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Why prices of Modern Formula 1 Grand Prix cars are on the rise

Words: John Mayhead | Photos: Wikimedia Commons

Back in May 2016, the Bonhams auction in the Fairmont Hotel, Monaco, quietly set a new record for modern Formula 1 cars when the ex-Schumacher/Picquet/Brundle Benetton-Ford B191/B chassis B191B-06 sold for a shade over €1 million.

Until then, F1 cars had been a relatively rare auction lot, and values rarely surpassed the equivalent of a few hundred thousand pounds. This Benetton was undoubtedly very special, being not only the car in which Schumacher scored his first podium, as well as having been driven by Nelson Piquet and Martin Brundle, but also described in the catalogue as ‘on-the-button’ and ready to race. Yet even so, the market for it was very small, and almost entirely limited to the UK and Europe.

Something else was happening that season in F1, however: Bernie Ecclestone had agreed to sell after 40 years in the business, his CVC empire finally releasing its iron-clad grip of the sport in 2017 and ceding control to Liberty Media. Over the next few years, everything changed: first, the blanket ban on social media posting was lifted, and then, in 2019, Formula 1: Drive to Survive was launched on Netflix.

Today, kids watch instant replays on Instagram, fans chat in WhatsApp groups and – critically – the sleeping giant of America has finally awoken to the sport. That, you’ll not be surprised to hear, has had a big impact on F1 car values, the peak of which (so far) has been the sale in November 2023 of Lewis Hamilton’s 2013 Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 W04 for $18.8m, a landmark event that took place not in the old F1 heartlands of Europe, but in Las Vegas.

The rise in F1 popularity hasn’t just been due to Liberty Media, of course. The problem with owning an old F1 car was always what you did with it once bought – and the growth in Masters Series events and ‘high-speed demonstrations’ at shows such as the Goodwood Members’ Meeting somewhat answers that question.

Whatever happens, historic F1 prices are on the rise according to Hagerty’s valuation data. Last month, the third-highest public auction price ever was paid for a car that was not driven by one of the superstars – Hamilton, Schumacher or Senna – but by South African Jody Scheckter. It was €7,655,000, for a Ferrari 312TR from his 1979 World Championship-winning season, and was sold directly from his own private collection with a group of other F1 cars, via RM Sotheby’s. But still, that’s a big price, and it makes some earlier sales, especially that of the ex-Schumacher Ferrari F2002, sold in Abu Dhabi in 2019 for $6.6m, seem very reasonable indeed.

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