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MARCH 2, 2002

All quiet on the Prost front

AFTER a day of fiery exchanges between Tom Walkinshaw and Paul Stoddart over the issue of the assets of Prost Grand Prix, more facts are beginning to emerge about the deal.

The most important point is that it is by no means clear that the deal will leave Walkinshaw (or whoever he represents) with the Prost entry, which gives access to the $12m of TV and travel money. The argument appears to have boiled down to a question of how one interprets a clause in the Concorde Agreement about the meaning of the word "insolvency" and whether a team misses a race meeting if it fails to turn up for scrutineering or if the failure to appear begins when the checkered flag falls at the end of the weekend.

As the media are not allowed to see the Concorde Agreement it is rather difficult to be sure of the rules. Beyond that it is down to interpretation which will means that there will need to an arbitration hearing to sort out what the clause means. And judging by the mood of the two men involved there could be legal action after that.

In the meantime, Tom Walkinshaw is saying that he has bought the team on behalf of someone else and that the only role being played by Tom Walkinshaw Racing is "supporting the engineering side of it". Walkinshaw says that the buyer or buyers will "announce the whole thing when they are ready", and says it is TWR's job is "to get it up and running and do it properly".

On the weekend when Walkinshaw marks his 100th Grand Prix as Arrows team boss he has been very keen to reassure everyone that "Arrows is in good shape for the year so that is where I'll be focussed".

Walkinshaw will, of course, also be spending some of his time on Gloucester Rugby Club and his various other businesses in which he is involved.

The rumors in Melbourne suggested that the buyers - who are believed to belong to an English company which features the word "Phoenix" (the mythological bird who rose from the ashes) - is one of Walkinshaw's oldest friends Charles Nickerson. Nickerson used to race under the name "Chuck Nicholson" and was Walkinshaw's team mate in the Jaguar European Touring Car team in the early 1980s. "Nicholson" was a capable gentleman driver without being a star and raced under a pseudonym to avoid it being thought that his activities were being funded by the Nickerson Seed company, which his family owned at the time.

In the mid 1980s Walkinshaw bought several agricultural companies from Nickerson and the two men have remained close with Nickerson being a regular (but low profile) visitor to races each year.

Tom Walkinshaw said in Melbourne that the new team will feature drivers Tomas Enge and Gaston Mazzacane (unless the buyers change their mind) and that makes it fairly clear that the buyers are not loaded with cash as both men have paid for their drives in F1 to date.

What is said at times like this does not always correspond with events in the longer term and the truth about the purchase of Prost will only really be known as the story unfolds.

Meanwhile in France there is much discontent that the creditors and the staff of the old team have been left in the lurch with only a pittance having been raised from the sale of Prost assets.

Prost himself is on holiday at the moment in Mauritius, recovering from a stressful last few months. Most of his staff remain unemployed in Paris.