As he stepped out in a red Ferrari racing suit on the tarmac of Silverstone, the home of the British Grand Prix, Elliot Pickering appeared every inch the accomplished sporting star last September.

Onlookers were probably unaware that the driver flying around the track in his $306,000 car in search of a podium finish was a rookie who had already achieved the victory of his life 18 months earlier.

The 26-year-old’s big win, however, did not come on the racing track but on the world’s financial markets in one of the most chaotic days of oil trading.

For Pickering belongs to the so-called Essex Boys, a group of commodities traders who pocketed an estimated $700 million in one afternoon while working from their homes in April 2020.

Elliot Pickering

The speculators, some aged in their twenties and one only a teenager, made the life-changing sums as the price of crude oil plunged into the red for the first time.

In the ensuing two years, members of the crew have gone on to enjoy high-rolling lifestyles with their newfound riches.

While Pickering has turned his attention to the world of elite car racing, a fellow trader has established an international polo team and others have created numerous companies.

The speculators, some aged in their twenties and one only a teenager, made the life-changing sums as the price of crude oil plunged into the red for the first time.

Though the group won acclaim for their financial heroics around the affluent Essex enclave where several of them live, their lucrative gambling is coming under the microscope of financial regulators.

After months of wrangling, 11 of the traders have been told to hand over their texts and other documents to the City watchdog over potential market abuse.

A High Court judge dismissed an effort by the group this month to block the authorities from scrutinizing their communications around the remarkable payday.

The decision could pave the way for a regulatory intervention as investigators examine whether the traders launched a co-ordinated bid to push down the oil price or simply picked up on “blaring” market signals, as their lawyers say.

The group, largely unknown in the City, made the huge profits during the first Covid lockdown from the comfort of their own homes, several of which are dotted around the Essex village of Theydon Bois.

Pickering was one of the group’s big winners. He was reported to have taken home $100 million after leveraging a series of complex bets as the market went into turmoil.

At the age of 18, the trader had already embarked on what he must have hoped would be a path to riches when he registered his own trading company.

His jump into the frenetic world of commodity trading in 2013 paid off quickly as he picked up the keys to a convertible Rolls-Royce, complete with personalized plates, three years later.

By January last year, after the crude oil payday, he had set up his own racing company and attained a motor sport license about the same time, allowing him to enter the Ferrari Challenge UK events.

Recent accounts for Pickering’s holdings company show that it had assets of $119 million at the end of the last financial year, including $70.3 million in cash, up from $9.1 million the previous year.

Another big winner was Aristos Demetriou, 33, who is rumored to have found his way to the trading terminal while working in a supermarket car park where he asked a future acquaintance how he could afford his car.

In the ensuing two years, members of the crew have gone on to enjoy high-rolling lifestyles with their newfound riches.

By 2015, his dream of success had materialized when he paid $3.6 million for a home with land close to a golf course, only to demolish it and build his own mansion.

The quest for lavish cars that is said to have helped him off the supermarket trolley run appears to have been satisfied, with cars worth a total of $204,000 sitting outside his Essex home recently.

Demetriou was married in December 2017 at a lavish ceremony in Claridge’s hotel in Mayfair, London. Guests were entertained by the magician Dynamo — who charges up to $122,000 for guest appearances.

Paul Commins

Those enjoying the show included his neighbor Chris “Dog” Roase, 48, a veteran pit trader, who made about $90 million on April 20, 2020.

Close to Roase’s listed mansion, which features a tennis court, five-a-side football pitch and pool house, is the eight-bedroom home of his friend Paul Commins. The eldest of the traders, Commins, 53, learned his trade in the frantic pits of London’s International Petroleum Exchange. He is known to friends as Cuddles.

Commins, Roase and Demetriou are among a group of traders said to be bound together by their love of West Ham United FC, golf and holidays to the Spanish resort Marbella.

Companies House filings show that the trio set up a company in February to deal in commercial art galleries.

Commins was reported to have made about $30 million in April 2000, while his son George, 19, raked in about $8 million.

Another novice to have reaped the awards was Connor Younger, the son of a tiler who also made a reported $100 million at the age of 20.

Others involved in the High Court application are Henry Lunn, 28, who has immersed himself in the world of international polo, setting up a company last year and forming a team that has flown to Argentina to compete.

James Biagioni, 35, is one of the few of the group with a higher profile in London. The former gardener of Italian heritage was crowned “the City’s most eligible bachelor” by Square Mile magazine in 2015 alongside a dashing picture.

The others who applied to the High Court are Paul Sutton, 39, Matthew Thompson, 28, and Nicholas Stewart.

The traders operated independently through Vega Capital London, a small trading shop registered to an Essex business park that gave them access to trading accounts and a clearing house.

In the months after the windfall, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), a US government agency that regulates derivatives markets, began looking into the traders. When a request to hand over communications as part of a preliminary investigation was rebuffed by the traders’ lawyers in May 2021, the regulators turned to their British counterparts for help.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the City watchdog, subsequently handed a series of requests to the traders last November.

The notices required them to hand over “information and documents” relating to their derivative trading between January 1, 2020 and May 31, 2020 on two trading exchanges.

The traders — whose ages ranged from 21 to 53— refused to supply the documents and launched an application for a judicial review of the financial regulator’s request.

Lawyers for the group argued that the CFTC could not legally make the request in the US, where the traders would be afforded legal protections, and accused the agency of trying its luck in the UK.

Judge Alison Foster dismissed the application at a hearing before the Administrative Court this month and ordered the traders to hand over the documentation.

A source said that the group was now weighing up whether to apply for an appeal before complying with the request.

Both the FCA and CFTC have refused to comment on the case.

Henry Lunn

Evan Flowers, a lawyer at Dechert LLP that represents the group, said: “Our clients brought this challenge because the manner in which the CFTC requested documents from the UK Financial Conduct Authority effectively deprived them of valuable protections under US law.

“None of our clients did anything wrong by trading their own view of the market on April 20, 2020 and they remain confident the US regulator will come to that conclusion after reviewing the evidence.”

Due to the profits made and publicity of the win, a separate investigation was already opened by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on which the traders operated.

Both Vega and the traders have provided information relating to their communication over a four-day period that April which was passed to the CFTC.

The traders operated independently through Vega, which is not accused of any wrongdoing.

Mario Ledwith is a news reporter for The Times of London. Dominik Lemanski is a London-based journalist and investigator