NEWS FEATURE

Tom Walkinshaw and Arrows

People in Formula 1 do not like to talk about deals until they are done - and even then they prefer that no-one knows the details. It is not a new phenomenon. Back in 1984 when Mansour Ojjeh became the majority shareholder of the McLaren the deals were done on the day after the final race of the 1984 season and yet were not made public until the 1985 effort was launched - six months later. Today media scrutiny in F1 is such that very little can remain a secret for long.

In the week after the Australian Grand Prix meeting - during which it was announced that Tom Walkinshaw would be splitting with Ligier at the end of July - there were suggestions that Tom was in the process of buying the majority shareholding in the Arrows team. Both he and Arrows boss Jackie Oliver played down the rumours - but neither denied that something was happening.

The fact is that such a deal makes perfect sense - even in the sometimes illogical world of Formula 1 racing.

In Australia, angry at the Ligier break-up, Walkinshaw said that he was not interested in being involved in a Grand Prix team unless it had the potential to do well and he had complete control of the organisation. He indicated that his ultimate aim was to have an F1 team but added that in order to be a contender in 1997 one had to have everything in place by July. It all made perfect sense. The only problem was that Tom did not look like a man who thought his own plans for a TWR team based at Leafield would be ready within five months.

It has been an open secret in F1 in recent months that Arrows has been for sale - at the right price. Since Footwork pulled out the team has struggled and has lost money. As has often happened in the 20-year history of the team Oliver and Rees have adopted a policy of survival and even if the team has never actually won a race they are still in business, while other flashier organizations have come and gone.

Oliver admits that the team's results have been mediocre but says that does not mean that the team management is only in F1 to make money. He and Rees were both successful young racers in the 1960s and Jackie says they still want to do the job. He cites the case of Frank Williams, who survived for 10 years with an uncompetitive team before finally becoming successful.

When money was easier to come by, Oliver and Rees invested it cleverly in the Arrows factory and the windtunnel and they have one of the better facilities for a middle-ranking F1 team.

It was, therefore, a big surprise that Jackie Stewart did not take advantage of this and buy the operation rather than trying to establish one from new, particularly as Stewart Grand Prix is to be based in Milton Keynes.

The ownership of Arrows has been slightly confused since the team was bought from founders Oliver and Rees by Japanese businessman Wataru Ohashi in November 1989. Ohashi was the boss of the Footwork Group, a Japanese transport and services empire which wanted to use F1 to spread its fame internationally. He signed an expensive engine deal with Porsche for a supply of V12 engines and funded the construction of a state-of-the-art 40% rolling road windtunnel in the old Arrows factory but the Footwork-Porsche adventure was a disaster and in 1992 the team switched to Mugen Honda V10 power. Eighteen months later Ohashi was forced to pull Footwork out of F1 because of Japan's economic problems.

Hoping to revive the team at a later date Ohashi leased it back to Oliver and Rees for 1994 but things did not improve and so the pair "regained ownership" in 1995 - although Ohashi is believed to still own the windtunnel.

For Walkinshaw Arrows is a logical step following his decision not to be involved in Ligier. In a stroke he will acquire a fully-operational F1 team with around 120 experienced people. Arrows is lacking design engineers following the defection of Jenkins to Stewart Grand Prix, but Walkinshaw is not short of engineers who can be put straight in to Arrows. This will mean that he can build cars immediately - without problems over intellectual property rights, which might have resulted if the TWR engineers had continued to develop ideas from the Ligier concept. The Footwork-Hart FA17 is clearly a useful car and will provide a good base for development.

It also ensures that Walkinshaw does not have to struggle through a first year in F1, paying all the travel expenses. In buying Arrows he has acquired FOCA benefits for 1996 and probably for 1997 as well - as the current Arrows looks likely to score a few points in the hands of Jos Verstappen and Ricardo Rosset this year.

The deal also brings Verstappen back into Walkinshaw's camp, Tom having played an important role in hiring the Dutchman for Benetton at the end of 1993.

Another advantage is that Walkinshaw will know exactly what he is buying because the Arrows Technical Centre was established by Ross Brawn before he quit Arrows to work for TWR on the Jaguar sportscar programme. Brawn was one of the men that Walkinshaw implanted at Benetton in 1992 and it is likely that Brawn will be pulled out of the team at the end of this year to return to the TWR fold.

Despite this the 1997 season is bound to be something of an interim season for TWR/Arrows. The new TWR F1 base at Leafield is not yet ready to run a complete F1 operation. It is however only 35 miles from Arrows and in the long term Walkinshaw can transfer staff and equipment from Arrows if he chooses to do so. The Arrows factories could then either be sold off or used by one of the many other TWR Group subsidiaries.

The 1997 season will also see a great deal of stability among the engine manufacturers before what is expected to be a big change around in 1998. Walkinshaw will almost certainly be trying to get a deal with Honda and so for 1997 it is logical that he will try to sign a customer deal with Mugen Honda in order to use the season to perfect a chassis for a V10 engine.

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