GLOBETROTTER

The adventures of T Walkinshaw Esq.

I hope that Tom Walkinshaw is successful in his efforts to buys the Arrows Formula 1 team. Why? Because I want to see him take on the other Grand Prix team bosses - without having to contend with partners forcing compromise upon him.

Tom is not a man to whom compromise comes easily. It never has done. Self-made men tend to be like that. Having enjoyed success in many different areas with his TWR Group, Tom's F1 career has been dogged by having to do things which you know deep down Tom doesn't really want to do. He has never been able to follow through at either Benetton or Ligier. In both cases his early enthusiasm and ambitions have been frustrated when he has discovered that he cannot gain the control he wants. On both occasions the man in the way has been Benetton boss and Ligier owner Flavio Briatore.

The problem with Tom is that he is too clever for his own good and yet, at the same time, has had to learn that F1 is not just about being clever but also about knowing how to play the wicked political games that go on when you get into the F1 big league. It is a world where even piranhas - and Tom can be as vicious as the next man in F1 - are eaten up like minnows.

Walkinshaw is no angel and much of his success has come because he is a risk-taker. He pushes things to the limit and so tends to leave himself open to all manner of accusations. Over the years Tom has been in more than his fair share of trouble with governing bodies of the sport. His defences when challenged are usually very clever, delving into what Tom loves to refer to as "grey areas".

This kind of thing has made him a lot of enemies but even they have to admit that when it comes to putting together successful programs - be they in the sport or in business - Tom does it well. He has walked the high wire and he has yet to fall off - although he has come close on occasion. There have been occasions when it has looked as though he would lose his TWR empire and yet somehow - like Indiana Jones - he always manages to extract himself from the lion's mouth/fire/marsh in the nick time and wander off with a shrug and a wry smile to make a few more millions.

It was inevitable that ultimately Formula 1 would come into the Walkinshaw gun sights, just as any top team in any motor sporting discipline is drawn to the ultimate goal. It is happening with Jackie Stewart and I expect one day it will happen with Prodrive. Ambitious people can only stay successful in their chosen field for so long before needing another challenge and looking elsewhere to find it.

Tom's arrival in F1 came in July 1991 when it was announced that he had bought 35% of the Benetton team and would soon be getting hold of a controlling interest in the team. It was not long before Tom and his people from TWR were making waves. In September Walkinshaw snatched Michael Schumacher from under the noses of the other F1 teams and fired Benetton driver Roberto Moreno. The Benetton technical departments were completely rebuilt with the closure of the team's design center at Godalming and consolidation of all departments at Witney. Within a year everything had been relocated in a new factory under the control of TWR's technical director Ross Brawn. Tom also began a campaign not only to hire as many engineers as he could with F1 experience he also invested in a new generation of young specialists - notably in the realms of high technology. The result was that the foundations were laid for the World Championships of 1994 and 1995. But his plans to take over Benetton completely were thwarted. For whatever reasons he never did buy those extra percentages of shares and as a result there was friction - often visible - between Walkinshaw and Briatore.

Flavio is a past master at F1's political games. Even when he arrived in F1 he knew how to play the game. He must have learned it in the rough-and-tumble of the North York's fashion trade where business is clearly no longer done by screaming "bitch!" and smearing a rival's make-up.

This was quickly recognized by F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone - who got to where he is today by being able to spot a battleship on the horizon. In the finest Machiavellian traditions Bernie made friends with Flavio. Better the devil you have in bed with you than a mysterious ripper out there in the mist somewhere...

Tom was different and probably would admit - if tortured long enough - that he underestimated Briatore. As things turned out Flavio used Tom to get Benetton working - and once the job was done began looking for ways to get rid of his ambitious sidekick. Rumors that Tom would be parachuted into Ligier began long before Benetton ran into trouble with the FIA in 1994. In the end Walkinshaw was pushed into Ligier to keep the FIA happy.

And so Tom set his sights on buying the French team and his no compromise attitudes were put into action again. Rebuilding Ligier was a more difficult job because Tom had to answer not only to Briatore but also to the team's French sponsors. They did not seem to understand that no sane person would ever locate an F1 factory at Magny-Cours and so Tom's Ligier takeover became a series of interim plans. The ultimate aim - although Tom would never admit it - was to gain control of the team, shut down the French operation once money could have been found from elsewhere and open a new factory at the new TWR corporate headquarters at Leafield.

In Melbourne it became clear to Tom that he was never going to get Ligier and, being as he is, there was no question of half-measures. He simply let it be known that he was going to dump the whole sorry mess into Briatore's lap. He had enough. He was going to do his own thing.

And so he moves on to Arrows, a team which has all the elements to be successful if the right money and the right people can be coaxed into place at the same time. If anyone can do it, it will be Tom and I have a vague suspicion that he will do it by gradually reclaiming all his TWR people from Benetton. The chances are that once Benetton fortunes in F1 begin to slide and the TV cameras spend more time on people other than Briatore, that the Italian will lose interest in F1 and go off to some other business. Racing people are racing people, whether they are good guys or bad guys. Ecclestone is a racer. Mosley is a racer and Walkinshaw is the same. So are Frank Williams and Ron Dennis. They may not all get on very well but they recognize that they all share the same passion.

Walkinshaw has many burning ambitions to fulfil. You only have to talk to the man to know that. He talks very softly - all ambitious men do - and he never tells you what he is planning next. You will find out, he says, in the fullness of time.

In the fullness of time, I have a suspicion, Walkinshaw will not only create his own F1 team, he will produce his own engines. To begin with they will probably be badged by some other manufacturer - eager for the publicity that a successful F1 campaign will bring - but in the end, when he sure he can succeed, Tom will probably produce Walkinshaw engines. And if that is the case then it is probably just a matter of time before the Walkinshaw road car comes along. It is a pattern which has been seen many times in motor racing - most recently at McLaren.

Tom will never admit it but I think he wants to be Scotland's answer to Enzo Ferrari. At Leafield has been carefully designed to enable TWR engineers to work for different, often rival, companies - discreetly - without one project overlapping with another. Inevitably a successful engineering company wants to showcase its capabilities and motor racing does exactly that. Honda proved that. So did BMW.

The other thing which comes across when you talk to Tom is a fierce need to beat the other Scot on the F1 car lot - Jackie Stewart. One can only suppose that it is something to do with one coming from a small town near Glasgow and the other from a small town near Edinburgh...

The pair both plan to enter F1 in 1997 and they have chosen very different paths of attack: one is buying into an existing team; the other is starting from scratch. Which will be right? Who knows? Only time will tell.

If I was betting man - and experience in motor racing has taught me not to be - I would say that Tom's choice is more logical. If only in terms of statistics.

In the last six years F1 has seen seventeen teams shut their doors and several of them have passed through different owners before doing so. Among them have been famous names such as Brabham, Lotus and March. In addition there have another eight or nine F1 projects which had to be abandoned before they ever got off the ground.

The major lesson seems to be that the only way a team is ever going to make it in F1 these days is for it to buy out an existing organization, rather than try to build a world-beating organization. Building from nothing has proved to be an expensive route to failure - unless, of course, someone with squillions of loot is standing right behind you, as was the case with Sauber and Mercedes-Benz.

The successful players in recent years seem to have been those who have bought existing teams and improved upon them. Ron Dennis and Mansour Ojjeh did it with McLaren and the Benetton Family finally succeeded with Toleman. Others have failed...

The reason I think Walkinshaw will ultimately succeed is because once, many years ago, I sat in a bar with Tom and his mechanics while he took bets on whether he could punch a hole through the middle of a number of beer mats with one finger.

Money was flying around the table so fast that it was hard to keep up but I remember where most of it ended up - in Tom's pocket. And this was in the days when the man already had a private jet.

Take care of the pennies, they say in Scotland, and the pounds will look after themselves. Translate that philosophy into dollars and it will probably work in F1 as well...

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