The lone full-time rookie confirmed for the 2018 Formula 1 season, this year’s Formula 2 champion Charles Leclerc of Monaco, has selected No. 16 as his car number for his F1 career.
Leclerc’s No. 16 was listed on the car Alfa Romeo and Sauber revealed over the weekend. He is the first driver to have selected the number since drivers were allowed to pick their number for their career starting in 2014.
The significance is also notable because it’s only one number away from the late Jules Bianchi, one of Leclerc’s longtime friends coming up the junior open wheel ladder. Bianchi’s No. 17 was retired after he died in July 2015; the Nice, France-born driver has a street named after him in Nice, which Leclerc paid homage to earlier this year.
Leclerc is already fitting in nicely at Sauber and is fresh off testing with the team last week.
With this selection, at least one driver has selected each number from 2 to 22 with the exception of 15 since drivers could first pick their own numbers. The No. 1 is available for the reigning World Champion, though Lewis Hamilton has opted not to use it, and Nico Rosberg retired when he had the chance.
Only a handful of numbers from 23 and higher have been selected, notably Hamilton at 44, Valtteri Bottas at 77 and Max Verstappen at 33 among others.
Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”
The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.
“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”
Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.