Motorcycle racing tradition used to state that a previous season’s champion would enter the new year with No. 1 on his fairing.
Those days seem to be gone.
Marc Marquez will keep his familiar No. 93 on his Honda RC213V this season as he tries to defend his MotoGP World Championship. That’s the only number he has used during his premier-class career, and it’s the continuation of a trend.
Fan favorite and–shall we say minor fanatic of several rituals–Valentino Rossi has never has carried anything but No. 46 during his Grand Prix career, even after winning his seven premier-class World Championships. Jorge Lorenzo stuck with No. 99 last year and in 2013 during his unsuccessful title defenses. And so on.
The last rider to drop his usual number and go old school by proudly displaying the No. 1 the season after winning a world title is now the world’s fastest test rider. Casey Stoner carried No. 1 on his Honda in 2012, the year after he won his second premier-class world title.
It’s unlikely many riders will swap their usual numbers for No. 1 in the future. More and more riders are following the NASCAR theory of branding, in which drivers are as well known for their numbers as their names. It’s very common for a NASCAR driver to identify a rival only by their number in interviews, such as “The dadgum 20 car done took me out,” or “I’m gonna kick 18’s ass if he tries that again.”
Let’s hope that numerical pox doesn’t infect MotoGP. But there is great commercial benefit for riders from being identified by the same number season after season. When you see that certain script “46” on a hat, T-shirt or sticker, that’s international motorsports Morse Code for Valentino Rossi and no one else.