An F1 car for the price of an electric SUV? £85k estimate for Williams FW21

Auctions

A Williams FW21 driven by Alex Zanardi in the 1999 Formula 1 season has been sold for more than three times its estimate of £85,000.

Williams FW21 side

Bonhams

Alex Zanardi‘s 1999 Williams Formula 1 car has sold for more than £300,000 at auction, after being advertised with an estimate starting at £85,000.

Demand for the Williams FW21 was hard to gauge given the car’s limited success and unknown mechanical condition, but bidders quickly pushed the price past the estimate — equivalent to a high-spec Audi e-tron SUV.

The hammer eventually fell at €362,250 (£308,000) once the buyer’s premium was added.

The V10-powered car was raced by Zanardi in 14 grands prix during the 1999 season. Although Williams’ glory years had ended two seasons previously, he still recorded four top-ten finishes with this chassis No05.

Its highlight came at the Italian Grand Prix where Zanardi qualified fourth, ran in third and finished seventh, just missing out on championship points in an era where only the top six were rewarded.

Williams of Alex Zanardi in the 1999 Italian Grand Prix

Zanardi was running third at Monza but dropped back with floor damage

Darren Heath/Getty Images

The Renault engine, rebadged Supertec for the ‘99 season, remains with the car, and all key components are said to be complete as per their last run.

“It’s from the best-sounding era that the sport has ever seen,” said Mark Osborne, global director of motor sport at Bonhams ahead of the auction.

But, as the description makes clear in the sales brochure, the Williams has been on static display for 15 years, which means that the new owner is likely to have to dig deep.

“Yes, you can get a Formula 1 car for that [estimate] but it will be sitting in a garage,” said Osborne. “The price for this car is just the start.

“Anyone thinking they can pour in some oil, set the tyre pressure and go racing is going to be disappointed. There is quite some substantial investment needed to get this car going.

“The car would need to be completely dismantled and rebuilt; I do not know what state the engine is in.”

Williams FW21 cockpit
Williams FW21 suspension

The FW21 will never make a list of the all-time great Williams, with a maligned colour scheme, engine and driver, although the team believed that the car itself was good enough to win the championship.

In 1999, Patrick Head said that the design was no worse than Mika Häkkinen’s title-winning McLaren. He blamed the Supertec-badged Renault engine — little different to the unit that had powered Williams to success in 1997 — which was said to be 70bhp down on the Mercedes in the back of the McLaren.

From the archive

Zanardi never clicked with the car. The same driver that had lit up CART racing struggled with F1’s grooved tyres and carbon brakes, and was overshadowed by team-mate Ralf Schumacher. On the one occasion he could have shone, running third at Monza, he damaged the car’s floor, probably from a kerb, and dropped back to seventh.

The sale offers the chance for the car to live on in glorious retirement. Williams Heritage, which holds original plans and parts for the car, is the likely destination for any rebuild but the bill could run to several times the auction estimate.

Osborne said that the historic division of the F1 team has already said that it is willing to take on the work, and the results should be worth the cost. “If you do it, you are going to have a lot of fun,” he said.