The legend of number 27 in the history of Formula 1
16 December, 2013
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.