The legend of number 27 in the history of Formula 1

16 December, 2013

Gilles Villeneuve forever remembered for his heroics in Ferrari number 27

Gilles Villeneuve forever remembered for his heroics in Ferrari number 27

Much has been written about the ‘professional number’ system introduced by the FIA, set to come into effect in Formula 1 as from 2014, whereby drivers will be able to choose their preferred number which will then be with them throughout their careers at the pinnacle of the motorsport.

The concept is not new to motor racing as MotoGP and NASCAR have used the system for decades and, in fact, Formula 1 has had numbers associated to drivers in the past, albeit not really by design.

Nigel Mansell made ‘Red 5′ a household name and number 27 is one that will always be associated with the late great Gilles Villeneuve and, to a certain extent, Ayrton Senna.

Carlos Reutemann at the 1972 British GP

Carlos Reutemann at the 1972 British GP

But besides these two legends, number 27 has also been associated with other greats of the sport, too…

Before the early seventies the numbering system in Formula 1 was adhoc, driver numbers changed from race to race, as entries were done directly between teams/drivers and the grand prix race organisers.

For instance, Ronnie Peterson entered the 1970 British GP, in July, with number 27 while in September at the Italian GP he was number 52.

In 1972 Carlos Reutemann was entered as number 2 in his home Argentine GP, while at the British GP he raced with number 27.

Guy Edwards at the 1974 Belgian GP

Guy Edwards at the 1974 Belgian GP

The 1974 season was the first in which drivers had permanent racing numbers from race to race for the entire year, after the system had been introduced in the middle of 1973.

No less than three drivers were allocated number 27 during the course of the 1974 season with Guy Edwards, Peter Gethin and Rolf Stommelen all carrying the number during their stints as drivers for Embassy Racing Lola outfit that year.

Mario Andretti, driving for Parnelli Jones Racing, was the first driver to carry number 27 for a full season, in 1975. He also had the number for two races in 1976 before the team pulled the plug on their F1 operation.

Mario Andretti at the 1976 United States GP (West)

Mario Andretti at the 1976 United States GP (West)

In 1977 Patrick Neve carried number 27 for 11 races on his March-Ford entered by Williams. He missed the final race of the season, and the number 27 was stuck to the sidepods of Jean Pierre Jarier’s Ligier for the season finale Japanese GP.

The first sustained use of number 27 was Alan Jones who had the number on his Williams from 1978 through to 1980. In 1981 he carried number one by virtue of winning the World title the previous season.

After this Gilles Villeneuve was allotted number 27, and it was also the first year it appeared on a Ferrari in the modern era. It quickly became part of the sport’s folklore as the Canadian driver won the hearts of everyone in Formula 1 through his gutsy displays at the wheel of whatever he was given to drive.

Patrick Tambay at the 1983 British GP

Patrick Tambay at the 1983 British GP

Villeneuve carried the number again in 1982, and died with it on his Ferrari which plunged into the Zolder catch fences during qualifying for the Belgian GP.

His replacement, Patrick Tambay, inherited the drive along with the number which he kept until the end of 1983, after which he was replaced at Ferrari by Michele Alboreto for 1984.

The Italian retained the iconic number until 1988 – five years – the longest period any driver had ‘ownership’ of number 27.

When Nigel Mansell moved to Ferrari in 1989 he was handed number 27, but a year later in 1990 Ferrari relinquished the number as Alain Prost moved to the team and as reigning World Champion brought the number one plate to the Maranello squad.

Ayrton Senna at the 1990 Monaco GP

Ayrton Senna at the 1990 Monaco GP

That year Ayrton Senna carried number 27 on his McLaren Honda, but it was a short-lived association, although very successful,  as he won the 1990 championship that year. Thus he reverted to number one on his McLaren and 27 returned to Ferrari with Alain Prost getting the honour of carrying what was by then firmly established as an iconic number.

Prost was fired by Ferrari with a race to go that season, and his replacement Gianni Morbidelli took brief custody of the number at the season finale in Adelaide that year.

For 1992 Ferrari signed Jean Alesi who became the next number 27 for the following four years, until the end of 1995 where he used it for the final time.

Number 27 was last used in F1 by Jean Alesi at the 1995 Australian GP

Number 27 was last used in F1 by Jean Alesi at the 1995 Australian GP

Since then number 27 has not been used by any driver in Formula 1, but this season it is likely to make a comeback and smart money would be on one of the top four in the 2013 Championship: Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton or Kimi Raikkonen claiming the coveted number – all these drivers would do the legacy of number 27  justice.

Time will soon tell who will carry on the legacy of the sport’s most iconic number. Watch this space… (GP247)

Subbed by AJN.


  • GV

    They should also retire numbers of legends and multiple WDC.
    They could put the numbers on the wall behind the podium so people can see them after every race.

    Does anyone know if the drivers will be able to customise their number (like moto GP) or will the team decide that?

  • Forza Ferrari

    This number will always belong to Ferrari and it’s drivers, as even the first driver ever to carry the #27 in F1 was Jacky Ickx on his Ferrari 312 in 1970. So this legendary number should be taken by one of the Ferrari drivers or by no one at all. FIA should give #27 to Ferrari forever or just retire this number permanently.

  • Ron Mac

    There is mention all over the F1 sites online about NASCAR drivers and numbers they carry for their career. NASCAR does not allocate numbers to drivers, they allocate numbers to teams. Even the great #3 belonged to Richard Childress, not Dale Earnhardt, and will be making a comeback in the hands of Childress’ grandson Austin Dillon this year.

    Dale Jr when he moved from his family team did not take the number 8, he changed to 88. Harvick this year moving to Tony Stewarts team is not taking the #29 he will be #4. Newman moving to Childress racing form Stewart-Hass this year will assume the #31 which has been Jeff Burtons number for a long time. Burton, moving on will be using #66.

    In NASCAR, drivers make numbers famous, but the number stays with the car.

  • WestMclarenMercedes

    I think fernando should take #27 since kimi wants #7 and fernando said he will retire at ferrari. Would be great to see #27 on a Ferrari again

  • Tinto

    Seb 1 and 99, alpha and omega

  • StevetheGreat

    Piss on nascar.

  • Editor

    @Forza Ferrari
    Ickx was number 27 only once in 1970 aty his home grand prix in Belgium

  • Polar Bear

    @Forzaferrari and WestMclarenMercedes; perfectly said, agree absolutely, i hope some respect is shown for the history of this number

  • A41202813GMAIL

    Outside Of INDY500 The #27 Was First Used In SILVERSTONE In 1952.

    27 AND REDFIVE, FOREVER !

  • Tamburello_1994

    RED TWO.

    R.I.P Ayrton.

  • Michael

    Its iconic for Ferrari but also for Williams as Alan Jones had more success with it than anyone else and won the title with it. As did Senna in a McLaren. If anything Ferrari were cursed with it (and 28) as it coincided with some of the least successful years of their history.

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