JULY 31, 2000

The future of Prost Grand Prix

PROST GRAND PRIX is about to be sold to a US-based company and it is expected that the purchaser (rumored to be Tony Johnson's Hidden Creak Industries) is paying $67m for the deal.

PROST GRAND PRIX is about to be sold to a US-based company and it is expected that the purchaser (rumored to be TonyÊJohnson's Hidden Creak Industries) is paying $67m for the deal. This does not seem like a lot of money given that last autumn Prost sold 10% of the company to Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy for an estimated $12m. This transaction valued the team at $120m and so anyone spending $67m would only be buying around 55% of the shares.

This poses an interesting question: who owns the remaining 35% of the team? According to all the available records the team has been wholly owned by Alain Prost since he bought the operation from Flavio Briatore in February 1997. Our sources suggest that Briatore may have retained a third of the shares and has spent the last three years as a silent partner in the operation. Briatore is now in charge of the Benetton F1 team which will become the Renault factory team in 2002 but it is not believed that he has any shares in the operation so he may want to keep an involvement elsewhere.

The hint that this may be the case is the suggestion that Prost will be run after the Hidden Creek purchase by French accountant Bruno Michel. He has been closely associated with Briatore since the early 1990s when they met while the Italian was negotiating to buy the then Ligier team from Cyril de Rouvre. In 1995 Briatore appointed Michel to be Operations and Financial Director of Ligier and he remained in that position until six months after the team was acquired by Prost. Michel was then moved to take charge of the Supertec company, which was owned by Briatore, Bernie Ecclestone and Mecachrome boss Gerard Casella. Briatore last weekend announced that he has no further involvement in Supertec and that the future of the engine company is still to be decided.

With Renault Sport planning its own engine program, there is unlikely to be much work for the Mecachrome company, which has been preparing the current V10s for Supertec. The obvious move for Mecachrome is to go on using the old engines next year and supply them to customers but with Arrows having done a deal with the mysterious AMT operation, the only teams needing engines are Prost and Minardi. Renault does not want to be seen to be supplying a second team at the moment and the involvement of Briatore in the various companies involved would probably be seen as a clash of interest which is why Flavio has left Supertec. It may be that the sale of Prost is a two-stage deal with the purchasers agreeing to buy Briatore's shares in the team at some point in the future.

What is clear at the moment is that Renault does not want to be involved with Alain Prost but is happy for the team to use Supertec engines if there is another team owner.