2023 Bonhams Abu Dhabi GP Sale (Mario Andretti’s Lotus F1 Announced)

Mario Andretti’s 1978 Formula 1 World Championship-winning John Player Special Lotus-Cosworth Type 79 is heading for the Bonhams Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix 2023 sale.

Mario Andretti’s 1978 Formula 1 World Championship-winning John Player Special Lotus-Cosworth Type 79 is heading for the Bonhams Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix 2023 sale.
© The GP Library, Courtesy of Bonhams

The 1978 John Player Special Lotus-Cosworth Type 79 in which Mario Andretti became Formula 1 World Champion is on sale at the Bonhams Abu Dhabi 2023 Grand Prix classic car auction. The whopping presale estimate of $6,500,000 to $9,500,000 is due to the significance of the Type 79 in the development of Formula 1 racing cars and the fact that it is the only existing car in which an American driver won the F1 World Driver’s Championship.

Bonhams Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Sale 2023

Bonhams’ first sale at a Grand Prix will debut at the 2023 season-closing Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on the weekend of 24-26 November 2023, as the new Official Partner of the Formula 1 Paddock Club.

Mario Andretti’s Lotus-Cosworth F1 at Bonhams Abu Dhabi 2023

One of the most important and evocative World-Championship-winning Grand Prix racing cars of all time, the 1978 John Player Special Lotus-Cosworth Type 79 driven by US racing superstar Mario Andretti, will be offered in Bonhams’ inaugural sale at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November 2023.

This historic machine – chassis 79/4 – was the actual car in which Andretti memorably crushed all opposition to win the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort and then claim his 1978 Formula 1 Drivers’ world title in the subsequent Italian Grand Prix at Monza. It has an estimate of $6,500,000-9,500,000.

Mario Andretti’s Championship-Winning Lotus-Cosworth 79

Known as ‘Black Beauty’ after its streamlined good looks and distinctive black-and-gold ‘JPS’ sponsor livery, Team Lotus’ Type 79 was introduced to the Formula 1 arena for the 1978 season.

The car quickly caused a stir, with 20 starts in 11 Grand Prix races, notching up six wins and five podium places, as well as 10 pole position starts and five fastest race laps, of which two were set by Andretti. The Type 79 helped Lotus take the most wins in a single season since the 1955 victories of the Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows, with Andretti and his teammate ‘Super-Swede’ Ronnie Peterson delivering four 1-2 finishes, earning the moniker the ‘Mario and Ronnie train’.

1978 John Player Special Lotus-Cosworth Type 79

However, Lotus’ success was not just a one-season wonder. Designed by Lotus engineer and designer Martin Ogilvie, with input from Lotus founder and team boss Colin Chapman and aerodynamicist Peter Wright, the Type 79 represented a major technological leap forward with its sophisticated ‘ground effects’ aerodynamic form, surely one of motor racing’s top three most innovative designs to date.

The concept started with Lotus’ earlier Type 78 ‘wing car’ and was perfected with the Type 79. Harnessing a suction effect at high speed, generated from underwing floors along each side midships, to squash its tires down on the track, thereby enhancing grip and traction, the design became the gold standard of racing which, where regulations permit, still endures after 45 years.

Mario Andretti — US Formula 1 World Champion

While such racing results and engineering pedigree command immense historic significance, the true stature of the ‘Black Beauty’ is also magnified by the racing credentials of Mario Andretti – the perfect union of man and machine.

One of the most successful racing drivers of all time, Andretti embodied the American dream, having emigrated to the US from Italy in 1955. Just over twenty years later he had achieved the never repeated feat of winning the Indianapolis 500 (1969), Daytona 500 (1967) and the Formula 1 Drivers’ World Championship.

To date, he is only the second American to have won Formula 1’s greatest prize, following Phil Hill, who also clinched his title at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 1961.

Sadly, Hill’s famous ‘Sharknose’ Ferrari which he drove to victory was scrapped by the manufacturer. As a result, this Lotus chassis offers the only opportunity to own a Formula 1 World Championship-clinching car piloted to victory by an American racing driver.

Prices of Formula 1 Racing Cars at Auction

1954 Mercedes Benz W196 Formula 1 Racing Car
1954 Mercedes Benz W196 Formula 1 Racer © Bonhams

If the 1978 John Player Special Lotus-Cosworth Type 79 in which Mario Andretti became Formula 1 World Champion achieved the presale estimate of $6,500,000 to $9,500,000, it will be one of the most expensive Formula 1 cars ever sold but it will not be the most expensive F1 car, or even the priciest modern F1 racer.

The most expensive Formula 1 single-seater racing car ever sold at public auction was a 1954 Mercedes Benz W196R that achieved $29,650,000 at the Bonhams Goodwood Festival of Speed 2013 sale. 

2001 Ferrari F1 Sold at Sotheby's
© Courtesy of Sotheby’s

The five most expensive (nominal) modern Formula 1 cars were all race winners sold by RM Sotheby’s:

  • The 2003 Ferrari F2003-GA F1 racing car in which Michael Schumacher secured his sixth championship (and won five Grand Prix races) sold for an astonishing CHF 14,630,000 (US$ 14,880,000) at Sotheby’s Geneva Luxury Week sale in 2022.
  • The previous record car was Michael Schumacher’s Grand Prix-winning Ferrari F2001 sold in Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction in November 2017 for $7,504,000.
  • The third most expensive modern Formula 1 car is the Lewis Hamilton-driven 2010 McLaren MP4-25A at £4,836,000 / $6,741,384 in 2021 — the only Hamilton car ever sold in a public auction.
  • The fourth most expensive Formula 1 racer is the Michael Schumacher’s 2002 Ferrari F2002 F1 Car, chassis #219, sold for $6,643,750 in Abu Dhabi 2019.
  • The fifth most expensive Formula 1 car is also a Michael Schumacher race winner — the 1998 Ferrari F300 driven to four victories in a non-championship-winning year sold for $6,220,000 at RM Sotheby’s Monterey 2022