Phoenix Grand Prix team; The Phoenix that did not rise from its ashes

The legend says that the phoenix will rise from its ashes.  Formula One almost had its own phoenix legend, with a new team named Phoenix Grand Prix, rising from the ashes of the bankrupted Prost Grand Prix. The investors behind the project bought the assets and entry of the Prost team, or at least they thought they had. Here is the story of one of the most mysterious Formula One teams ever: full of intrigue, the Arrows 3 seater, Tom Walkinshaw, a five year old F1 engine, and a bizarre team structure, all better known as the stillborn Phoenix Grand Prix team.

Note 1: I want to thank Jon Hilton for his information about the Phoenix Grand Prix team. He was in charge of the engine programme. The email he sent to me is published within the article.
Note 2: I made contact with Charles Nickerson about the Phoenix Grand Prix team. However he was unwilling to co-operate to allow the article to be completed. After a short exchange he stopped answering my emails.
Note 3: The team was present at several race weekends. However there are no pictures of team members or the car of the Phoenix Grand Prix team.

Prost Grand Prix found themselves in serious financial trouble during the 2000 F1 season. With a poorly developed car, the AP03, Prost failed to score a single point all year, despite employing two very capable drivers in Jean Alesi and Nick Heidfeld. Peugeot, having produced the unreliable A20 engine which hampered the team even further, decided to scrap their engine program after seven years in the sport leaving the team without an engine supply for the following year. Matters deteriorated further when the team’s title sponsor Gauloises ended their activities in F1. But despite these major setbacks, the Prost team managed to survive during the winter of 2000 and into 2001. A deal was struck with Ferrari to supply the team with engines, rebadged as Acer in a similar sponsorship deal that saw Sauber’s Ferrari engines badged as Petronas units. The new AP04 was a good car which showed potential, but financial problems continued to hang over the team and over the course of 2001 five different drivers would occupy a Prost car at one point or another.

After the season finale in Japan, rumours began circulating in the paddock speculating about Prost’s financial status and the possibility that the team would go bankrupt. Alain Prost stated at the time that the team was preparing as normal for 2002 and that it would appear on the grid in Melbourne. We all know now that this didn’t happen and at the time Alain Prost probably knew this too.  Just before the 2002 season started Prost Grand Prix was liquidated. Then, out of nowhere on 1st March it was announced that the “Prost Team” would appear on the grid after all. Behind this deal was Tom Walkinshaw, at that time the owner of Arrows, a Formula One team that was also struggling financially. Tom had an impressive career in team management both from within and outside of Formula One and it seemed that he could deal with two teams.
Phoenix Grand Prix
Charles Nickerson & Tom Walkinshaw

Charles Nickerson, a good friend of Tom Walkinshaw and an excellent rally driver in the past, was the man behind the survival of Prost GP, buying the team’s assets with his company Phoenix Finance Ltd. for a rumoured figure of £2.5 million. With the purchase complete, the new owners faced their first obstacle in the paddock as Minardi owner Paul Stoddart immediately opposed the team’s re-entry into F1. During the off-season Prost had already started designing their new AP05 car, with pictures of their wind tunnel model leaked on the internet. The design looked promising. Fellow struggler’s Minardi, which had been bought by Stoddart a year earlier, stood to gain an awful lot by purchasing the AP05 designs for themselves, preventing another team from entering and guaranteeing themselves the lucrative tenth place on the grid and its associated prize money and travel benefits. As time went by, Stoddart would prove to be just one of many opponents to Phoenix Finance’s attempts to enter Formula One.

Once the takeover of Prost by Phoenix Finance was confirmed, attention turned to who the team’s drivers would be.  Almost immediately, Gastón Mazzacane, who had driven for Prost in 2001, was named as a driver. In a conversation on Twitter he confirmed to me that he would have been the first driver for the team. The names of Tomáš Enge, another Prost driver in 2001 and who had since returned to F3000 with Arden, and Tarso Marques who drove for Minardi in 2001, were touted for the second seat. But perhaps the most interesting name linked to the team was that of Jos Verstappen. Jos had a contract with Arrows for the 2002 season, but Tom Walkinshaw had dumped him in favour of Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Placing him at Phoenix might have been conceived as an idea to placate an understandably angry Verstappen, and avoid a lengthy and costly court case.
Phoenix Grand Prix
It quickly became clear that the team would not race at the first Grand Prix of 2002 in Australia. Bernie Ecclestone explained that Phoenix had only bought the assets of the folded Prost GP team, and not the entry rights. In addition, the purchase had not been completed with adequate time to allow the team to be present in Melbourne. Nevertheless, two nosecones were submitted to the scrutineers at the event, but they were rejected. At the next race in Malaysia, Phoenix Grand Prix did show up though.  It is rumoured that the team were to enter the Grand Prix, but without an up-to-date car. Phoenix arrived on Thursday on a private flight, but the team’s equipment was not allowed to leave the cargo storage at the airport due to issues with their paperwork. In the meantime, both Gastón Mazzacane and Tarso Marques had been spotted at the circuit wandering around, unaware of what was happening. Would they be allowed to drive?

The answer would come quickly. The team, consisting of approximately 50 personnel including the drivers and engineers, and two AP04B cars, were prevented from entering the Sepang paddock. While there are no photos of the Phoenix AP04B, there is some information available concerning the details of the car:

 

Chassis:
The car was named the Phoenix Grand Prix AP04B – this was basically the Prost AP04 from 2001, however the car had the rear end of the Arrows AX3 Seater – this was the 3-seater car Arrows had designed a couple of years earlier. Rumors suggested that Chassis 3 was actually a Prost AP05 car but it is impossible to have this confirmed. Chassis 01 was a Prost AP04B. The cars appeared to be painted blue with no sponsor colours or logos.

 

Engine:
The engine is a tricky one to define – the engines also came from the Arrows AX3 Seater, and were labeled as the Arrows T2-F1 V10. These engines had been used by Arrows in their F1 cars in 1998 and 1999, originating from a design by Brian Hart whose engine company was bought by Walkinshaw and merged into Arrows in the middle of 1997.

 

Tyres:
The tyres were supposed to be provided by Bridgestone, however the Japanese company had already stated in early March that it would be unable supply Phoenix and Michelin said the same. So the most likely option at this point was a supply of Avon tyres, which Minardi had used a year before to shake down their PS01 car with Christijan Albers.

 

Team:
The team was made up of approximately 50 employees; with most coming from the former Arrows test team and the folded Prost GP. With them were drivers Tarso Marques and Gastón Mazzacane. Managing Director Charles Nickerson stayed at the Arrows base at Leafield where the team were using floor space to prepare the cars. Below is an email from Jon Hilton which provides some insight into the team and the cars:

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“”I was in charge of the engine programme for the Lola Ford in 1997 as well and was present in Melbourne that year with the team so I am well represented on your list.

 There is not much to say about the Phoenix Hart project really. I was told (not asked) by Tom Walkinshaw to spirit two engines out of thin air for the ex Prost cars and get them running in less than 2 weeks. I can’t remember where the first race was to be Singapore or Japan maybe? A long fly away anyway.

 The only place I could get engines from at no notice was the two show cars the three-seater ones we had at the time ­ so we pinched those complete with electronics and wiring looms and set to work. The cooling, oil and electronics were not too bad to sort out but mechanically fitting the Hart engine to the back of the Prost tub was more tricky. This was not my part of the job and was done by someone at Leafield, I presume an Arrows guy. The solution they came up with was awful and to me looked unsafe (but to be fair they had no time or room to play with). I personally took Tom to show him the car and explained that I thought it was unsafe. He claimed that to qualify as having taken part the car only needed to run in the garage, then a few days after we had shipped it said that maybe it had to crawl around for one slow lap of the track. I think it could have done this but no more. There were a few rather awkward bits on the car as the Hart engine was longer than the original engine so the wheel base was different and the body work did not line up perfectly.

Two of my guys went out with the cars to the first race but they were denied track access with the cars and instead had a short holiday. I am not sure if they also travelled to the next race and did the same? I think my guys came home after the first one. The project then died pretty quickly and we were all relieved.””
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Not long after the failed attempt to enter the Malaysian Grand Prix, a name change took place. Instead of Phoenix Grand Prix Ltd., the team name was now DART Grand Prix Team Ltd. It’s not clear why this happened. Bizarrely Tom Walkinshaw used to own a different company in the early 1980s with the name DART which stood for Dunlop Auto Racing Tyres and which prepared Dunlop racing tyres in England.
For the next Grand Prix held in Brazil the new DART team requested to have a pit box reserved because they were certain they would be allowed to enter this time around, but the FIA thought differently and told the team once again they would not be allowed to participate. To make matters worse the FIA told Nickerson that the team would not take part in a single Grand Prix in 2002, which was music to the ears of Paul Stoddart. During the same weekend Craig Pollock was seen frequently by Tom Walkinshaw. Pollock had been replaced as team principal at BAR by Dave Richards at the end of the 2001 season, and rumours quickly spread that he could be the new team manager at Phoenix Grand Prix Team /DART.  It would make sense – the team had been considering others for the role including Tony Dowe.

In the meantime Nickerson remained in discussion with the FIA, seeking permission for the team to enter the upcoming Grands Prix. For some time there was light at the end of the tunnel – there was a small chance that the team would be allowed to enter the fourth race of 2002, the San Marino GP. But in the event, the team did not attempt to enter at Imola, with the FIA reiterating that the team was not allowed to enter any Grands Prix during the 2002 season.  This statement from the FIA prompted Charles Nickerson to take the FIA to court over the matter to try and force his way onto the F1 grid.

While these events were unfolding, Dart Grand Prix Team Ltd. changed its name back to Phoenix Grand Prix; again, the reasons behind this are unclear. What is more interesting is that Arrows completed a three day test at Silverstone on the week of 14th April. Rumours suggested that Arrows also tested the Phoenix AP04B, but this has not been confirmed. Tomáš Enge was assumed to be the driver spotted during the three day test.

While the Formula One circus marched further into the season, the Phoenix Grand Prix team under the lead of Charles Nickerson went to the High Court in London on 13th May 2002 for an answer in its case against the FIA and FOM, claiming that the two organisations were preventing the team from competing using assets acquired from the defunct Prost Grand Prix. It would take more than a week for the verdict to be delivered.  On 22nd May 2002 the High Court ruled that the FIA was in their right to exclude Phoenix from entering Formula One and that Phoenix must pay the court costs associated with the case.

Judge Morritt came to the following conclusion regarding the case:
The court considered the issues relating to Phoenix’s claims, noting that on February 16 Phoenix made an offer to buy assets of Prost Grand Prix for $2.2m. That offer stated that Charles Nickerson, the chief executive of Phoenix, had an arrangement with Tom Walkinshaw for the TWR Group to supply the necessary engines and transmission. There followed detailed negotiation between Phoenix, the liquidator of Prost GP and the FIA over whether or not the team would have any Concorde Agreement rights. The conclusion was that the non-participation in the Australian GP was the result of Prost’s insolvency and so the rights under the Concorde Agreement would no longer exist.
Phoenix did not appear in Australia but two noses cones were submitted to the scrutineers. These were rejected.
The TWR company did not receive the Prost chassis until the Monday and Tuesday after the Australian GP and they were then fitted with engines and gearboxes and sent to Malaysia but the cars were never presented for scrutineering in Malaysia. After that Phoenix commenced its legal actions against the FIA, FOM and FOA.
The judge concluded that none of the Phoenix claims had any validity and ruled against any appeal against the decision.
“Phoenix has not shown a serious issue to be tried entitling it to the final relief it seeks against any of the defendants,” he concluded.
Justice Morritt also ruled that Phoenix Finance Ltd. should pay all costs. These are expected to be in the region of $1.2m.

At this point the future of the Phoenix Grand Prix team was unknown. Facing a big legal bill and no prospect of an F1 entry, Charles Nickerson was non-committal and stated that he would be “considering the future in the light of the extensive judgement and what it means for us as a company”.  Paul Stoddart was delighted with the verdict – having the Phoenix team prevented from entering Formula One meant that the small Minardi team would be handed an extra $13 million from the FIA, vital for their own survival.

After this nothing was heard or seen from the Phoenix Grand Prix team. A few races later Tom Walkinshaw’s Arrows team hit financial trouble. The team could not afford the ever-increasing costs of F1 anymore and collapsed following the German Grand Prix. The team’s A23 cars were a fundamentally good design however – Paul Stoddart bought them with a view to using them as replacement to the PS03 in 2004 with Verstappen setting quick times in testing in the car, renamed as the Minardi PS04. Even later down the line, the A23 was used as the basis for Super Aguri’s first F1 car in 2006, the SA05, and while obviously dated and uncompetitive considering the advances made in the preceding years, provided a solid platform for the Japanese team to begin their F1 journey.

Manchester hosted the first car race in 1867

Many of us know that the first car race was held on 22nd July 1894, the race was from Paris to Rouen and it was organized by the Parisian magazine Le Petit Journal. Over 100 competitors applied for the race and following it, many more races would follow during the first few years of motor sport up until the turn of the century. However evidence suggests that this wasn’t in fact the first race between cars.

Accidently when looking on my old hard disks I found a picture of the “Velocipede” competition held on 20th April 1887. In the picture you can clearly see the vehicle racing. This race was held by Monsieur Fossier, who was the chief editor of Paris publication Le Vélocipède. The race took place on a 2km track between Neuilly Bridge and Bois de Boulogne. The winner was Georges Bouton with a Dion-Bouton car which was a steam quadricycle. Georges was the only known competitor for this race, I couldn’t find any more attempts to enter the race. However following further research, this still wasn’t the first car race held.

I came across a race held in the United States in 1878, 9 years before the Velocipede competition. The race was held from Green Bay to Madison in Wisconsin. The competitors had steam-powered engines. There were six entries submitted for the race but only The Green Bay and the Oshkosh took the start. The race was held to show off alternative ways of transportation.  But yet again this did not appear to be the first ever car race.
Car Race

It would seem the first car race held was on 30th August 1867 around Manchester on a 13km road between Ashton-under-Lyne and Old Trafford.  Two competitors attempted this race with steam-powered engines: Daniel Adamson and Co.’s two cylinder machine and Isaac Watt Boulton’s smaller single cylinder creation. Boulton passed Adamson after the first kilometre and kept a strong lead in the race. Within an hour he arrived at Old Trafford.

To quote an article that has been posted to the Anarchadia blog, the race showed that the engines worked well and there was more to come.
A NOVEL RACE. – On Monday morning, the 26th instant, in accordance with previous arrangement, two road steam carriages, one made by Mr. Isaac W. Boulton, of Ashton-under-Lyne, having only one 4¼ in. cylinder 9 in. stroke, the other, made by Messrs. Daniel Adamson and Co., of Newton Moor, having two cylinders 6 in. diameter, 10 in. stroke, started from Ashton-under-Lyne at 4.30 a.m. for the show ground at Old Trafford, a distance of over eight miles. The larger engine, made by Messrs. Adamson and Co., is a very well-constructed engine, and had a good quarter of a mile start of the smaller machine. The little one, with five passengers upon it, passed the other in the first mile, and kept a good lead of it all the way, arriving at Old Trafford under the hour, having to go steady through Manchester. The engine made by Mr. Boulton ran the first four miles in sixteen minutes. The running of both engines is considered very good. On arrival at Old Trafford they tested their turning qualities, and both engines turned complete circles of 27ft. diameter, both to right and left, frequently.”

Was this the first car race? It seems so, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were even earlier attempts with steam-engine powered road vehicles or even different type of engines.

Jean Todt’s dream a Peugeot F1 Team

Peugeot has a long and impressive history in pretty much all forms of motorsport. Hugely successful in rallying, Peugeot has won the WRC Manufacturers’ Title five times (bettered only by Citroen), the Dakar Rally four times, and both the ERC and IRC three times. They’ve also enjoyed success in touring car racing and sportscars, winning at Le Mans three times as well as the 1992 World Sportscar Championship. But there was one race series they had never attempted to join before. This was Formula One. The 1994 season should have been the season with a works Peugeot F1 Team on the grid.  Should being the operative word!

After several competitive years in rallying and then sportscars, Peugeot seemed to be ready to take the next step with their motorsport activities. Formula One was on the horizon. Back then Jean Todt was in charge of Peugeot Sport and he proposed to Jacques Calvet, President of Peugeot-Talbot at that time, to investigate an eventual entry into Formula One as the Peugeot F1 Team. With the demise of the World Sportscar Championship, Peugeot had a 3.5L V10 engine that was suitable for F1 but which they had no use for. The proposal was to enter Formula One with a full factory team, where they would build their own chassis, utilise the engines from the sportscar program, and run on Michelin tyres.
Peugeot F1 Team
An agreement was reached with French mineral water company Perrier to sponsor the team while a design for the F1 car had already been drawn up by Enrique Scalabroni which mirrored the trends of the period. If Peugeot were to be on the grid for the 1994 season it would mean France would have had three French teams active in Formula One. The others were Larrousse, for whom 1994 would be their final season, and Ligier, which had been active in Formula One since the 1970s, backed by Elf and Gitanes.

However Jean Todt announced that he would leave his post as Peugeot Sport boss to become Ferrari’s new team manager in F1. His decision to work for Ferrari ended any chance of a works Peugeot team on the F1 grid in 1994. However as we know Peugeot did enter Formula One as an engine supplier instead. Having supplied McLaren, Jordan and Prost with engines, scoring a total of 14 podiums, after the 2000 season, where they didn’t score a single point with the Prost team, the Peugeot F1 engine program was sold. The buyers were Asiatech, an Asian consortium led by Enrique Scalabroni who had designed Peugeot’s intended F1 car for 1994.

For more pics check this link.

Brabham Galmer, the failed attempt to revive Brabham

The 1992 season in Formula One can be seen as an interesting year. Many teams were trying to qualify their cars and a couple of these teams wouldn’t complete the season. All the while there were many rumours circulating about teams being bought. This is the story of the Brabham team which collapsed after the Hungarian Grand Prix and which was almost taken over by Galmer Engineering. Team Brabham Galmer was a reality, for a couple of months.

First of all I want to thank Alan Mertens from Galmer Engineering and Andy Brown, a former employee of Galmer, for their information about the Brabham Galmer project. Without their input I would not have been able to write this story.

It was 18 September 1992, a couple weeks after their final Grand Prix, when Brabham confirmed that it had officially withdrawn from the World Championship. It didn’t take long for rumours to emerge speculating that Galmer Engineering, led by Alan Mertens, were about to take over the Brabham team. Exactly a month after the Brabham team announced their retirement some sections of the motorsport press published news about these developments. Brabham Galmer would be the name of the reformed team, and Mexican Indycar driver Carlos Guerrero was listed as one of the team’s drivers for 1993. But by January Alan Mertens revealed to the media that the takeover plans had been halted due to financial problems.
Brabham Galmer
However this is not the complete story of the Brabham Galmer team. The story appears to be more sinister than many know. In Brabham’s final days two supposedly wealthy businessmen bought the team’s assets with a plan to relaunch Brabham back into Formula One and with a brand new car penned by Alan Mertens. At the time, they could have also bought a team such as Ligier, which was available as Guy Ligier looked to exit the sport, but as it would transpire, Brabham’s purchasers were not wealthy at all.
Nevertheless, the new Brabham Galmer team was born. The Brabham BT60Bs were sent to Galmer Engineering to be evaluated and used to allow the new BT61 car to be based on the BT60 design. Meanwhile Galmer negotiated a contract which required the team’s investors to pay Galmer $500,000 to begin the work.

Alan told me they sent the investors the invoice for the money but they were never paid. And then the Inland Revenue came knocking. To quote Alan,
“Sometime later the Inland Revenue turned up in March accusing me of fraud. The two men had claimed tax relief against the payment and the Inland Revenue wanted to know why I hadn’t declared the sum as revenue during the course of the previous year.”

After showing that he’d never received the payment, the fraud accusations were dropped. Brabham Galmer was still alive, but it was virtually impossible to inject any investment into the car and have the old Brabham BT60Bs prepared for the 1993 season. Had this been successful, the 1993 cars would have been designated BT60Cs.
Galmer attempted to keep the cars because they hadn’t received the money they were owed. But it then emerged that Bernie Ecclestone was involved, because he was never paid for the team’s 1993 entry. With no means to enter the championship it spelt the end both of the Brabham Galmer team, and the dream of having Brabham back on the grid.

The fate and whereabouts of the two wealthy businessmen remains unknown to this day.

For more pics go to this link.

The failed attempts to revive the Vanwall Team

During the 1950s many British teams tried their luck in Formula One. Back then it was quite easy, if you had the money of course, to enter Formula One.  One man who did was Tony Vandervell who entered F1 in 1954 with his own Grand Prix cars. The Vanwall team would win the inaugural Constructors’ Championship in 1958 with Stirling Moss, Tony Brooks and Stuart Lewis-Evans driving.

The team would enter a handful of races over the next two seasons but couldn’t compete against the new generation of rear-engined Formula One cars. Tony Vandervell decided to retire the Vanwall team from racing. Vandervell continued his own business Vandervell Products, making Thin-Wall bearings at his own factory in Acton but with no further interest in any form of motorsport.

During the 1970s and 80s the Vanwall cars were regular competitors during Historical Grand Prix weekends. There were even reunions with former Vanwall drivers and mechanics but no news about an eventual return of the team in Formula One.  That is, until the 26th June 1995 when the first news appeared of “strange rumours” regarding a revival of the Vanwall team. At that time it was not clear if the Vandervell family was behind the idea of reviving the team or that the rights to the name had been sold to an investment group interested in joining Formula One. Later it would emerge that the British engineering giant GKN had bought the rights to the Vanwall name and had recruited Mike Earl as team manager.

Vanwall

It was rumoured that the team’s main sponsor would be Coca-Cola and that they already secured a factory deal for Ford V8 engines or for the V10 engines which would be pitched by Hertz. However Ford countered this by announcing they had not been contacted for an eventual supply of engines. Nigel Mansell was believed to be one of the drivers while the most interesting rumour was the choice of tyres. Dunlop was rumoured to supply the Vanwall team with rubber.

However it would soon become clear that a revival of the team would not be happening under GKN. Two years later MotorSport Magazine published an article about another attempt to revive the Vanwall Team in F1. This time the Vanwall name had been bought by the VF One company. The idea was to bring the team back and to compete in the 1999 season. VF One’s managers explained they were in serious negotiations with companies in the United States and the Middle East for financial backing, while there were talks with British chassis designers and engine suppliers.

John Minet and David Laird, the men behind VF One, recognised the enormity of the task. “Our aim is to re-establish Vanwall with an infrastructure comparable with the best in the sport,” said Minet, “but our philosophy has been that it will be done properly, or not at all.”

Following this news, nothing was heard from John Minet or David Laird about the revival of Vanwall in Formula One. When the FIA opened the bidding for applications to compete in 2010 there were low-level rumours about Vanwall placing a bid to be on the grid. However these rumours left as quick as they came.

For more articles check this link.

Eyckmans Grand Prix; A Belgian dream!

The 1990s is probably one of the most famous decades in Formula One. While front-running teams such as Williams and Benetton pushed limits with the latest technology, many smaller teams struggled financially or stopped racing altogether. But that didn’t stop the queue of new teams and individuals wanting to be a part of F1 – there were many announcements made during this time of new teams. One of them was Eyckmans Grand Prix Prix, a team that considered entering Formula One in 1998.

Eckymans Grand Prix was the team formed by Belgium driver Wim Eyckmans. He was a successful kart racer before he worked his way up the motorsport ladder via Formula 3000 and Formula Opel Euroseries. He attempted these series with his own team and did most of the preparation himself. In Formula 3000 he initially drove for Vortex Motorsport but results were poor and he returned to his own private team. After two seasons with little to show, he left F3000 at the end of 1995.
Eyckmans Grand Prix
During 1996 it is believed that Wim was seeking sponsors for his own Eyckmans Grand Prix team to enter F1. It seems Pennzoil and Royal Canin were his most likely targets as they had sponsored him previously in Formula 3000. Pennzoil however had already signed to sponsor the MasterCard Lola F1 Team.  But news emerged in April 1997 of Wim’s plans to work on an F1 team named Eyckmans Grand Prix which was announced by some as Eyckmans F1 Team. After the announcement though, everything went quiet around Wim Eyckmans and his plan to enter Formula One.

In 1998 he would enter the Indy Lights series for the Brian Stewart Racing team and in 1999 he would race in the IndyCar Series for Team Cheever. Later he would drive in several touring car series and attempt the Le Mans 24 Hours and score a podium.

When I contacted Wim about his plans to enter Formula One in 1998 with Eyckmans Grand Prix he told me that the media had misunderstood him and there had never been plans for him to enter F1. He said at that time he was already in America preparing himself for Indy Lights.
What if Eyckmans Grand Prix did enter Formula One? Well, we would have had a Belgian team in the sport. How amazing would that be?!

Premier 1 Grand Prix; motor sport meets football

Over time, many people have wondered – what if you could combine motorsport and football in some way? Well, this is an idea as old as the first car race in 1894, and there have been several attempts to make the idea work since then but most were not serious enough. But Premier 1 Grand Prix came close. Close enough that they were ready for their very first season in 2002. However not a single race weekend was completed and by 2004 the concept had collapsed. Here’s the story of a fallen Unraced motor racing series.

Premier 1 Grand Prix was the brainchild of investor Colin Sullivan, who had tried to purchase Silverstone in 1999. In August 2000 the first news emerged about Premier 1 Grand Prix. This new race series was based on cars with the liveries of European and South American football clubs. The idea was to have at least 24 cars on the grid every weekend. The cars were to be built by Reynard and would be powered by Judd engines with 750bhp, and would use Avon slick tyres. The race weekend would have been made up of a qualifying session on the Saturday while two races lasting 100 miles or one hour, with a 30 minute break in between, were to be held on the Sunday.

There would be no pit stops during the races, and no electronic driving aids were allowed, as was the norm in F1 at the time. The series calendar was deliberately scheduled so as not to clash with F1 races to try and maximise audiences.

In October 2001 the FIA granted the series provisional backing and it seemed to have a bright future. In the meantime several teams declared an interest in joining Premier 1 Grand Prix, believing they could generate attractive profits after it was estimated that the teams would gain at least $1 million.
At first Dallara was asked to build the cars, but soon after Reynard were confirmed as the chassis builders for the series. Not long after the Reynard announcement the organisation released the 2002 calendar, which contained an impressive list of venues.

1 Autódromo do Estoril Estoril, Portugal 14 July 2002
2 EuroSpeedway Lausitz Brandenburg, Germany 4 August 2002
3 Dijon-Prenois Dijon, France 11 August 2002
4 Donington Park Castle Donington, England 25 August 2002
5 Circuit Park Zandvoort Zandvoort, Netherlands 8 September 2002
6 Brno Circuit Brno, Czech Republic 29 September 2002
7 Misano Circuit Misano, Italy 6 October 2002
8 Circuit Ricardo Tormo Valencia, Spain 20 October 2002
9 Autódromo Juan y Oscar Gálvez Buenos Aires, Argentina 3 November 2002
10 AutódromoInternacional Nelson Piquet Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 10 November 2002

After the announcement of the 2002 calendar it soon became clear that the Premier 1 Grand Prix series needed more time to make preparations. In addition, Reynard needed more time to design and produce the GP01, as the car would have been named. The car appeared similar to the Benetton B197 and rumours circulated that B197 blueprints had been used in the car’s construction, though this was never proven.  Meanwhile, a number teams were announced as having signed up to the championship: Feyenoord, Chelsea, Lyon, Lazio, Roma, Leeds United, Benfica and Valencia were revealed, while teams including Bordeaux were rumoured to be joining too.
Premier 1 Grand Prix Premier 1 Grand Prix

But during 2002 it became more and more apparent that the series would be delayed and before too long came the announcement that Premier 1 would in fact start in 2003. This was due in part because of the struggles that had begun to hit Reynard, but also because Premier 1 simply couldn’t find enough teams to fill a 24 car grid. This was due mostly to the rivalry of Formula Nissan in Spain where rumours had suggested that Real Madrid and Barcelona would be joining that series. An interesting fact is that Dallara had designed the Formula Nissan chassis, having previously been contracted to make the chassis for the Premier 1 Grand Prix series.

Christian Scholbrock from Premier 1 told the media that testing would begin with the GP01 during the first week of April 2002. In the meantime many drivers were rumoured to be joining the series. Johnny Herbert was confirmed for the Chelsea team while Jacky van den Ende and Jeroen Bleekemolen were rumoured to be driving the Feyenoord car. Bas Leinders was rumoured to drive for the Anderlecht team while Pedro Lamy would drive the Benfica car. But more interesting were the rumours that suggested Mark Blundell, Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill would join the series, two former Formula One champions. But this news would soon be old as in February 2002, not long after the announcement of the testing plans, Reynard Motorsport was declared bankrupt.

Despite this setback, the teams had enough trust in Premier 1 to begin recruitment for their operations in the series. But in October 2002 the organisers announced that the series would be deferred until 2004. There was still no new company willing to design and build a chassis for Premier 1 now that Reynard had gone bankrupt and before long the teams that were interested in the series had gone very quiet while those that had been confirmed had begun to lose their faith.

After June 2003 there was very little news on the series and it seemed Premier 1 could not find a new company that could supply them with a chassis, or teams who had any interest left in the series.
It’s not clear what happened to the cars that had already been built by Reynard, it’s likely they were refurbished or ended up hidden away somewhere. Sources suggest Sullivan invested more than $100 million into Premier 1 Grand Prix – a big loss for what could have been an amazing racing series.

Readers familiar with the concept of football and motorsport will know that some years later in 2008 the SuperLeague Formula was founded which lasted for a couple of seasons. However it never had the success as intended and the series died in 2011, the same way that A1GP had folded via the back door.

These days it is still possible to visit the website of Premier 1 Grand Prix. The organisation had two sites. One is still online the other is reachable via the archive, You can use this link and this link.

For more pictures of the Premier 1 Grand Prix series check this link.

Manor Racing revealed their unraced Manor MRT 07

Manor Racing a Formula One team with a short history in the Formula One. But a team that gained after they survived in 2014 a lot of fans around the world. A team that knew very hard times with the terrible dead of one of their top drivers Jules Bianchi, who scored in 2014 even two points for the team, and the terrible accident with Maria de Villota. This season the team would enter the Formula One with the Manor MRT 07, however we will never know how the car would have been.

2016 was maybe one of the best seasons for the Manor team. Pascal Wehrlein scored a 10th position at the Austrian Grand Prix, which gave the team a bright future. Since Sauber failed to impress in any Grand Prix the Manor team showed every race again their potential. However Sauber managed to score a 9th place during the Brazil Grand Prix. Which gave them the 10th place in the constructors championship. The first 10 teams in the Formula One earn a lot of money for their positions. The 11th team doesn’t at this was the biggest problem for the Manor Team. They already survived several seasons with less money, but this season seemed to be even harder.  Without the Extra Millions the team announced in December that they were in Financial trouble and where looking for a new investor or Team Owner.
Manor MRT07

There were several rumours of whom would rescue the Manor Team. Ron Dennis was named a couple of times. Before he got fired at Mclaren he tried to buy the Mclaren team, backed by Chinese investors, however his plan failed. But it seemed Ron Dennis wasn’t interested in buying Manor. Even Bernie Ecclestone was named as the new Team Owner of the Manor Team. We all know what happened now. Manor got Bankrupt and will close its doors at the end of January 2017.

Directly after the announcement that the Manor Team was folded the first photos of the Manor MRT07 wind tunnel model where revealed on several Social Media. The Manor MRT 07 showed the wider dimensions who are permitted by the new regulations for the 2017 season. Notable are the flaps on the front wing. The car would be powered by the powerfull Mercedes engine. Rumoured where Esteban Gutierrez and Felipe Nasr to be the drivers in 2017.

The Manor MRT 07 looked promising, and that’s probably it for the car. We will never know If the Manor MRT07 would have been a success or a failure. The team got bankrupt and the chance they will be at the start in Australia over 57 days is 1%.  The lost of Manor means that the teams who joined the F1 a couple of years ago, are all gone.

For more pics of the MRT07 check this link.

Goodbye Bernie Ecclestone, you will be missed.

Dear Bernie Ecclestone,  this blog is dedicated to you. A person who has been working in the Formula One for more than 60 years, 6 decades of Bernie in the Formula One WOW how did you do that Bernie ? You tried to qualify yourself for the Monaco Grand Prix in 1958, before you started to be a manager for drivers. To end up as a team boss and later on Mister Formula One.

I remember myself sitting on the couch, in my Benetton team Shirt, as a 4 year old boy next to my dad watching the 1994 Hungarian Grand Prix. Where Jos Verstappen, my all-time Hero, managed to finish as 3th! I remember the excitement my dad and I had at that Sunday. Verstappen on the Podium WOW!  And a feeling inside me says thanks to Bernie Ecclestone we could have a taste of what it was to end up on the podium. Twenty-two years later his son Max would win the Spanish Grand Prix. You words for Max where priceless. It showed how much you love Formula One, and how much passion you have for this sport.

This sport took one of your closest friends, Jochen Rindt died after a horrible crash at Monza. You decided you didn’t want to be a drivers manager again and decided it was time to become a team boss. Something you did with huge success. You became the owner of the Brabham F1 Team and we all know what happened. Twice World Champion with amazing drivers.
Bernie Ecclestone
However this is now how I see you. I see you as the little guy who made Formula One big with all his passion and compassion. What everyone seems to forgotten is that you bought in the 70’s once the commercial rights for the Formula One. And offered every single team to take a share in them. However the team refused it due the millions sponsors gave. Years later the teams understood they choose wrong and started to blame you.

I always loved it how you kept in power in the Formula One and how you let the Formula One grow to what it is now. With all your passion and love for this amazing sport. I have always been the outsider in discussions about Formula One. I never agreed with the public opinion and did my own research, many people call me still the walking Formula One encyclopaedia . Remember you even helped me once when I needed information about a Formula One team? You gave me the information. Now I know for many you are unreachable, I was just the lucky guy.

Sixty Years of Bernie Ecclestone, six decades of Bernie Ecclestone WOW! I would love to have seen another decade of Bernie Ecclestone zero fucks given continuing his job as CEO of the Formula One. But there won’t be a new decade of Bernie Ecclestone as CEO. The Americans came and took over Formula One, I still can’t believe this really happened, but it did!
To be honest I’m afraid the Formula One will end up in one big Commercial Jok… I mean show like it is in many Sports that are broadcasts live  in the Americans.

Chase Carey will be the new CEO… I never heard of this guy, no one did because he has not the Passion, the Love, the emotional connection you have with the Formula One Bernie. For me you will always be “Mister Formula One” and this is something that will never change. Thanks for these amazing years. Thanks for all the joy, controversy, amazing races and your zero fucks given mentality.
You will be missed Sir !

 

Ikuzawa; the team that became Stewart Grand Prix

Sometimes there are new teams entering Formula One which are not really new at all. Jackie Stewart’s Stewart Grand Prix team was a good example, a hidden secret which we will reveal now. The origins of Stewart go way back to 1994 when Japanese driver Tetsu Ikuzawa started his own Formula One project, in which he planned to enter the championship by 1998. But as time went by, the team would become Stewart Grand Prix, now better known as Red Bull Racing!

In early 1994 Tetsu Ikuzawa, a former Japanese Formula 2 and Formula 3 driver from the 1970s, and successful businessman, started his own Formula One project with the intention to enter the sport during the period of 1996-98. During the early days Tetsu recruited former Williams team manager Peter Windsor and he would help begin the Ikuzawa project. The two men began the search for a designer and engineering director to produce their Formula One car, which led them to designer Enrique Scalabroni. Scalabroni already had a good reputation as a designer with Williams, Ferrari and Lotus, and as a designer who dared to think out of the box – in 1993 he drew up his revolutionary idea of a future Formula One car.

Together they started to design the HW001 during the 1994 and 1995 seasons at the Hawtal Whiting company, located in England. The Ikuzawa F1 Team tested their design for hundreds of hours in the windtunnel, before they ended up with a full-scale mock-up of their HW001 chassis. Later in 1995 John Watson did a couple of seat fitting tests for the team. The plans were serious at that time to enter Formula One.

The team also intended to hire two drivers; the first would have been Kenny Bräck and the second Gil de Ferran. Their line up looked promising, their car looked great and the windtunnel testing had delivered promising results. As various pieces of the puzzle fell into place both Tetsu and Peter were talking extensively to Ford and Cosworth to negotiate an engine deal.

Ikuzawa had come far but due to the mid-90s slump in the Japanese economy the team encountered financial trouble and saw many of the key people they’d hired move away to the newly-founded Stewart Grand Prix team led by Jackie and Paul Stewart. Not long after information first surfaced about the Ikuzawa project stalling due to the economic problems in Japan then rumours emerged that the Stewart team was to buy the Ikuzawa HW001 design. Stewart denied these rumours, but the team had already hired many of the people who had worked on the HW001, so even if they didn’t buy the design, similarities were inevitable. Later on Stewart would go one better than Ikuzawa, concluding a deal with Ford to supply his team exclusively with the newest Ford engines for the 1997 season.

Peter told us the follow about this deal.
“Another factor that hurt us a little was the Ford engine contract going to Jackie Stewart. He deserved it, of course, but we were talking extensively to Ford and Cosworth back in 1994-95.”

Ikuzawa

The SF01 from Stewart proved itself as a reliable car. What if the Ikuzawa project hadn’t been halted due to financial issues and had instead succeeded in getting the HW001 car on the grid with Bräck and de Ferran as drivers? We will never know. But this story is an amazing one. How a dream ended up in 2017 as the Red Bull Racing team.

I want to thank Peter Windsor and Enrique Scalabroni in person for their cooperation in assisting with the story about the Ikuzawa HW001, without their information this story wouldn’t be complete

For more pictures of the car check this link.