MARCH 14, 2002
What is the story with Phoenix?
THE PHOENIX FINANCE LTD. plan for a Formula 1 team to rise from the ashes of Prost Grand Prix is a strange story, which does not appear to make much sense. Phoenix bought a few rag-tag assets which would just about get a couple of cars running and claimed to have acquired Prost's rights as laid down in the Concorde Agreement. Anyone with any knowledge of Formula 1 knows that these rights cannot be transferred from one company to another. There might be case argued in court but the concept has been established for 20 years and no court is thought like to change such a stabilizing regulation, which was designed to stop tam bosses from closing down one team when they get into debt, shifting assets to another and starting up a completely new team. Team bosses can start new teams if they wish to do so but they have to either acquire an existing solvent company or they can start a new operation and pay a $48m bond to the FIA to become one of the 12 F1 teams.
There are complicated rules related to the changing the name of cars but if all the other teams agree this is not an issue. Teams can have as many holding companies or subsidiaries as they wish but they must retain the original company. Over the years several teams have got into trouble for trying to bend these rules, notably in April 1995 when Arrows - then owned by Jackie Oliver - was called before the FIA International Court of Appeal for breaching the rules of entry in the Formula 1 World Championship. The court ruled that the team could change its name to Arrows but had to go on running cars called Footworks. The team received an official reprimand from the FIA for failing to enter properly.
Back in February 1991 there was a more severe punishment for the Larrousse team which was deprived of all of its 1990 World Championship points because of "a false declaration stating that the car had been built by Espo-Larrousse whereas it turns out that it was built by the British firm Lola". The move meant that Larrousse lost all its travel benefits and dropped into pre-qualifying.
When Tom Walkinshaw took over Arrows in 1996 there were also problems and although he launched TWR F1 he had to keep the name Arrows and had to run cars called Footworks until he had convinced rivals to accept that the cars could be called Arrows.
McLaren's Ron Dennis said at the time that he was refusing to sign because he did not want to create a precedent whereby teams with famous names could be altered at whim - depriving the sport of its heritage.
One can see why it would be convenient for Phoenix to take the assets of Prost and leave the liabilities behind but this is being resisted by both teams and organizers and it is strange that the team's "representative" Charles Nickerson should adopt such an abrasive approach.
If Phoenix really wants to enter F1 it can do so in the autumn with the payment of a reimbursable $48m deposit.
Phoenix may try some legal moves to force change but it is unlikely to be a success - and even if it is, such a move would only lead to the new team being alienated from its competitors.
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