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


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.

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