How Senna’s McLaren came up for auction

From being sold by Ron Dennis and Mansour Ojjeh to headlining the Bonhams Monaco sale, specialist Doug Nye explains the post-Senna history of MP4/8A chassis six

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McLaren is renowned for retaining its cars that carry notable success in racing. The walkways through the McLaren Technology Centre are lined with cars from its illustrious past.

So for Ayrton Senna’s MP4/8A, with which he won his record sixth and final Monaco Grand Prix in 1993, to come up for sale is of particularly special significance, as we explained as the news broke.

The auction of chassis six at the Bonhams Monaco sale on 11 May – 25 years after this car claimed victory around the streets of the Principality – could well set a record price paid at auction for a modern era Formula 1 car.

Eminent motorsport journalist and a consultant to Bonhams since the early 1980s, Doug Nye explains how such a special car has come for sale.

‘It’s one that was sold by Ron [Dennis] and Mansour [Ojjeh] many years ago actually to one of their backers,’ Nye says. ‘Subsequently it passed into other private hands very discreetly. The car has been very well maintained and preserved over the years.’

‘[Bidders today] tend to buy an asset and stick it in storage somewhere and nobody ever sees it even though they keep it in very, very good nick. That’s the kind of provenance that it’s come from. And the genuine enthusiast who owns it currently has decided for other reasons that the time has come to sell it; he’s come us [Bonhams] and asked us to sell it.’

Understandably, such an example comes with an enormous value – Bonhams expects a ‘high seven-figure sum’. But Nye hopes that won’t prevent chassis six from being demonstrated in public.

‘We would hope [it would have public outings]. We’d be very alarmed if anybody wanted to race it if there was to be a historic category that were to emerge for this kind of motorcar. There are some historic cars whose historical significance is such that it cannot be improved upon [with wins in historic racing series]. This is one of them and it would be horrible to see the car in a collision.

‘We’re very much hoping that it will go to someone who is willing to run it and demonstrate but not someone who will put it at risk. The financial bracket that it will inevitably fall into almost precludes its use from active racing. We can’t really say what it’s going to sell for or bid to simply because where do you find another one?’

This car was driven by Senna in eight of 16 races in 1993, first used at the fifth round in Spain and then retained as a spare car for the season ending races in Japan and Australia.

‘It’s a pretty darn significant car as well as being an exquisitely made and very intricate piece of technical artwork. Increasingly we’re finding that some of the really high rolling collectors of race cars are appreciating the cars for their artistry rather than their sporting achievement. It’s quite an interesting development.’

Williams Heritage ran the 1992 title-winning FW14B in 2017 to celebrate the team’s 40th anniversary. Throughout its restoration the difficulty in configuring the period electronics to communicate with modern computers was well documented.

As the early '90s gave rise to driver aids such as traction control and active suspension, the cars crossed over from a mechanical bias into the realm of computer technology. But running the MP4/8A will not be as fraught with difficulty as Jonathan Williams and Dickie Stanford found with the Williams FW14B.

‘The interesting thing is that when it was sold from McLaren it was sold with the original laptops and software,' confirms Doug, 'and we fired up the car at Oulton [Park] ten days ago using that very equipment.’

‘The Ford HB V8 is a relatively simple engine and with warm water and warm oil in it it struck up virtually at the turn of the starter. It sounds really creamy, just a really nice comfortable noise from an old engine.

‘That in itself was a relief because what kills old cars is a lack of use from standing unused for year-after-year. Fortunately, this car has been started and run at least one or two times a year in its life. It is in pretty much pristine order. It was a simple car by the standards of 1993 but nonetheless it’s a very advanced piece of technology with active suspension and traction control. It’s of course Ayrton’s wheel, Ayrton’s seat – it’s absolutely his car.‘

Although the car comes to auction direct from private ownership, McLaren has given the sale its blessing and support.

‘We’ve absolutely got McLaren’s back-up. I was there Friday and I spent four hours with Neil Oatley [McLaren’s design and development director] going through the 1993 race records, which are stupendously detailed.

Essentially, within them we can account for every five or ten metres of every lap from every race. The active suspension was measuring constantly to adjust itself to maintain the optimum attitude of the airflow. It is a fantastically dynamic environment which few people can ever grasp.’

With Nye watching on as the MP4/8A started-up at Oulton and ran through its active suspension warm up programme, to him it took on a human-like state.

‘When we fired it up at Oulton the other day in the workshop, it just came progressively to life. And while it was running you could put your hand on the nose of the monocoque and actually feel its pulse. It was lovely.’

Images courtesy of LAT

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