Prost Grand Prix once a winning team was on the edge of bankruptcy in late 2000. The team was already on their knees in the early summer days of 2001. There was a savior for the team. Prince Khaled Al-Waleed the son of Al-Waleed bin Talal invested 10 million dollar in the team around June 2001. Was Prost Grand Prix saved now? Talks were held to keep the team on the grid. However, Alain Prost himself was too greedy.
Alain Prost was a marvellous driver. He became four times the World Champion in the Formula One. As a team manager he was poorly and even the reason why Prost Grand Prix faded away. In 1992 when Prost took a sabbatical year the first rumours were there of his own Formula One team, it was dismissed as he joined Williams in 1993 and won the drivers title once more and retire finally.
While Alain tested a couple of times in 1994 with Ligier and in 1995 with McLaren and said he was still interested in the Formula One, he was already working to debut as team owner. As you could read here, Prost Grand Prix already existed on paper as team.
In 1996 Alain Prost completed the purchase of the Ligier team from Guy Ligier. The first year of Prost Grand Prix in 1997 would be the team’s best year. Basically, it was still Equipe Ligier that was on the grid with the JS45. Who doesn’t remember the Spanish Grand Prix where Panis ended up as second?
After 1997, the team went inn a freefall most of the downfall was related to the poor Peugeot engine, as well mismanagement from Prost his side. Probably 2000 was the worst season for the team. It seemed to be a good year in first, when Prost announced the mega deal with Yahoo!. However, due the internet bubble that popped in 2000 the deal was worth nothing. Contribute the horrible Peugeot V10 engine and the poorly driveable AP03 and the worse season in complete.
The team eventually came in financial needs. Still, for 2000 Prost managed to make a deal with Scuderia Ferrari to deliver them the needed engine, batched as Acer. While the AP03 was poorly, the AP04 seemed to be reliable. The package seemed to be completed with Jean Alesi who stayed at Prost Grand Prix. While Gastón Mazzacane was announced as second driver because of the PSN sponsoring. The Diniz family became a shareholder at the team as well and Pedro Diniz would appear at the pit wall all races. Still the team was in financial struggle. It was clear Luciano Burti replaced Mazzacane only after four races.
While Alesi showed the first part of the year only great results with the Prost AP04, a sixth place at Monaco, a fifth place at Canada and a sixth place at Germany Alesi left the team after that race. Heinz-Harald Frentzen who came from Jordan replaced him. Alesi went to Jordan.
Prost Grand Prix was in desperate need of fresh money. There were not many sponsors interested in the team. Around May the first rumours were spread that Prost Grand Prix was for sale. Around the same time Alain Prost came in contact with Khaled Al-Waleed the Saudi prince. The team was looking for money and Khaled Al-Waleed was willing to invest some money in the team. Khaled Al-Waleed offered Alain Prost a rescue deal of 10 million dollar, which Alain Prost accepted allowing the team to at least finish the season. Also the opportunity was there to sell the team. The 10 million dollar deposit was made just before the Italian Grand Prix eventually.
While the deal was made Alain Prost, behind the back of Khaled Al-Waleed, searched for even a better opportunity and more money for his team. The greediness took over control. The result was a pissed off prince who demanded his invested money back. Eventually, the 10 million dollar was returned under a bank guarantee.
The first taste with Alain Prost, I would quit and call him a potato, Khaled Al-Waleed did not. While he was still mad of Alain’s movement earlier, Khaled now with Brendan McGuinness next to him went back in speaking terms with the team. The debts went over 45 million dollar for the team, so they had too.
Both parties kept in contact to see if there was a possibility to invest in the team and eventually buy a percentage of the shares. Sadly, not soon after 9/11 would happen and change the world we used to know. The world economy went down the drain due the 9/11 attacks and people were quite a while not sure if they were safe at all. Eventually on the 22th of December 2001 Alain Prost would even blame the 9/11 attacks for the bankruptcy.
Was it really? Perhaps I played a part in it, though I believe it is mostly due to Alain Prost himself that Prost Grand Prix eventually went into administration. After the attacks both Alain Prost and Khaled Al-Waleed kept on speaking terms. In October the same year the talks between both continued. Though, mostly by Alain Prost and Brendan McGuinness.
On the 27th of November 2001, it seems Khaled Al-Waleed set an end date on the negotiations. Reports on the Saudi Arabian television stated that a “Take-it-or-leave-it” offer was made to Alain Prost. It has been said that the consortium of Khaled and Brendan offered the team to pay the debts the team had, at that time the debts were much higher already. Moreover, to invest in the team and take over the lead. How serious was this? I am not sure how to answer this properly.
In late October The Diniz family eventually was on speaking terms with Alain Prost as well. As you could read already, the Diniz family owned 40% of the shares. Pedro Diniz was a member of the board and the family invested in the team. If you ask me the perfect deal. Well, Alain Prost declined the offer from Diniz. It is been said they tried to take over the team for a symbolic 1 dollar, though this was inclusive the debts. Why Alain declined it?
On the 2nd of November 2001, Pedro Diniz announced in the media that he has left Prost Grand Prix. He sold back the 40% stakes he had in the team. It seems Pedro was not happy at all with the decisions that were made by the team.
“I hope the problems will be solved, but the future of the team was affected by decisions that I did not agree with.”
Just two weeks later Philip de Laey from Interbrew told in the Canadian media that they were ready to take over the team. In 2003, the team would be rebranded to promote their brews. More about this attempt will follow in another story.
On the 22th of November 2001 Alain Prost gave a press conference as Prost Grand Prix went into receivership. He provided some interesting information there. He mentioned that at least five or six possibilities were there to rescue the team. As well, three or four new offers arrived that day following the announcement of the CH 11 for Prost Grand Prix. However, Alain mentioned as well that the team only lost four people, (the drivers included) and that the key personnel were still under contract of Prost Grand Prix and did not left the team, as media suggested. I can assure you that the team would appear on the grid in 2002 thus Alain Prost.
On the 13th of December, it was rumoured that Khaled Al-Waleed and his right hand Brendan McGuinness were to buy the 40% stakes that were from the Diniz family. It was said as well that Renault was already contacted for customer engines for 2002. Meanwhile Gauloises seemed to find confidence in the consortium and was interested o return on the car as their main sponsor.
At this time, Prost Grand Prix made no efforts to book hotel rooms for its personnel in Australia for the first Grand Prix of 2002. Nor was there a serious effort to speak about their new car the Prost AP05. The deal that was in the making as well the commitment from Renault and Gauloises were based on Alain Prost leaving the team.
On the 20th of December 2001 the consortium headed by Brendan McGuinness were meeting with the Prost Grand Prix contingent and their administrators in Paris. They made a last offer to invest in the team or make a proposal to take over the team. It would be the last lifeline for the team to survive.
Only three days later that the final offer made by the consortium was declined. Alain Prost seems to have suggested that the offer from Khaled Al-Waleed offers no salvation. There was no chance of reaching a deal with the consortium. Prost blamed the 9/11 attacks and the followed economic down fall at this point are the reason for the deal falling apart.
Not soon after the deal was declined, Khaled Al-Waleed and Brendan McGuinness left the Formula one scene. Just to reappear on the grid in 2002 linked to a Minardi buy out. Still Prost Grand Prix was still desperately looking for fresh money. On the 4th of January 2002, 200 employees of Prost Grand Prix were to held a rally in Paris in front of the Ministry for Industry to help them financially.
On the 29th of January 2002, the Prost Grand Prix closed it doors for good. While Alain Prost repetatly said that a couple of consortiums were interested in Prost Grand Prix. Which will be analysed in another article. It seemed Alain Prost was bluffing just to keep attention and perhaps find some new sponsors ready to invest in his team. We all know what happened after Prost Grand Prix disappeared from the grid. Phoenix Grand Prix!