Point, counterpoint: Was retiring Bianchi’s No. 17 the right move?

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This morning, the FIA has made the decision to retire Jules Bianchi’s No. 17 from active Formula 1 competition. It marks the first number retirement since the decision to allow drivers to pick their own numbers.

MotorSportsTalk’s Luke Smith and Tony DiZinno address the decision from two different angles:

Luke Smith: Yes

The decision to retire no. 17 from Formula 1 in memory of Jules Bianchi may have been met with some varied responses, but it is entirely the right decision.

Bianchi’s death has sent shockwaves throughout the motorsport world, such was the impact that he had made in just 34 grands prix. And the retirement of his racing number is a gesture that will forever remember his success in such a short space of time.

Interestingly, 17 was never a number Jules really wanted. For the 2014 season, drivers were asked to pick three numbers in order of preference. All three of Jules’ picks – 7, 27 and 77 – had been taken, leaving him with 17.

Before permanent numbers were introduced last year, they were assigned in order of championship position. Although drivers certainly made numbers iconic – Gilles Villeneuve and no. 27, for example – they were never ‘their’ numbers. It is for that reason that no number has been retired before in F1. 17 was, and will forever remain, Jules Bianchi’s.

Bianchi was only a grand prix driver for a little over 18 months, yet he made an indelible mark on the sport. His heroics at the back of the grid with Marussia, now Manor, will forever be remembered fondly. Further to that, he made a personal impact on those who met him. He was one of the sport’s brightest talents, and it pains to know that his greatness will never be realized.

No. 17 will never race again at the Monaco Grand Prix, but we will look back on the last time it did and remember fondly what a momentous and miraculous performance Bianchi’s produced on that sunny day in May.

Retiring his number may only provide small comfort to the mourning F1 community, but it is a move that only increases Bianchi’s legacy and impact on the sport.

Tony DiZinno: No

Of all the ways to honor Jules Bianchi moving forward, I don’t think the FIA retiring his No. 17 is the best way to do so.

Death is a rarity in F1, which is a good thing, but still, the sting of Bianchi’s passing hurts. Alas, his is not the first and will not be the last fatality in competition in the sport.

By way of, in a sense, marking one driver’s death over any other with a number retirement – and Bianchi’s is the first number in F1 to be retired – it sets a dangerous precedent and open’s a Pandora’s Box.

The list of those who have also died on track includes but is not limited to Ayrton Senna, Gilles Villeneuve, Jochen Rindt, Jim Clark (F2 race), Elio de Angelis, Patrick Depailler, Lorenzo Bandini, Roland Ratzenberger and Ricardo Paletti. This is but a fraction of those lost in competition, and none has had a number retired.

Bianchi also wasn’t even keen on using No. 17 first, but it became his pick after prior options of 7, 27 and 77 – the 27 itself a tribute to Villeneuve – were already chosen by Kimi Raikkonen, Nico Hulkenberg and Valtteri Bottas.

Think of young, aspiring drivers who may have seen Bianchi’s performances in F1, want to use the No. 17 in tribute, and now can’t.

From a historical “let’s retire numbers of greats” standpoint, it’s fair to say actual results are used as a proper measuring stick – not boundless potential, which as I wrote over the weekend, Jules had in spades but was not able to fully realize.

Jeff Krosnoff and Gonzalo Rodriguez were Nos. 25 and 3 in CART in the 1990s, for example, and though both had a wealth of potential, their numbers were not retired. Greg Moore’s No. 99 was.

If you think of the greats in F1 history – Senna, Clark, Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost, Juan Manuel Fangio, and so on – you can’t even really pinpoint one number that truly stands out for them.

The greatest number to achieve in F1 is the champion’s No. 1 – and, hypothetically, if a champ was to be killed while wearing it, you then have the thorny issue of what to do then, with this as a precedent. Perhaps you’d retire their “chosen” number but it still wouldn’t ease the pain.

Villeneuve’s No. 27 is, in a sense, only iconic because of what he did in less than desirable Ferraris, and the fact he never did win a World Championship.

As a way of honoring Jules properly, perhaps a five or 10-year grace period on the number could have been imposed, to let enough time pass before bringing it back – as was the case in NASCAR with the iconic No. 3 made famous by Dale Earnhardt.

Earnhardt, who won 76 races and seven championships, never had his number retired. Instead, team owner Richard Childress held onto it with the timing right to bring it back once grandson Austin Dillon moved into Sprint Cup ahead of 2014, some 13 years after Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500.

Or, have Bianchi’s name be attached to safety measurements made in the wake of the accident. It’s what’s been done in sports car racing with Sean Edwards and the Sean Edwards Foundation.

Or have Bianchi’s name on a new “FIA Rising Star” award, or something of that ilk. Greg Moore and Tony Renna, two lost in open-wheel, have been honored annually with their names on awards for the IndyCar postseason.

But at first glance, the number retirement feels an overreaction that could have far reaching after-effects going forward.

Click the poll below for your own thoughts on the number retirement.


Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
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More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”