THE biennial Monaco Grand Prix Historique last weekend featured a bevy of historic Formula 1 machines both on and off the circuit.
Along with races for cars across eight categories divided by era, ranging from pre-WWII machines through to three-litre non-turbo cars from the early 1980s, four iconic cars fetched over AU$12 million across a pair of auctions held during the weekend.
Saturday’s RM Sotheby’s auction was headlined by two cars directly from Nigel Mansell’s personal collection, both owned by the 1992 F1 world champion since the end of their competition careers having been gifted them by their respective teams.
Williams FW14 chassis 5 was used by Mansell throughout the second half of the 1991 season and helped launch a late challenge for the title against runaway championship leader Senna.
Mansell won three races on the trot in this car, including the British GP where he gave Senna, who’d run out of fuel on the final lap, a lift back to the pits on the car’s sidepod.
Another win came at the Italian GP, but a win in Portugal memorably went begging when a wheel fell off in pit lane following a pit stop.
The car’s final win came in the Spanish GP, the first run at the Circuit de Catalunya and best remembered for Mansell running wheel-to-wheel with Senna down the long front straight as they battled for the lead in greasy, semi-wet conditions, but a spin while following Senna in the early laps in Japan finally ended his title hopes.
Mansell finished the season classified second in the season-ending Australian GP despite crashing chassis 5 in the dismally wet conditions, an incident which aggravated an existing foot injury and helped prompt officials to red-flag the race to an early conclusion.
The Williams – sans its Renault V10 engine – sold for 4,055,000 euro (approx. AU$6,090,477).
Ferrari 640 chassis 109 was Mansell primary race chassis for much of the 1989 season, and was called on him as the spare chassis at the season-ending Australian Grand Prix.
The John Barnard-designed car was the first in Formula 1 history to feature a semi-automatic gearbox, with gears changed electronically by a pair of paddles behind the steering wheel.
Mansell drove this chassis to victory in its first race – also the first race of F1’s 3.5-litre normally aspirated engine era – at the 1989 Brazilian GP and also to the win at the Hungarian GP, one he sealed with a dramatic pass on Ayrton Senna late in the race.
Despite coming with its original 3.5-litre V12 Ferrari engine and semi-automatic gearbox, the Ferrari sold for 3,605,000 euro (approx. AU$5,414,591).
Friday’s Bonhams auction featured a pair of significant F1 cars among its offerings.
Williams FW21 chassis 5 was the last F1 car raced by CART hero Alex Zanardi during his difficult 1999 comeback to Grand Prix racing.
Debuted at the San Marino Grand Prix and used for the remainder of the season, Zanardi was unlucky not to achieve a points finish in the car on several occasions.
A late spin at Imola cost him a likely sixth place, Zanardi outqualified teammate Ralf Schumacher at Monaco but finished eighth, while a broken floor as a result of striking a kerb turned a likely podium at Monza into a seventh-place finish.
At the time of the auction it had been on static display for around 15 years but retained its Renault-based Supertec V10 engine and running gear.
The Williams sold for 362,250 euro including buyer’s premium (approx. AU$544,050).
Finally, the first F1 car to carry the Brabham name was also part of the Bonhams auction.
The Brabham-Climax BT3 was the third design produced by Sir Jack and legendary designer Ron Tauranac, but it was actually the first car to carry both the Brabham name and the ‘BT’ type designation.
Only one BT3 was built, chassis F1-1-62, and Brabham used it through 1962 and 1963.
Notably, it scored the first F1 race wins for the Brabham company with victories in the non-championship Solitude and Austrian Grands Prix in 1963.
Later passing through the hands of several racers – including one who fitted it with a Chevrolet V8 for hillclimbing! – it was acquired by legendary British enthusiast and patron Tom Wheatcroft at the end of the 1960s and remained a part of the impressive Donington Collection for the next three decades before being sold to an owner who had the car prepared for historic racing.
The Brabham sold for 385,250 euro including buyer’s premium (approx. AU$578,593).
The Bonhams auction featured another significant F1 car, the Scarab F1 GP-2.
An all-American effort spearheaded by Woolworths heir Lance Reventlow, the squad produced a front-engined car for the 1960 season, just as the sport was amidst its rear-engine revolution.
Reventlow himself took on driving duties initially alongside fellow US racers Chuch Daigh and Richie Ginther, while the late Stirling Moss was believed to have turned practice laps at the 1960 Monaco Grand Prix aboard one of the team’s cars.
The cars were ultimately unsuccessful, and the GP-2 chassis was badly damaged in a crash at Silverstone in 1961.
Although the chassis itself was scrapped, many other key parts – including the bodywork and engine – were saved and ultimately fitted to a rebuilt GP-2 chassis constructed by original builder Dick Troutman, and has spent time in the Riverside International Automotive Museum.
However, the Scarab was passed in at auction and remains for sale with its price available on request from Bonhams.