Race-winning Formula 1 cars are a relatively rare sight on the auction block, and it’s believed that prior to Monaco, no Formula 1 driver had ever offered his own grand prix car for sale at auction. It was only natural, then, that RM Sotheby’s created quite a stir when it announced that Nigel Mansell would be selling two of his race-winning thoroughbreds at Monaco: a 1989 Ferrari 640 and a 1991 Williams FW14.
Mansell, let us remember, is not “just” a Formula 1 driver; he was a superlative one—a perennial favorite and party to many memorable drives in the ’80s and ’90s with Lotus, Williams, Ferrari, and McLaren. After winning his only championship in 1992, Mansell headed to CART and promptly captured the 1993 championship there as well, becoming the only person to simultaneously hold Formula 1 and CART/IndyCar titles.
All to say, there were a lot of variables going into the sale of these two cars that can lend to unpredictable results. And indeed, that’s what we saw. Although both cars sold well, the Willams, which carried a lower estimate, ultimately brought a higher price.
1989 Ferrari 640 Chassis #109
The Ferrari 640 was the marque’s first effort after Formula 1 pivoted to naturally-aspirated engines for the 1989 season. Powered by a new 3.5-liter V12 and shifting through the first paddle-shifted semi-automatic gearbox on the F1 grid, Ferrari had high hopes that Mansell could use the 640 to break through McLaren’s Ayrton Senna/Alain Prost dominance.
Chassis 109 started the season off on the right foot, with Mansell using it to claim victory in Brazil. Unfortunately, a spate of reliability issues early in the season all but closed the door on Ferrari’s efforts to dethrone McLaren. When it was running, however, it could deliver: Mansell secured second-place finishes at the French and British Grands Prix, a third in Germany, and another win in Hungary. Ferrari used chassis 109 as a reserve car for the remainder of the season and gifted the car to Mansell for his private collection in 1990. Mansell ended up fourth in the Driver’s Championship standings, behind Mclaren’s Prost and Senna and Williams’ Riccardo Patrese.
Despite an impressive, if not championship-winning season, Chassis 109’s sale in Monaco for €3,605,000 ($3,752,805, against a €2,500,000 – €5,000,000 estimate) did not manage to crack the top 50 Ferrari sales at auction. Former Michael Schumacher chassis F2001 sold for $7,504,000 at a Sotheby’s Contemporary Art auction in NYC in 2017, and another Schumacher chassis F2002 sold for $6,600,000 at RM Sotheby’s Abu Dhabi 2019. An ex-Niki Lauda Ferrari 312 T sold for $6M at Gooding Pebble Beach in 2019 as well. One thing separates the Mansell 640 from the Schumacher and Lauda chassis: a championship tied to the car. What’s more, Schumacher is always in the conversation as one of the best ever, so cars he drove are bound to sell for more than those from Ferrari’s less stellar seasons.
Conventional wisdom is that modern Ferrari F1 cars command a premium not just because of their history but because you can actually use modern Ferrari F1 cars. With all their software as well as exotic parts and materials, many F1 cars wind up as garage art. Ferrari’s Corse Clienti program, however, allows owners to drive their cars at certain events, and Ferrari will even keep the car at Maranello for you. That may be why the Ferrari had a higher presale estimate than the Williams at this auction.
1991 Williams FW14
Although Williams doesn’t have Ferrari’s worldwide recognition and has fallen on hard times over the last fifteen years, the team carries a storied and successful history. The team has won nine Constructor’s Championships and stands alongside Ferrari, McLaren, and Mercedes as the only teams to have scored more than 100 grand prix victories. Mansell rejoined Williams in 1991 for two very successful seasons, placing second on Senna’s heels in 1991 and capturing his sole championship in 1992.
This FW14 chassis began its career seven races into the 1991 season, scoring a win on its debut at the French Grand Prix. Mansell would find further success in the car, going on to win the British, German, Italian, and Spanish Grands Prix as well. Despite these victories, McLaren retained the upper hand, taking both the Constructor’s and the Driver’s Championships that year.
Although it followed the Ferrari onto the stage, the Williams sold for the higher price of €4,055,000 ($4,221,255), handily exceeding its €1,500,000– €3,000,000 estimate. One could initially attribute the 1991 FW14’s higher price to having more wins than the Ferrari and playing a primary role than a more exciting season, but it even outpaced the 2019 sale of Mansell’s championship-winning 1992 FW14 chassis, which went for £2,703,000 ($3.38M). This could be attributed to a more heated market than three years ago, and the relative rarity of Williams cars coming to market—the team retains many of its old cars—certainly contributed to the final price.
As far as usability, the mechanical state of the FW14 is unclear, but it is safe to assume it hasn’t been driven in anger since 1991. Perhaps its new owner will fancy a run at Goodwood in the coming years.