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How much for 'Red 5'? Selling Mansell's 1992 Williams

"Two ... million ... three ... hundred ... thousand ... pounds. Bid on my left."

The auctioneer rolled the words slowly and gently across his tongue. The room was silent, onlookers at the back on tiptoes trying to get a glimpse of the would-be purchaser casually nodding in response to each rival bid, either in the room or through Bonham's assistants on telephones to even more mysterious collectors around the globe.

Bidding for Williams FW14B -- affectionately known as "Red 5," the number representing Nigel Mansell in his championship year -- had opened at £1.7 million and quickly risen to the £2 million mark. Then the pace slowed, with suitable drama, the auctioneer expertly milking every moment as much as every additional £100,000 from the deal.

Silence. The competition had narrowed to two in the room, one on the auctioneer's right; one on his left. "The bidding is against you, sir," he purred, looking to his right. "At 2 million, 3 hundred thousand pounds."

Pause. Then the dramatic repeat as every fiscal syllable was slowly savoured. And an almost triumphant: "Two million, four hundred. Thank you, sir." Followed by a politely quizzical, eyebrow gently raised glance to his left.

Silence. No response.

After another seemingly interminable pause, the final preamble led to the hammer going down and, to use a favourite rather chummy auctioneering term "cutting this lovely car loose" at £2.4 million. Or, to be precise, £2,703,000, including premium. But what's £303,000 between friends at this level? Not a great deal when, an hour before, the registration number "WO 1" had sold for £190,000. It made an early £49,000 bid for "FT 100" seem a steal.

The money raised by the sale of Williams FW14B, apart from being a significant amount for a 27-year-old racing car, was poignant since this was taking place at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. In another part of the extensive grounds, Williams F1 cars were on display, all expertly cared for by former crew chief Dickie Stanford and the Williams Heritage team run so effectively by Jonathan Williams.

The loyal Williams fans gathered round were silently soaking up memories of races and championships won. This was all about the past, which was just as well because few I spoke to wanted to talk about the team's current desperate plight.

The proceeds from the sale of FW14B won't help the cause - not that £2.4 million will make much of a dent in a budget that needs to cater for the occasional use of a private jet and other superfluous "must be seen" trappings of F1. Williams had previously passed on this car in a private sale and this was the first time it had resurfaced.

Williams-Renault FW14B, with its active suspension, is one of the most sophisticated F1 cars of all time. This was chassis number 8, used by Mansell during the first part of the 1992 season to win five times before being handed over to Riccardo Patrese. The team has kept chassis 11, famous for Nigel's emotional win at Silverstone and his championship-clinching second place in Hungary.

But that is not to detract from any FW14B with the famous red number 5 on the nose. Not when you've paid (whisper it): "Two ... million ... four ... hundred ... thousand ... pounds."