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Racefan Guide part 1 - Prices, Value and Investments

Posted by Simon Taylor on

Racefan Guide 1 - Prices, Value and Investments

We are often asked, will the price of my item go up? Everybody wants to avoid buying something and then seeing its price drastically fall. We are the same, not only are our items reasonably priced, but like you we also don't want to see our collection plummet in value. Therefore we tend to only stock items that will at least hold their value or hopefully increase. You will struggle to find items from a driver who has not won an F1 race, unless he happens to be Max Verstapen. The majority of our stock list is of drivers who have won F1 world championships - the hall of famers of F1.

Any collectable market is fickle, tastes and trends change and the laws of supply and demand rule. Everybody would love to own an Ayrton Senna race used helmet - that is what makes them the most expensive; demand is high, supply is low - so prices are very high.
Not so many people would want to own an Olivier Panis helmet; demand is average, supply is higher - so prices are a lot lower than the Senna helmet. Then you have mid level British touring car driver used helmets - demand is low, so prices are low. F1 is the absolute pinikle of world motorsport with a lot of wealthy followers who  like collecting.

Changes in demand are what make prices rise or fall . F1 fans are a fickle bunch, one moment a driver is billed as the next Ayrton Senna and the next minute he has fallen out of F1 and is in German touring car. When he is billed as the next Senna his race used helmets and gloves will be high in demand (people wanting a piece of the next great to hang on their hall or add to their display case) therefore prices will be high. 
Fast forward a season or two and everybody realises he isn't the next Senna and he falls out of F1 - now the demand is much lower and the prices will fall.   Now, if you bought when he was in high demand and now want to sell when he is in low demand - you are going to lose money.

An example, David Coulthard was team mate to Mika Hakkinen between 1996-2001. Over the course of 1996 and 1997 David looked to be the better driver or at least equal to Mika. Mika was a young gun  who impressed against Senna in 1993 and David was Senna's replacement at Williams who impressed against Hill in 1994 and especially 1995.
Although both left F1 with a very strong career behind them the prices of their 1996 and 1997 suits and helmets reflected that they were quite evenly matched and equally rated. Fast forward to the present day and the same 1996 and 1997 items; Davids would be worth half of that of Mikas. Because Mika left F1 a double world champion and David left only as a multiple race winner. Even though Mika wasn't a World champion in 1996 or 1997 they are still items of an eventual champion.
So in that respect, collecting is like playing the stock market. But like the stock market there are safe bets and risks.

This phenomenon is present in the current grid. There are a handful of drivers who have achieved enough already to ensure demand will always be high for their items; Alonso, Raikkonen and Hamilton.

[The following section of the guide was written in 2008 and I have not updated to highlight my point]

There are a selection of drivers that have been around so long that is reasonably clear how the rest of their career will pan out; Coulthard, Barrichello, Trulli, Heidfeld and Fisichella for example.
Then there are the potential world champions. These are the guys you are most likely to lose or gain a lot on. Who is the next Mika Hakkinen, who is the next David Coulthard? Rosberg? Kubica? Kovalainen? Massa? Piquet? Button? Vettel?

Now writing in 2016, eight years later and Vettel was not only the star of those drivers I highlighted but he is statistically in the top 5 drivers of all time. Kubica had so much promise but that tragic hand injury cut his career short. Button delivered a championship and has gone on to prove himself against Hamilton and Alonso. Rosberg, at the time of writing in 2016 is a slightly more successful Coulthard but that could all change with a championship. Kovalainen had an average F1 career and Piquet left the sport in a huge controversy of fixing a race. For every Vettel or Button there are four or five Piquets. 

The most desired items

Save from an actual F1 car, the holy grail for most collectors is a race worn helmet from their favourite driver. The latest Arai GP-5RC helmet introduced in 2004 is made from Carbon Fibre - the same plain white stock model from the shelf of your local shop will cost £3,000. Add a fancy paintjob from a top F1 artist and the bare cost to the driver is around £4,000. That is just the cost to produce before you consider who has used it where... Its an expensive starting point.

Concentrating on just driver worn items; the second most desirable item is probably a driver worn suit, followed by gloves and visors.

- Race worn helmet
- Race worn Suit
- Race worn gloves/boots/visor
- Race worn under garments/nomex

The laws of supply and demand prevail. So for a given driver the prices will filter down with a helmet being their most expensive item. But between drivers there is some overlap between items - for example a pair of Senna gloves could be more valuable than a lesser known drivers worn helmet, or Schumacher suit more valuable than a current drivers helmet.

Generally there is a subconscious tier of drivers. For numerous reasons good drivers killed in F1 [especially signed items] generally command much higher prices. Obviously their not around to sign anything else. Older items [50's, 60's, 70's] are a lot rarer as in this era drivers used far less helmets and suits. It is worth remembering that over Michael Schumachers career he used over 300 race suits, Senna used closer to 40. So from the supply side, there are a lot more Schumacher suits out there. Modern drivers can use up to 3 suits/helmets per race. Pre mid-nineties it would be closer to that for an entire season.   

A general tier in pricing items with an [example]

1) Past legends - only 2/3 drivers fit this. [Senna, Schumacher, Fangio]
2) Multiple World Championship winners [Prost, Alonso, Hamilton, Stewart]
3) World Championship winners [Mansell, Raikkonen]
4) Regular Race Winners [Berger, Coulthard, Webber, Rosberg]
5) Race Winners [Alesi, Fisichella]
6) Regular Podium scorers [Brundle, Amon]
7) Regular points scorers [Sato, Glock]
8) Long serving F1 drivers without much success [De Cesaris]
9) Short stay drivers/  drivers who only ever tested.  [Davidson]

Alongside this you must consider what team the driver drove for, this will effect the price.

Success and team are not the only factor in the pricing of items. Nationality can also be very important. Japanese drivers have a strong nationalistic support for example. Character is also important, some drivers are popular with fans without being overly successful. Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger being good examples.

There is also the heavy Ferrari bias. Any items from a Ferrari driver will command a higher price than if that driver drove for any other team. An Irvine Jordan helmet is probably half the price of a Ferrari one. Everybody loves/knows/hates/ loves to hate Ferrari - they are a pillar of F1 and in high demand.

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