shy about his talent, rating himself as 9/10 “in everything”, and few in the know would disagree, with his performances in F1 characterised by blistering speed, brilliant tactical thinking, exemplary race craft, a razor-sharp eye for detail and a relentless determination to win.
Alonso: “When I was 14 years old, the 14th of July and with a go kart with the number #14 I was world champion, from that moment on I had no doubt that #14 is my number.”