Finding the right formula for success

The motor-racing memorabilia market rewards patience and a love of the sport, says Gwyn Jones
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The Independent Online

"More people watch motor racing around the world on television than any other sport," says Toby Wilson, head of Bonham's automobilia department. "This is why it has the greatest potential number of buyers. It's a fairly compact market because of the limited amount of items available, but it has great potential."

The most sought-after items are those which have come off cars or from drivers, such as boots, helmets, gloves and towels. There is also a starting grid of driver collectability. In pole position is any dead former world champion, followed on the second row by any multiple world champion still alive. World champions who no longer drive come next, followed by race winners, podium-finishers and crowd favourites.

However, Rupert Banner, head of Christie's car department, says collecting is a personal business. "The market is nostalgic and people partly buy because they want to remember something they watched or enjoyed when they were younger," he explains. "The young Michael Schumacher fans of today might buy his items tomorrow for sentimental reasons."

That said, a life cut short in any career is always a guarantee of future immortality in the collecting world. "Ayrton Senna's fan base is enormous," explains Wilson. "And because he died on the race track the value of property relating to him sky rocketed."

However, if you are thinking of buying an item relating to the triple World Champion then take heed - there are unscrupulous people faking Ayrton Senna memorabilia. In a lot of cases dealers will offer their own certificates of authenticity but only buy if it comes from the team or the driver's agent, or has some identification from them which proves it is genuine.

Nobody has won as many world titles as Michael Schumacher and so there is no doubt he is near the top of any collector's wish list says Wilson. "When Michael Schumacher leaves Formula One, if he doesn't over expose his memorabilia to the market then his items will retain their value as do other multiple world champions such as Juan Manuel Fangio and Alain Prost. All these drivers have reached iconic status. Michael Schumacher's racing helmet would probably fetch around £20-30,000 at auction and is very sought- after but it's not really that expensive for what it is."

In 1997, a steering wheel belonging to Mike Hawthorn, who in 1958 became the first Englishman to win the world championship, sold for £5,500. Four years ago the steering wheel he used in the last race of that season sold for more than £21,000. This jump in price reflects two factors, firstly the rise in prices generally in the motor racing memorabilia market and secondly the fact that the second steering wheel came from a particularly important race. Memorable races and events are going to be more sought-after than a standard Grand Prix item. If Michael Schumacher makes it to an eighth title this year then the items he uses in the race that clinches the title will be worth their weight in gold.

If you keep your British Grand Prix programme in good condition then it could be collectable, but if you could get Michael Schumacher to sign it for you then it will become much more sought-after. If you're a fan, make sure you also keep your tickets and pick up the postcards and leaflets available and get them signed. Where possible get a photograph of you getting that signature for authenticity.

A look at what some motor racing dealers have on offer shows a Jean Alesi-signed Goodwood 2001 ticket selling for £75 and a Juan Pablo Montoya-signed 2001 Goodwood ticket up for £125. They also had an Alain Prost-signed postcard for £100, a Jenson Button-signed photograph for £50 and a Jacques Villeneuve-signed photograph for £95. The same dealer had a 1994 Imola GP Race Programme for sale at £250, but a South African programme from 1993 with both Senna and Prost's signatures cost £750.

Steer clear of the limited edition merchandise market. "A boxed toy model by Hot Wheels representing a specific vehicle is not something I consider F1 memorabilia," says Wilson. "But as soon as a driver has touched it or signed it then it is. The biggest pitfall is in the limited editions produced in such great numbers that they will never be scarce. Don't buy limited edition prints believing you are making an investment. Even those signed by drivers are going to struggle to make gains."

Do your research first. Attend a couple of auctions to get an idea of what prices are being realised and follow the races to try to spot the future Michael Schumacher.

Above all buy what you enjoy and if you want your items to be a future investment, buy one quality item rather than 10 lesser-priced pieces and always make sure you have them properly authenticated so that you know when you hold that item in your hand, you're holding a real piece of motor racing history.

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