The 2002 season was obviously a bizarre year for Orange Arrows, or better said for Tom Walkinshaw. Prost retired after the 2001 season and Walkinshaw with his buddy Nickerson were after the assets of the team to form a “new” team named Phoenix Grand Prix. During the year it became clear that Orange Arrows was financially struggling and wasn’t able to pay their bills. After the French Grand Prix the team disappeared from the grid. Only to announce in November 2002 they applied for an 2003 entry.
In the past I wrote a lot of articles related to the Orange Arrows team and how they left the Formula One after the German Grand Prix. There were plenty of rumours about interested groups to take over the Arrows team. One of them was Red Bull who already had their protégé driving for them. Sideways a lot has been written about the Phoenix Grand Prix project as well which is linked with the Arrows Team obviously due to Tom Wakinshaw’s involvement.
The French Grand Prix saw one of the weirdest moves made in the Formula One. As the Arrows team was near bankruptcy and wasn’t able to pay any bills the team told their drivers to deliberately set lap times slow enough they would not pass the 107%. This is what happened as Frentzen was 6,5 second slower than the pole time, Bernoldi was even 7,8 seconds slower. This was done so the team would avoid the fine of 50.000 dollar for not attending the Grand Prix. It seemed that the team found with the help of Morgan Grenfell some backing and arrived at the Hockenheimring.
Both Frentzen and Bernoldi had a good pace during the free practice. Frentzen qualified the A23 on the 15th place and Bernoldi the 18th place. However, the effect of the financial struggle was visible during the race. Both engines blown up. It would also be the last race for the Arrows team. The team did go to other races that season but never appeared on the grid, this I covered a while back.
While a lot of wild stories appeared on the surface regarding Orange Arrows, there were serious plans from the team to appear on the grid in 2003. This is what the team did, the 15th of November 2002 the team announced their entry for 2003. It is an interesting move as the team went into administration only a week before. At that point there were serious talks with a German Consortium by the name of Asset Trust Partners, which was the holding company of German Grand Prix Racing GmbH.
The bid was made, but would the FIA agree with Arrows as one of the teams in 2003? Well, that only took 3 weeks to know. The FIA published the 2nd of December the entry list for 2003. On it the Arrows team was not presented. The FIA stated that they had received their application however due to reasons only communicated with the team they rejected their bid. Obviously the 2002 season is one of the reasons.
However, what if the Arrows team had their bid accepted instead of rejected? As there’s zero proof that Arrows worked on the A24 for the 2003 season earlier in 2002, it wouldn’t surprise me there were already sketches made for the new car or at least some thoughts were shared between Coughlan and Sergio Rinland. As well the engine is a questionable. Would they be able to sign a new deal with Cosworth? Probably not! There could be a backup plan using their old Hart V8 engines they still had. However, there were also the AMT (former Peugeot V10 engines) still laying around.
Sadly, the Arrows team left the Formula One in 2002. A team with a huge history, which we will still keep in our hearts.