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F1: Why Formula 1 cars have names?

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  • Have you ever wondered why Formula One cars have names?
  • Choosing a name for a Formula One car is not an easy task
  • We go through the five top teams, explaining how their cars got their names

Have you ever wondered why Formula One cars have the names they do?

Last season, terms like the RB18 and the W13 became a feature, and many combinations of numbers and letters will mean so much to specific Formula 1 fans throughout history.

Choosing a name for a Formula One car is not an easy task.

We go through the five top teams, explaining how their cars got their names.

Red Bull – RB19

Red Bull

Red Bull. Photo/ Good Word News.

Red Bull’s car numbers are simple, with the RB standing for Red Bull and the number representing the number of seasons the team has competed.

Because 2023 will be their 19th year since purchasing Jaguar, the 2023 challenger will be known as the RB19.

However, there was no RB17, as Red Bull chose to use the same chassis for 2021 as they did in 2020, naming the later version the RB16B. When naming the 2022 car, they decided to forego RB17 to continue the trend of naming cars after their season of competition.

Ferrari – SF-23

Leclerc in his Ferrari car.|PHOTO: F1|

It is unsurprising that Ferrari, the oldest team on the grid and one that has been there since the beginning, has a varied history regarding car naming conventions.

The first theme was to name the cars after the engines that powered them, beginning with the 246 in 1958 and continuing through the 1960s and 1970s before reappearing in the late 1990s.

The Italian team did not stop there, instead using naming conventions such as engine/year, chassis number, and significant anniversaries such as the 2020s SF1000 to commemorate the team’s 1,000th Grand Prix at Mugello.

The most recent car, the F1-75, was named in honour of Enzo Ferrari, who fired up the first F1 car, the 125 S, 75 years ago in March 1947.

In 2015, the team added SF, as in Scuderia Ferrari, to the names of their cars, and they have confirmed that the runner in 2023 will be the SF-23.

Mercedes – W14

Mercedes F1 car.

Mercedes F1 car.|PHOTO: F1|

After sorting through Ferrari’s jumbled mess of car names, Mercedes’ are a little easier to follow.

The Mercedes convention is straightforward: the W stands for Wagen, which translates to “car” in German, and the number is the project number.

The first Mercedes car was the W196, named after the engine it used, the M196, and when the team returned in 2010, they chose the W01, representing the first car built in Brackley.

That has been their practice ever since, with the W14 set to be the 14th car used since the team’s rebirth.

Alpine – A523

Alpine is another team with a simple naming convention, with the car’s name combining A500, the name of the F1 project, and the year. As a result, when the team first appeared in 2021, the car was named the A521 before being replaced by the A522 last year.

As a subsidiary of the leading group, the team was renamed Équipe Renault Elf in 1980, and the car name reflected this, changing from RS to RE, which they kept until they left the sport in 1985.

When they returned in 2002, the first car was called the R202 because it was the successor to Benetton’s, the team they had just purchased, B201, and then they went to R23 for 2003 until they left the sport again in 2011.

McLaren – MCL60

Lando Norris

Lando Norris of Great Britain driving the McLaren.|PHOTO: F1|

Bruce McLaren joined the team with the M2B, the M2A development car’s successor. That pattern continued for a few years, with the letter on end changing every time the same chassis was used.

However, the numbers would prove inconsistent as it moved from the M2 to the M4 to the M5 to the M7 and a brief stint on the M9 before settling on the M14 for the 1970 season.

McLaren eventually began to use fewer model number variants and increased the numbers, reaching M30 in 1980.

The following year, Bruce McLaren’s team merged with Ron Dennis’ Project 4 Formula 2 team. With a future F1 advertising icon on board, the first car of the partnership was called the McLaren Marlboro Project 4 or the MP4.

That format was used until 2017 when McLaren dropped the MP4 after Dennis’ departure and replaced it with MCL.

The MCL design has been carried forward to the present day, with the 2023 car expected to be known as the MCL37.
McLaren has deviated from the convention for 2023, opting for MCL60 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Bruce McLaren’s team founding.



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