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MARCH 18, 2002

Phoenix reappears...

HAVING changed its company name from Phoenix Finance Ltd. to D.A.R.T. Grand Prix Team Limited the other day, the buyer of some of Prost Grand Prix's assets (which appears to be an organization owned by Charles Nickerson) has now changed its name back to Phoenix Finance Ltd. again.

The Formula 1 circus has become so confused as to what is going on that no-one is really very interested any more and everyone is waiting for the FIA World Motor Sport Council meeting on Wednesday. This is expected to rule once and for all on whether or not Phoenix/D.A.R.T/Nickerson has an entry or not. The official papers relating the transaction on February 28 between Phoenix and the liquidator make no mention of the entry being transferred although on March 15 Nickerson responded to the FIA's announcement that "the court has not transferred Prost Grand Prix itself nor made any attempt to transfer the Prost Grand Prix entry in the 2002 Formula 1 World Championship, either to Phoenix Finance Ltd. or to Charles Nickerson" by issuing a letter addressed to FIA President Max Mosley and signed by the liquidator Cosme Rogeau and by Nickerson himself which seemed to indicate that the "benefits" of the Concorde Agreement had been transferred. This was dated February 28.

The FIA said unofficially that this document had been received but that it had no legal value and therefore had no relevance to the issue. French journalists, keen to unravel what is going on, have been pursuing Rogeau to try to establish when this document was signed and why it was not included in the original sale document. Prost's creditors are also said to be asking for a judicial review of what has been happening because they are not happy with the job that the liquidator has been doing.

One of the major problems seems to be that Rogeau does not speak good enough English and may not understand everything that has been going on (which is not surprising in the circumstances).

Things have been greatly complicated by the constantly-shifting sands and the exact sequence of events is not entirely clear although it seems that as soon as Phoenix bought the Prost assets on February 28 the company name was changed to D.A.R.T Grand Prix Team Ltd.. The day after the FIA announced that Phoenix Finance Ltd. was not entered in the 2002 World Championship the name of the company was then changed back to Phoenix Finance Ltd. again.

If the FIA World Council rules against Phoenix (and/or D.A.R.T) then the next course of action for Nickerson would be the FIA International Court of Appeal. If that ruled against the organization, the only option would be civil action but there are many precedents which state that the federation has the right to do as it pleases so long as the rules are legal. The FIA recently gained clearance from the European Commission for its rules and regulations so there is not an obvious case there for Phoenix/D.A.R.T/Nickerson.

The question now being asked is why Nickerson (or whoever it is who owns Phoenix/D.A.R.T) is so desperate to get the entry when it is clear that the FIA, Bernie Ecclestone and the other signatories of the Concorde Agreement are all fundamentally opposed to the deal as it would create dangerous precedents for Formula 1 racing.

If Phoenix/D.A.R.T is so keen to compete and has the money to do it, surely it would be wiser to enter the 2003 World Championship in the normal way - with a downpayment of $48m which is then refunded with interest as the season progresses. The only obvious answer to this is that the team does not have the money to do that - and if that is the case there is not much point in competing this year as the team is not going to have anywhere near enough money to do the job. Even Minardi is believed to be spending $50m a year these days.

Judging by the fact that the team cannot use Prost facilities in France and does not have its own headquarters (as the Arrows workshops at Leafield should be flat out doing Arrows work) it would seem to be the wisest course of action for Phoenix would be to take a few months to set itself up properly and then enter the World Championship in the normal way in November.

But, of course, there is probably a lot more to it than that as nothing in this story is as it seems to be...