What Happens To Old Formula One Cars?

Douglas Pilarski

Many Of The Parts The Cars Race With Will Likely Not See Action The Following Season

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1984 Ferrari 126 C4 M2 Formule 1 MonoplacePhoto courtesy of Bonham's

The End Of A Long Season

At the end of a long season of Formula One racing, constructors end up with a stock of remaining parts for their cars. Wheels, tires, electronics, chassis, and other parts need to be dealt with. Some parts, like power units, go back to the makers. If Ferrari or Mercedes AMG supply motors, that equipment goes back to the factory it came from. Many of the parts the cars race with will likely not see action the following season.

"According to the FIA, the formula for the upcoming season's car is spelled out in a 145-page document is entitled 2022 FORMULA 1 TECHNICAL REGULATIONS. The document, released on March 30th of this year, states specifications for every inch of the car."
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Fangio's 1954 Mercedes-Benz Silver ArrowPhoto courtesy of Bonham's
"According to James Knight, motoring director of Bonhams auctioneers, the 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 race car driven by Formula 1 legend Juan Manuel Fangio hammered for $29.6 million. The sale set a new world auction record price, he said."

The New Car Is Revealed

When a car is unveiled for an upcoming season, it is a show car. Meaning it may not have an engine or transmission when they pull the cover off in front of the cameras. It goes from event to event to make a wow impression on race fans and the media.

By the time the team gets to the first race, the car will have undergone an extensive development procedure. To the untrained eye, all 22 cars on the grid look alike. Yet, each team works their unique brand of design and interpretation of the end product. Teams can source parts from anywhere they want. The key point is that it must conform to FIA standards. Modifications happen before the car gets its shakedown in testing.

"Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told fans to expect the 2022 car to look different from the one that was unveiled to the press. Changes are planned and are due between the reveal and the time it hits the track in Bahrain, he said."

The FIA establishes a set of guidelines for the teams to follow. Rival constructors, under tight constraints, may have hit on the same part design so the cars start to look similar. The designers learn prodigiously from previous efforts, constructors copy elements from this learning.

These high-powered cars need to survive the harsh realities of competition. They must withstand weather, dust, track debris, and impacts in close racing. The cars can reach speeds of up to 215 mph.

Constructors know they are unlikely to make the season finale with one car. Depending on the team's resources, they can build as many as eight cars.

Six or seven from each team adds up. Almost 100 cars, mountains of leftover parts, and gear have to go somewhere. So what happens to all those cars at the season's end?

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1987 Lotus 99T - Honda RA166-E 1.5 V6, Camel Team Lotus Honda.Photo via Pinterest

The Retired Car Is Put On Display

The most obvious destination for a retired Formula car is a static display. The team removes the power plant, fluids, and technology, then paints the car with its new livery. A near legend is restored to the glory of when it was last on track. Static display cars find homes in constructor headquarters lobbies, car museums, and attend special events. Other popular resting places are man caves. Some will end up bolted to a wall in an office or home.

Toyota, Honda, BMW, and Renault all sold their teams. Only Ferrari and Mercedes remain as both chassis constructors and engine suppliers. Teams who may have leased an engine, gearbox, energy recovery system, and other components have to give it all back at the end of the season.

The car gets a makeover before it hits the show circuit. An old chassis gets repainted to the current livery with the latest sponsor decals. The fresh-looking car goes on display. The car will make appearances at auto shows, at team offices, its parent company, or sponsor events. But without an engine or drivetrain. It won't be going anywhere, at least, not under its own power.

Hit The Road On The Special Event Circuit

Events looking to generate excitement, especially where a Grand Prix is not held, hire F1 teams to put on a show. Usually, it is a car that’s been out of commission for several seasons and comes complete with a retired but well-known driver. Whether the demo team is invited for promotional purposes, or to drum up support for a specific team or event, crowds go wild. Fans swarm the cars. Thousands of pictures are taken. Dads want pictures of Junior in front of the car. As long as there is an enthusiastic crowd, these cars will continue to show up.

Gift The Car To The World Champion Driver

Fernando Alonso has curated a collection of more than 300 pieces including his F1 cars, driver helmets, and other gear. It is on display at Museo Y Circuito Fernando Alonso in Asturias, Spain. The museum is a perfect example of static display and what happens to retired cars. The centerpiece is a stable of F1 cars he has driven including The World Champion Renaults.

If you recall, Alonso went back to back in ‘06 and ‘05 and the F1 legend won two years in a row for Benetton. How does the driver get the car he wins in? Most likely there is a clause in his contract stating he keeps the car if he wins the WDC. Two titles, two cars! Not bad for a couple of sentences.

Old F1 Cars Find Homes In Private Collections

There are collections for every imaginable item on earth. From porcelain unicorns to musical instruments to retired race cars. McLaren F1 boss Zac Brown has a stunning collection of cars. The catch? His garage is limited to cars that have won races and championships.

Collectors flock to high-profile auctions. Premier auction houses such as Bonhams, and RM Auctions welcome collectors from around the globe. What a Rolodex THAT must be. Of particular interest to collectors are those cars with provenance. A historic car will do well in an auction and can hammer for millions of dollars.

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The Enzo Ferrari Museum in ModenaPhoto via Pinterest

Championship-winning cars and race winners command the biggest premiums. Juan Manuel Fangio's 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 Silver Arrow hammered for $29 million. A world record for the most expensive car ever sold at auction. Of course, there are newer and less expensive F1 cars trading hands, but you're looking at millions to own and operate your very own F1 car. You’ll need some serious driving chops to get around a track.

Vintage Racing

Gentlemen, Start Your Retired Formula One Car Engines!

Vintage racing events like Rolex Monterey Motorsport Reunion, Silverstone Classic, Nürburgring Oldtimer Grand Prix, Grand Prix Historique de Monaco, and Goodwood Revival present private owners a chance to get on track with their beloved retirees. Goodwood always seems to come up with the most interesting driver and car combinations. There are more than 50 gentleman racers around the world with their prized F1 cars ready to have a go.

The Out Of Business Racing Team

Teams like Ferrari, McLaren, and Williams field cars every year with no signs of slowing down. What happens when a team goes out of business? Formula One is an expensive proposition and teams that can’t spend money fade away. If you stop your race operation and don’t find a buyer to keep it going, either you sell parts and pieces or you scrap the whole enchilada. In one case, HRT paid Pirelli for a season of tires with one of their cars to use in future testing.

Speaking Of Pirelli

Pirelli has F1 cars. They are used for testing. Out of fairness to the teams, the car is out of spec for at least two years. Various cars from different makers are used. Over the years, FIA has allowed the tire maker to use more modern equipment when problems arise with older models where design makes a quantum leap.

Tire makers face the same problem that constructors face, build a tire that works on the car, is safe, and can go the distance on more than 20 circuits. Don’t forget, every one of the tracks is different, the pavement, turns, weather, and downforce are all factors in designing competitive rubber

Constructors know they live in the hearts and minds of their fans. Why not give them what they want? What SHE SHACK is complete without a wheel from a F1 car in your TV room converted to a coffee table? How about a nose cowl as wall art? Constructors are getting more and more creative as they need to liquidate mountains of spare parts and gear to keep their operations going forward. Anyone for a vial of race-used motor oil?

Formula One racing is for the elite open-wheel driver. To make the league, you need to gain an F1 Super License. Not many of us possess one. Further, you need to get with a team or development program that feeds you upward year after year on your climb as a driver.

Today’s drivers have grown up in carting, and have competed against each other for years. Once there, there are less than forty circuits around the world certified to hold a race. And if no license, no F2 seat, or certified track? You go the gentleman racer route.

It should come as no surprise that F1 teams are also the source of chassis, parts, motors, and all the bits needed to go racing. Ferrari for instance has a robust business, named the Corse Clienti department. According to Ferrari, Corse Clienti supports The Ferrari Challenges Series and GT customer teams that compete around the world.

The Ferrari operation finds its home at Maranello. The Fiorano test track is there and serves as the base of client operations. This is where Ferrari supports the cars in the program.

Maintenance, transport, and storage are part and parcel. Cars retired as late as two seasons ago and transferred from the Scuderia to private owners, are tended to by Ferrari staff such as technicians and mechanics. Often, these are the same men and women who supported the cars while they were in active service. It’s their job to keep the cars in top condition.

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Maserati 250FPhoto via Pinterest

Next time you are in attendance at a Ferrari Racing Days event, you’ll know this is as authentic as you can get. Learn more about the Corse Clienti schedule of events at https://www.ferrari.com/en-EN/corse-clienti/articles/2022-corse-clienti-calendars.

All you need is a passion for the formula, the history, the drivers, and deep pockets. Also, remember to not lock up the brakes going into turn nine.

Basking in the glory of vintage events the world over.

On track for the glory of one more lap. These cars live another day.

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Douglas Pilarski is an award-winning writer & journalist based on the west coast. He writes about luxury goods, exotic cars, horology, tech, food, lifestyle, and workplace issues!

Beaverton, OR
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