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Names and numbers

Mercedes

Following a recent meeting of the F1 Strategy Group and F1 Commission, a recommendation that matters most to the casual spectator has received the least amount of coverage.

We can discuss the value of losing fins and coat-hangers (no argument from me on that proposal) and the return of standing starts following a Red Flag (not convinced about that one), but what about the plan to ensure the visibility of drivers' names and numbers will be 'clearer'?

How clear, exactly? The thought is a good one but there's no point if the identification is lost in a sea of sponsorship artwork. Either this rule should be more specific or officials need to be very clear in their demands when carrying out the first checks in Barcelona next month.

Change is necessary because identifying drivers' crash helmets has been made difficult by the popular mish-mash of colours (Nico Hulkenberg being one of the few exceptions) and the necessary intrusion of cockpit protection.

Those of us following the sport on a regular basis take it for granted that everyone knows their Red Bulls from their Toro Rossos, never mind using the yellow strip on the camera to tell us which driver is which. But the plight of spectators either not regular followers or attending their first Grand Prix was brought home to me several years ago when waiting for the start of the United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The commentary boxes at the IMS are slung from the ceiling of the magnificent grandstand lining the main straight. Looking down from above, I noticed one spectator studying his official programme as the cars were arriving on the grid. As a Williams was pushed by, I could see he was earnestly flicking through the team profiles, trying to find the picture that matched the white and blue car before him. He eventually landed on the correct page but it was then obvious that he had no way of knowing whether this car belonged to Ralf Schumacher or Juan Pablo Montoya. Race numbers were there none. And this was while the Williams was at a walking pace. What hope would a novice fan have when, half an hour later, more than 20 cars flashed by at close to 200 mph?

Race numbers were to become mandatory but they were so small that they were about as much use as Bernie Ecclestone a decade later saying sorry for having to charge spectators huge sums to come in and attempt to unravel this sport in the first place. And don't forget, we're talking here of North American race fans accustomed to NASCAR with race numbers sprayed large on the roof.

If F1 is to make this work, then the number on each car should be big and bold in a common position on rear wing endplates -- and to hell with the predictable complaints about precious sponsors' names having to be removed. For once, let's have the dog wagging the financial tail.

The British Grand Prix used to lead the way in the late 1960s. Even when race numbers were black on a white roundel, the BRDC supplied teams with stickers carrying drivers' names in block capitals with a request to have the identification applied to the car's flanks, usually near the cockpit. It was a simple gesture, much appreciated by the likes of my Dad on his annual visit to an F1 race. Quite simply, he knew what he was looking at.

Not too much to ask, is it? Com'on FIA: the numbers game has been set in motion. Now pick up the ball and run with it.