Car numbers: A message to Räikkönen?

The FIA published the final entry list for the 2009 season which contained a few changes to the previous versions.

The change that grabbed the headlines (okay, created a tiny ripple) was the fact that Brawn have been assigned car numbers 20 and 21. The FIA have decided that Brawn is technically a new entrant, seemingly because Honda had a commercial agreement that it would participate in F1 as Honda.

Force India moved up the grid as a result and have been assigned numbers 18 and 19. The two Toro Rosso drivers, Sébastien Bourdais and Sébastien Buemi have swapped numbers so that the more experienced of the two has the lower number — an uncontroversial practice.

But I am fascinated that Ferrari have seen fit to swap the car numbers of their two drivers. Team can allocate their numbers in whatever way they see fit (with the exception of number 1). But clearly Ferrari have made a conscious decision to demote Räikkönen.

For his entire Ferrari career, Felipe Massa has been the “second” driver, at least as far as car numbers go. This is also reflected in his pay packet, which is allegedly significantly lower than Kimi Räikkönen’s.

This year it’s different. Räikkönen’s contract may ensure that he still gets paid the megabucks. But this year he will have to race in the number 4 car, while Massa takes number 3.

It might seem like a small thing, and in a way it is. But it’s very interesting that earlier entry lists had the drivers swapped around with Kimi as driver number 3 and Massa as number 4. This means that at some point over the winter, Ferrari have made the decision to officially make Räikkönen the number two driver, at least as far as the FIA entry list goes.

The entry list was published on the same day as Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali gave an interview to La Gazzetta dello Sport which James Allen analysed:

You don’t need to be a genius at reading between the lines to get what Domenicali is saying here. A repeat of last year’s performance would signal the end of Kimi at Ferrari.

Is the number swap another subtle hint from the Ferrari team that Räikkönen must improve or else?

7 comments

  1. Maybe, but I thought it was odd in the first place that they seemed to be ignoring Massa’s excellent performance last year by giving him the higher number.

    I see Toro Rosso also swapped their driver numbers around.

  2. It is a message for sure. Kimi performed awfully as the F1 Champion last year and this number affair is the least that he deserves.
    He was unlucky, that’s true, specially with the HAM-Ram thing in the pit lane, but I can’t help to reckon that Massa, despite his infamous Massamoves, kept improving from the first to the last race.
    Nevertheless, I think that Kimi will perform better this year. He said that he had quited alcohol (I am serious here, no joking intended).

  3. I hadn’t heard about Raikkonen quitting alcohol. That’s very interesting. I had read that he has been working on his fitness over the winter, and by the sounds of things he knows he needs to improve this season.

    Ponzonha, I agree with your assessment of Massa. He was once a laughing stock. Now he is one of the best drivers on the grid.

  4. I thought Ferrari said that the original numbering the FIA gave was a mistake – they always intended to give 3 to Massa and 4 to Raikkonen.

    But knowing Kimi, he doesn’t really care about car numbers all that much. It’s all about his results.