The car Lewis Hamilton drove to his first Formula One win for Mercedes will hit the block Nov. 17 at an RM Sotheby’s auction in Las Vegas.
Named for its chassis, W04, the car won the Hungarian Grand Prix with Hamilton in the cockpit in 2013. It’s the only Mercedes F1 vehicle from the modern era not owned by Mercedes, by team principal and Chief Executive Officer Toto Wolff, or by Hamilton himself, according to the auction house. RM Sotheby’s estimates its value to be $10 million to $15 million.
“This was the car that Hamilton kicked his career off with,” says Shelby Myers, the global head of private sales for RM Sotheby’s. “There’s this one Lewis Hamilton Mercedes in private hands, so you’re talking about a unicorn of a car. You’re not buying another one, unless you go to Lewis Hamilton or Toto Wolff.”
The car gained notoriety as the last Mercedes F1 vehicle with a V-8 engine before the series mandated smaller, quieter V-6 turbos. It was previously offered for public sale by Mercedes-Benz Classic in 2017. An RM Sotheby’s spokesperson declined to comment on the current owner. A spokesperson from Mercedes declined to comment on the sale.
A growing market
Mercedes is no stranger to record-setting F1 cars. A 1954 Mercedes W196 piloted by Juan Manuel Fangio, which sold for $29.6 million at a Bonhams auction in 2013, is the most valuable F1 car ever sold. The 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé, which sold for $142 million last year, remains the most expensive car ever sold publicly. It’s no accident that the Uhlenhaut coupé had been developed based off of Fangio’s W196 racer—the racing lineage runs strongly through Mercedes ranks.
Decommissioned cars like the Mercedes F1 W04, however, used to be considered little more than oversized paperweights. Now, they’re part of a growing number of high-dollar sales for more modern F1 vehicles.
The attitude shifted in 2017, when RM Sotheby’s sold Michael Schumacher’s Monaco Grand Prix-winning Ferrari F2001 for $7.5 million, a sum that obliterated estimates at the time. By 2022 another Schumacher Ferrari, a F2003-GA, sold for almost $15 million at an RM Sotheby’s sale in Geneva, the biggest public payment ever for an F1 car. In April the Ferrari that Schumacher drove to his first F1 World Championship sold for an estimated $9.5 million at a private auction in Hong Kong.
For many F1 fans, Hamilton has the same clout as Schumacher. The British driver has just as many F1 World Championship wins as Schumacher (seven) and a knighthood from his home country. His lucrative endorsement contracts include IWC and Monster Energy. In August, Hamilton signed a new contract with Mercedes that will keep him with the team through the 2025 season.
“In the contemporary era, Lewis Hamilton is by far the most influential driver, not just from a racing perspective, but what he’s done to transform the sport in terms of race and culture and fashion,” Myers says. “He’s not just a successful driver, he’s a personality, and I think his reputation will live on as someone who materially changed the sport for the better.”
Some buyers see the old F1 cars as status symbols, like a work produced by a famous artist, or as a memento from a historic moment in sport. “This car was the start of the next greatest dynasty in Mercedes history, the Lewis Hamilton-Toto Wolff era,” Myers says. “It’s comparable to a dynasty like the Golden State Warriors or the Chicago Bulls.”
Other buyers repair the cars and race them. “I like to call it wine and cheese racing,” says Art Hebert, a collector and amateur racer who sells vintage race cars via Motorsports Market. “It’s as much about having these great cars and the associations and going out to dinners and enjoying the good life—and also having this adrenaline rush.”
A spokesperson from RM Sotheby’s confirmed the engine and drivetrain remain in the Mercedes F1 W04; decommissioned F1 cars are often sold without them.
Credit the rise in popularity to Liberty Media’s efforts to transform F1 into a global entertainment phenom. The company bought the series for $4.4 billion in 2017 and has seen the stock representing its F1 business more than double in the past four years. Liberty-championed promotions such as Netflix’s Drive to Survive, which chronicles the seasonal pathos of several leading F1 drivers and teams, have broadened the appeal of actually owning a used F1 car as well, says Myers.
“We expect to have a global audience on this lot, clients from Asia, clients from the Middle East,” he says. “We are seeing trophy hunters, too. People who weren’t car people necessarily but who wanted trophy assets. They might want just one car, and they want the best.”
Moving auctions upscale
RM Sotheby’s is hoping to capitalize on the F1 spectacle to diversify its business in an increasingly competitive industry. Online auction platforms like BringaTrailer.com and Classiccars.com have reduced the ego trip selling a car at auction used to provide. They’ve also mitigated the wariness that shoppers used to have about buying something without seeing it—or driving it—in person. Meanwhile newcomers to the auction industry, like Hagerty’s Broad Arrow, are forcing the old guard to get creative in how they maintain an edge with buyers and sellers.
The Mercedes F1 W04 sale, to be held at 4pm at the Awakening theater in the Wynn Las Vegas hotel, will take place the day before the final of the first-ever Las Vegas Grand Prix. The multi-day F1 bash will include million-dollar hospitality packages, celebrity chefs, and three consecutive nights of performances headlined by J Balvin, Major Lazer and Mark Ronson.
Auction lots during the evening will include Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey from his final game in the NFL, which has an estimate of $1.5 million to $2.5 million. If it sells in that price range, Brady’s castoff would beat the current record for the most valuable football jersey ever sold. That title belongs to the San Francisco 49ers jersey that Joe Montana wore in two Super Bowls, which sold for $1.2 million earlier this year.
The sale at RM Sotheby’s places the Hamilton car among that group of artifacts from elite moments in sports.
“What we’re trying to do is create an atmosphere and an event that you just wanna go to,” says Myers, noting that high-end catering, entertainment and star- power will all play a role in the Vegas sale. RM has long provided open bars during its more significant auctions, while competitors often provide a cash bar. Now, it’s upping the ante. “These buyers might just wanna come to a really fun event, and they have some disposable money, and they say, ‘Hey, there’s this amazing Lewis Hamilton car. I could see myself putting that in my living room.’”
Attendance at the Mercedes F1 W04 auction is limited to registered bidders and special invited guests. Viewers an also watch via livestream on the auction house’s website.