The Atlantic Ocean is a great divider and none more so than in motorsport terms. In America, NASCAR is the premier racing series and Formula 1 is a niche sport that is known in the States but is not seriously followed or understood, the same applies in reverse to NASCAR in Europe. In America, the teams are very much in the background as support crews to the stars – the drivers. In Europe, the drivers and teams get pretty much equal billing but which philosophy is right and with change on the horizon it will be interesting to see what develops in 2014.
Jeffrey Michael ( Jeff ) Gordon is a household name in the US and so is his number – “the 24”. The NASCAR ace has four NASCAR titles to his name and 88 wins since graduating to the premier NASCAR race series in 1992. And from that day, Jeff Gordon has raced with the number 24 on his cars. The driver and the number are synonymous with each other and every NASCAR fan tunes in to a TV broadcast or attends a NASCAR race knowing that the #24 Chevrolet is piloted by Jeff. His career earnings reached the 100 million US Dollars mark in 2009 and by now, most estimates put him north of 150m USD.
By way of comparison, Fernando Alonso ( Diaz ) is a well-known name in European circles and a household name in his home country of Spain. Fernando has raced in Formula 1 since 2001 and has driven for the Minardi, Renault, McLaren and Ferrari teams during which time he has become the all-time biggest points scorer in Formula 1 ( aided by a much changed points system in recent years ), he has also been World Champion twice and has recorded 32 Grands Prix wins and has career earnings in excess of 200m USD. In his career to date, Alonso has used six different race numbers the most used of which is the #5 which he used in 2005, 2008,, 2011 and 2012. This season, Fernando had the #3 on his Ferrari.
A recent decision by the new “Formula 1 Strategy Group” will see Formula 1 drivers issued with permanent starting numbers along the lines of NASCAR and the choice of number will be at the discretion of each driver with the World Champion also having the option to plump for the coveted #1.
From a fan perspective, the statistics show that fans relate more to a permanent numbering system – compare and contrast NASCAR merchandising sales with those of their Formula 1 counterparts. So let’s see what effect this may have on Formula 1 and whilst you’re at it Formula 1 Strategy Group, please ensure that you regulate the size and positioning of the numbers so that we can actually see and identify our heroes as they race around the track.