Formula 1 Rule Changes - Drivers Numbers

One of the more apparently trivial rule changes for next year’s Formula 1 is that drivers are to be allocated numbers for the duration of their career. This is purely for commercial reasons and with good marketing strategy the positive effect on a drivers pocket is unlikely to be trivial.
Over the years some numbers have become inextricably linked to drivers / riders and the following are indelibly imprinted in my brain – Red 5 Mansell, 7 Sheene, and 46 Rossi. By coincidence I recently read an interesting article by Jake over on about motorcycle riders numbers. Examining the choice of numbers by riders in six major motorcycle championships he found that some numbers and ranges are very popular whilst others are untouched. 0 to 9 is the most popular number range and 7 is the only number used in all 6 championships. It’s an interesting read and you can find the article here.

sheene suzuki

Barry Sheenes restored Suzuki with the iconic number 7.

The busiest merchandise stall at every MotoGP event I’ve attended has always been Rossi’s even in his dark days at Ducati. His popularity over the years has been unparalleled, undoubtedly due in some part to that indefinable quality – charisma. But there’s also a clever design strategy at play – helmet / leather / boot / gloves colour schemes and “The Doctor” and “46” logos, all immediately identifiable and inter related.

Apart from licensed clothing, helmets and the like I’ve seen the 46 logo on car windscreens, bumpers, mobility scooters, wheelchairs, windows and cool boxes representing all age groups and backgrounds. I’ve often wondered whether number 46 (chosen because it was the number his father raced under) has some sub conscious appeal or property. Would the brand be so effective if he’d chosen number 83 for example?

Rossi branded Ducati

Rossi branded Ducati Monster

As far as I can ascertain 46 has no great mathematical relevance. Apparently it’s not a Fibonacci number, a Bell number, a Catalan number or a regular number (Hamming number). It is a not factorial of any number. It doesn’t appear to be a popular favourite number either. The number range 45 to 49 had a response of 0% to the survey question “Is there a number from 1-100 inclusive which you think brings you good luck, or has particular significance in your life, or that you just like the look of? I’m really struggling now! In chemistry, 46 is the atomic number of Palladium and in human biology, there are 46 human chromosomes.
My gut feeling is that it’s not the property of the number in any mathematical, cultural or psychological sense that’s important but purely its visual appearance. By that I mean its colour, font and background, which make it instantly recognisable and unique. In Rossi’s case it’s not an existing font but a custom number design by Aldo Drudi who also designs his helmets.
Both Mansell’s number 5 and Sheene’s number 7 were visually distinctive for their day and stood out from the rest of the field. Mansell’s number was red as opposed to the usual white and Sheene’s number 7 was the continental variant 7.
So I guess my example of 83 could have been just as iconic and that the design and marketing are the most important factors. I’m already dying to see the drivers number choices for the coming F1 season and the design elements used, but whether there will be any truly iconic designs only time will tell.