If you haven’t heard, Formula 1 has been around for 70 years, and some incredible machines have competed during that time. The everlasting question, though, will always be: which was the most expensive? We won’t attempt to answer that question right now, but we will provide a list of the cars we believe are in contention for the title.
- 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196
The W196 won two drivers’ championships with Fangio throughout its run, with nine victories, 17 podiums, eight pole positions, and nine fastest laps in the 12 races it competed in. The W196 was powered by a modified version of the Messerschmitt BF109E fighter plane’s V12 engine from WWII. It was also Mercedes-Benz’s last Formula One car until it returned to the competition in 2010 with Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg. A Fangio W196 was sold for $29.7 million at a Bonhams auction in 2018, making it not just the most expensive Formula One vehicle ever sold, but also one of the most expensive automobiles ever auctioned.
- Ferrari F2001
Michael Schumacher won his second F1 championship in red and his third overall out of seven world titles in the Ferrari F2001. With Schumacher at the wheel, the F2001 won 10 of the 20 races it contested, while he and teammate Rubens Barrichello managed to rack up 26 podiums, 13 pole positions, and three fastest laps. Barrichello would have easily contributed to the car’s overall victory rate if it hadn’t been for some reliability issues. The F2001 was so successful that Ferrari used it as an interim vehicle for the first three races of the 2002 Formula One season before replacing it with the all-conquering F2002, which we’ll discuss next. In 2017, Sotheby’s sold the Schumacher F2001 for $7.5 million, making it the second most expensive F1 vehicle ever sold at auction.
- Ferrari F2002
The Ferrari F2002 is generally known as one of the best Formula One cars of all time. Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello drove the F2002 to 15 victories in 19 races. The Ferrari F2002’s supremacy saw Schumacher win his fifth Formula One world championship at the French Grand Prix, the 11th round of a 17-race season, tying him with Fangio. The F2002 that Schumacher used to win his fifth world title was auctioned for $6.6 million at Sotheby’s Abu Dhabi auction in 2019.
- McLaren Ford MP4/8
Price: EUR 4,197,500/ $5,010,870
Despite the Ford 3.5-litre V8’s lower power output than the Renault, the MP4/8 was one of the season’s most technically advanced vehicles, with new electronic engine management, chassis control, data acquisition, and telemetry systems developed by the McLaren Group and TAG Systems. Ayrton Senna, a three-time Formula One winner, drove the MP4/8 to six victories, including a thrilling victory in the wet at Donington Park and a record-breaking sixth victory in Monaco. The car you’re looking at right now is the one the Brazilian drove around the streets of Monaco, and despite losing the 1993 Formula One title to Alain Prost’s Williams Renault, this famous McLaren yet sold for more than EUR 4 million at the 2018 Bonhams Monaco auction.
- Williams Renault FW14B
The Williams Renault FW14 and FW14B are two of the most technologically advanced Formula One cars ever built. The Adrian Newey-designed FW14 was introduced for the 1991 Formula One season and featured revolutionary technologies including semi-automatic transmission, active suspension, traction control, and ABS, all of which are now banned from today’s F1 vehicles. The FW14 and FW14B won 17 races, 38 podiums, 21 pole positions, and 19 fastest laps throughout their competitive careers. Mansell’s “red five” championship-winning vehicle, which you can see above, was sold for £3.7 million at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed auction.
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