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The numbers game...


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#1 Flat Black 84

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Posted 15 October 2009 - 21:11

Yesterday I was going through Peter Parker's banquet for the eyes and mind, F1 in Camera (1970-1979), when it occurred to me (actually it had occurred earlier as well) that race car drivers seemed to prefer small numbers. In my perusal of the book it appeared that every car sported a number in the 30s or lower, and the vast majority of them were in the 20s or lower. The lone exception was Rolf Stommelen's #77.

Any theories about this? Was it a matter of oddball and rather conformist preference, or was there some other more rational explanation?

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#2 D-Type

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Posted 15 October 2009 - 21:28

We've been this way before. I'm not sure what keyword to suggest for a search

"208" turned up this and "number zero" produced this one amongst a load of others.
Have fun searching - you'll find you get distracted rather often..

#3 ensign14

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Posted 15 October 2009 - 21:30

The lone exception was Rolf Stommelen's #77.

Any theories about this? Was it a matter of oddball and rather conformist preference, or was there some other more rational explanation?

Yes. Stommelen was due to race at the German GP 1976 for MacDonald's private Brabham team, only Loris Kessel injuncted them. Bernie had a spare Brabham, and, as Brabham ran numbers 7 and 8 that year, had some spare decals to stick on it...

#4 byrkus

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Posted 15 October 2009 - 21:35

It was very similar with Nelson Piquet, who in 1978 drove two races with number 66 - also at Brabham with their 3rd car. However, Brabham drove with numbers 1 & 2 that season, and went do 5 & 6 in 1979.

#5 ensign14

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Posted 15 October 2009 - 21:59

And a second Ensign entered occasionally in 1980 had number 41, the third Tyrrell in 1980 had 43, Jarier's Lotus in 1978 was 55...all using pre-existing number stickers.

Problem with 1 and 2 is that all combinations of those were regularly used. So Lotus had to mock up a 43 for 1980 as well.

#6 AlanR

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 20:28

So where did Jonathan Palmer's 42 spring from in the 1983 European GP at Brands Hatch?

#7 ensign14

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 20:35

Everyone seemed to keep going up that year. Why did Spirit have 40 when 13-4, 17-21, 24 and 37-8 were available?

#8 stevewf1

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 21:23

In the '52 German GP, car numbers started at #101 and went up from there. Why the 3-digit numbers?


#9 ensign14

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 22:06

Does not seem to be uncommon in Germany, a lot of the Formula 2 races there started with 101. Presumably to give every car at a meeting its own unique number, and to ensure no duplicates there were gaps between the categories (qv the old Group C2 numbers beginning 101).

#10 stevewf1

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 22:27

Does not seem to be uncommon in Germany, a lot of the Formula 2 races there started with 101. Presumably to give every car at a meeting its own unique number, and to ensure no duplicates there were gaps between the categories (qv the old Group C2 numbers beginning 101).


OK, thanks. I always wondered about that. 1952 was the first year of the "Formula 2 Formula 1" (and 1953).



#11 Vitesse2

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 22:58

Does not seem to be uncommon in Germany, a lot of the Formula 2 races there started with 101. Presumably to give every car at a meeting its own unique number, and to ensure no duplicates there were gaps between the categories (qv the old Group C2 numbers beginning 101).

Correct. The Germans - and indeed the Swiss - were always sehr korrekt like that. No two cars at any meeting had the same number.

#12 Vitesse2

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 23:01

Everyone seemed to keep going up that year. Why did Spirit have 40 when 13-4, 17-21, 24 and 37-8 were available?

Well, export strength spirits are usually 40 degrees proof, but that's probably not the reason (or not!)


#13 Barry Boor

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Posted 17 October 2009 - 09:11

No two cars at any meeting had the same number.


Check most British race meeting programmes from the 1950s and 60s and you will find the same thing.

What puzzles me is how this sort of thing happened; an F.2 race at Silverstone in May, 1958 - the cars taking part were numbered 22, 29, 62, 68, 81, 99, 104, 113, 121, 130, 132, 134.

Several never showed but that was the entry, apparently.

#14 Flat Black 84

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Posted 17 October 2009 - 15:14

So, any ideas as to why the low numbers were definitively preferred at the F1 and Indy car level? Simply tradition?

#15 Allan Lupton

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Posted 17 October 2009 - 17:02

In the days of manual timekeeping, I would guess that the faster the class of racing the more pressure there would be from the timekeepers to use low (therefore short) numbers. Just writing three-digit numbers takes longer and if you have a lap charter with a caller, speaking them takes a lot longer - time which you may not have with fast cars and a close race.
It was often the practice to have a unique numbering system for a whole race meeting (and still is in some cases) which simplifies admin, paddock marshalling/announcements and incident reporting. At meetings where we did that, we tried to assign numbers in increasing lap time order, but that eventually became impossible as so many competitors had permanent c/numbers which they refused to change for our event.

#16 Rob G

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Posted 17 October 2009 - 18:09

For many years, USAC and CART (and presumably in earlier years as well?) issued single-digit numbers based on their final position in the previous year's championship. Many teams ran proudly with those numbers, although others like A.J. Foyt and Pat Patrick eschewed them in favor of their own regular numbers.

#17 stevewf1

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Posted 17 October 2009 - 20:51

So, any ideas as to why the low numbers were definitively preferred at the F1 and Indy car level? Simply tradition?


Cheaper? Back in the day, car numbers were actually painted on by hand by someone who was paid to do it.

If I recall, in F1 car numbers were handed out based on when the entry was received, but in 1974(?) they started being assigned according to the previous year's final standings.



#18 ensign14

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Posted 17 October 2009 - 20:56

Cheaper? Back in the day, car numbers were actually painted on by hand by someone who was paid to do it.

If I recall, in F1 car numbers were handed out based on when the entry was received, but in 1974(?) they started being assigned according to the previous year's final standings.

Low numbers were surely logical. You start at 1 and work up. (Or 2 if you miss out odd numbers.)

1974 saw the numbers fossilized, using the previous year's standings, but the annual change did not occur until 1994. Think it only applied to the FOCA teams, hence the likes of Boro and (in 1977) BRM changing around.

#19 # 0

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Posted 19 October 2009 - 19:51

Yesterday I was going through Peter Parker's banquet for the eyes and mind, F1 in Camera (1970-1979), when it occurred to me (actually it had occurred earlier as well) that race car drivers seemed to prefer small numbers.

I don't think race car drivers in F1 have any say about which number they get.

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#20 Barry Boor

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Posted 19 October 2009 - 21:25

Try telling Stirling that!

Actually, once the FIA have issued the numbers at the beginning of a season, I'm sure I read somewhere that the drivers 'agree' on who will have which number, IF there is a preference.

#21 ensign14

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Posted 19 October 2009 - 21:26

Yeah, Katayama avoided 4 at Tyrrell because it is unlucky in the Far East. Nominal number one Salo took it instead.

#22 stevewf1

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Posted 19 October 2009 - 21:56

As near as I can tell, #13 was only used twice in F1 since 1950... Moises Solana at Mexico City in 1963 (finished 11th) and Divina Galica at Silverstone in 1976 (dnq). Surely these numbers weren't assigned(?). Were they just tempting "fate"?

#23 Barry Boor

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Posted 19 October 2009 - 22:24

Why should #13 be tempting fate?  ;)

#24 Flat Black 84

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Posted 20 October 2009 - 15:12

It's funny--the taboo against green cars (at least in the States) seems to be fading away, but drivers still seem very much reticent to plaster a 13 on their car. I guess some taboos have more purchase than others.

#25 Paul Parker

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Posted 20 October 2009 - 15:30

In case nobody else has commented thus.

Thank you for the compliment Flat Black 84 but I would respectfully note that (Sir) Peter Parker (no relation despite the aliterative similarity) was a former chairman of British Rail who died in 2002.



#26 Flat Black 84

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Posted 20 October 2009 - 16:48

Ah. Sorry about that. Nevertheless, the compliment still stands; it's a fantastic book.

#27 Paul Parker

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Posted 20 October 2009 - 19:39

Not to worry Flat Pack no offence taken and thanks again for the comments.

#28 Flat Black 84

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Posted 20 October 2009 - 20:03

:lol:

#29 stevewf1

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Posted 20 October 2009 - 20:57

Straying a little OT, but...

When's the last time car #22 won the World Championship two years in a row?

(Both times by British drivers, both times by finishing 5th, both times at Interlagos, both times powered by Mercedes engines).

Edited by stevewf1, 20 October 2009 - 21:10.


#30 ensign14

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Posted 20 October 2009 - 21:16

Both times with first names that can be surnames and surnames that can be first names, although in the latter case only with the surnames Moon and Mushroom.

#31 PCC

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Posted 20 October 2009 - 23:39

Straying a little OT, but...

When's the last time car #22 won the World Championship two years in a row?

(Both times by British drivers, both times by finishing 5th, both times at Interlagos, both times powered by Mercedes engines).


This rather charming coincidence may redeem the number 22 from what many would consider a rather tragic history when associated with world champions....

#32 stevewf1

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Posted 20 October 2009 - 23:46

This rather charming coincidence may redeem the number 22 from what many would consider a rather tragic history when associated with world champions....


I thought of that. September 5, 1970. I think that was the only time he carried #22 in F1...

Edited by stevewf1, 20 October 2009 - 23:49.


#33 wenoopy

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Posted 22 October 2009 - 09:56

At least these cars and drivers had numbers. Spare a thought for the would-be lap-charter in the ?late-lamented? A1GP series where the cars were identified by country only. That probably wasn't the biggest problem with the series.