Why F1 champ Max Verstappen drops lucky number 33 in 2022

  • The Formula 1 numbering system has evolved over generations.
  • After a lack of race-by-race consistency during the first two decades of Formula 1, a permanent system was introduced for 1974,
  • This system was changed in 1996 when the numbers for each season were determined by the championship order of the previous year.

    Max Verstappen will bring the No.1 back to the Formula 1 grid in 2022 after opting to wear the number on his world champion-only 2022 Red Bull machine.

    It will be the first time he has appeared on the Formula 1 entry list since 2014.

    Verstappen’s decision shines a light on the Formula 1 numbering system that has evolved over generations.

    After a lack of race-by-race consistency during the first two decades of Formula 1, a permanent system was introduced for 1974, with each team being given two consecutive numbers, except for the superstitiously unlucky 13, based on the standings from 1973.

    Teams only changed numbers if their driver won the championship, with their predecessors taking the pair of numbers they had left vacant. The champion ran No. 1, but in 1974 the honor went to Ronnie Peterson, without a title since 1973 champion Sir Jackie Stewart had retired.

    When the situation happened again – in 1993 and 1994 when champions Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost respectively failed to defend their titles – Williams was given No. 0, managed both years by Damon Hill, and No. 1 remained unused. The No.1 was again used by a non-champion, John Watson, when he replaced the injured Niki Lauda at the 1985 European GP.

    Sebastian Vettel sported Red Bull’s No.1 in the 2014 season.

    Mark ThompsonGetty Images

    This system was changed in 1996 when the numbers for each season were determined by the championship order of the previous year. The champions ran No. 1 and No. 2, the second-best team No. 3 and No. 4, and so on. The methodical system was overhauled once again in 2014, when personal numbers were introduced.

    Each driver chose a number between No. 2 and No. 99 – with No. 1 reserved for the world champion – to race their car. A personal number is reserved for two years after a driver’s last start while the champion’s personal number is protected if he runs No. 1. Practice-only drivers, or late replacement drivers, are usually seen assign a team reserve number.

    Sebastian Vettel sported the No.1 in 2014, but Lewis Hamilton opted to retain his personal No.44 for each of his subsequent six title defense campaigns, in 2015-16 and 2018-21. He ran No. 1 for a single practice in 2018, after winning the title, but only for marketing purposes. The only intruder during Hamilton’s streak – Nico Rosberg – retired five days into his reign and failed to defend his crown in 2017.

    Verstappen has become synonymous with No. 33 since his debut in 2015, with the number prominently displayed on his merchandise, and Bahrain 2022 will be his first race in Formula 1 using a different number. Still, he initially wanted No.3, which had already been taken by Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian chose number 3 as a nod to his hero, NASCAR icon Dale Earnhardt. Verstappen therefore opted for the “double 3” instead.

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    Lewis Hamilton raced with No. 44 during his F1 championship series.

    PoolGetty Images

    There are stories up and down the grid – and several of them go back to karting or junior formula.

    Hamilton’s dad’s road car had the number plate ‘F44’ and after needing a number to enter a kart race they quickly selected it and it was a success. The inspirational acts of junior success featured Sebastian Vettel, Sergio Perez, Lance Stroll, Esteban Ocon, George Russell and Pierre Gasly.

    Some had to compromise. Yuki Tsunoda wanted No. 11 but as he was taken by Perez, he double-crossed him and ended up with No. 22. Charles Leclerc’s first two picks were gone so he opted for No. 16 , Nikita Mazepin wanted No. 99 but as Antonio Giovinazzi used it, he just chose No. 9.

    Wordplay was involved for L4NDO Norris and Carlo5 5ainz, Nicholas Latifi’s No. 6 was inspired by the familiar nickname for Toronto’s hometown, while Mick Schumacher’s No. 47 came after adding birth dates family members. Fans also pointed to the onomatopoeia “For Seven,” a nod to Father Michael, who won seven titles.

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    Alfa Romeo rookie Guanyu Zhou plans to race with No. 24 in 2022 as a tribute to former NBA star Kobe Bryant.

    DeFodi ImagesGetty Images

    Valtteri Bottas chose No. 77 simply because he liked it while the returning Alexander Albon chose No. 23, jokingly it was half of 46, the number associated with his hero, the legend of the MotoGP Valentino Rossi. This year’s only rookie, Guanyu Zhou, chose the number 24 in tribute to late NBA icon Kobe Bryant, who graced the number on his jersey for a decade at the LA Lakers.

    Several numbers have already been chosen twice, although half have gone unused since 2014, with the least popular number being number 15. One unavailable number is number 17, which was retired in honor of Jules Bianchi, after his tragic death in 2015.

    Verstappen hopes the No.1 will bring him as much success as the No.33.

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