The newbie's guide to buying Formula 1 models

2022-02-19  Sport,   Misc

Unless you’ve got the money and the space to fill your mansion with real Formula 1 cars, scale models are probably your best bet for having a little piece of motorsport history to admire at home. The world of Formula 1 models is one I’ve only recently joined and deciding what to buy can be a bit daunting, so I thought I’d write down everything I learnt from my research to help anybody else who finds themselves in the same situation.

Choosing a model

If you’re thinking of buying a Formula 1 model, you probably have some idea of which car you’d like - perhaps a shrine to a favourite team or driver, or a souvenir from a particularly memorable race. The only advice I can offer here is to buy the car you want, not one you think will be more collectable. It is very unlikely it will accrue enough extra value to warrant buying and storing it for years, so get one that will look nice on your shelf instead.

Once you know which car you’re looking for, you’ll likely notice that models are available from multiple manufacturers. Sometimes you’ll be locked in to one maker based on your chosen car - Looksmart are the only supplier of detailed Ferrari models, for example - but for most modern teams you’ll have make the classic collector’s decision: Minichamps or Spark?

The general consensus seems to be that there isn’t too much difference between the two, although Minichamps can be a little pricier (more on that later). A debate comes up now and then around the accuracy of Spark’s tyre proportions, but a recent Reddit post seemed to suggest that any difference is negligible, and I’m happy enough with the look of my Spark cars.

One quirk to be aware of when ordering cars that feature tobacco sponsors (e.g. McLaren’s recent promotion of various BAT products) is that these will be missing from the model when it arrives. Spark provides these decals with the model so you can apply them yourself, but Minichamps does not.

When you’ve selected a car and manufacturer, you’ll next need to choose a scale for your model. Generally, model Formula 1 cars come in two sizes: 1:43 and 1:18. A 1:43 model of a 2021 Formula 1 car comes to about 14cm in length. I don’t own any 1:18 models, but doing the maths we can estimate that they’re roughly 33cm long. So make sure you’ve got enough space!

Of course, price will likely be as much of a consideration as anything else for many collectors, so here’s roughly what you’ll be paying for new models at each scale from the main manufacturers at the time of writing:

Manufacturer 1:43 1:18
Minichamps £90 £192
Spark £65 £150

Note that if your model comes with any special extras to celebrate the driver’s performance in the race - for example, a pit board or podium position marker - you can expect to pay between £5 and £10 extra.

Ordering a model

So you’ve chosen a team, driver, race, manufactuer, and the scale of your model, but where can you actually buy it? A small selection of the most popular cars make it to the official Formula 1 store, but most of the time your best bet is to use one of the specialist model car retailers like Diecast Legends, Formula Model Shop, or one of their equivalents in your part of the world. There is also a used market on eBay for older models, but availability is down to luck and the usual auction site warnings apply.

On a similar note, if your model of choice is likely to be in high demand - for example, if it’s a special livery or from the race where the driver won the championship - you’ll likely want to preorder it. While it may be in stock on release if you don’t, this isn’t guaranteed, and you may be forced to switch to a more expensive retailer or a different manufacturer. Models tend to be produced in a limited number, so once they’re gone, they’re gone.

I hope you’re not too excited at this point, because models can take nine months or more to be produced after being announced. Your retailer will usually provide an estimated dispatch date, which they’ll update based on information from the supplier. The manufacturer’s website may also give you some indication of what to expect. Spark’s website has sections for models in development, coming soon, and post-release, while Minichamps lists a handful of upcoming cars with their predicted months of release.

What’s in the box

Note: All of my models to date are Spark 1:43 models of 2021 Formula 1 cars. Details in this section are applicable to similar models only.

I was quite impressed with Spark’s presentation of its models when they arrived. Each one comes wrapped in cellophane, under which there is an outer cardboard sleeve with a sold back and “pillars” along the front sides to give a window effect. This is decked out in team colours, perhaps with a special commemorative back panel if you’re lucky. The car itself sits inside a plastic display case, screwed to a wooden base. There’s usually a piece of foam slipped under the front wing to protect it in transit.

The best advice I can give you amongst all the excitement of receiving a new model is to be very careful when opening and closing the case. This is by far the riskiest manoeuvre in terms of potential damage to the car, so make sure you’re paying attention and taking appropriate care.

If the model has any of the aforementioned extra pieces, they’ll be in a plastic bag slid under the car and taped to the base. Standing up a podium position board is as simple as removing it from the bag and folding the base into shape (they’re actually sturdier than that process makes them sound).

Finally, any extra decals will be in their own bag stuck to the underside of the base. I won’t go into the application process here, but I’d recommend looking up a tutorial on how to apply model car decals to get those more controversial sponsors slid into place for the full effect.

And that’s it! After all that painstaking research, the agonising months waiting for updates, and a nail-biting session applying decals, your model Formula 1 car is now complete and ready for display in a cabinet or on your mantelpiece! If you’re new to model cars, I hope this article has provided at least some additional information to help you make your selection and put your mind at ease about what you’re buying. If you have any further questions, feel free to reach out via the details below.

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