Arrows chasing Montoya or Franchitti

TOM WALKINSHAW is keeping his cards close to his chest as usual but we believe that the boss of the Arrows Formula 1 team has set his sights on hiring either Juan-Pablo Montoya or Dario Franchitti, depending on which one wins the CARTĘChampionship this year. Franchitti's victory in Australia this weekend has given the Scottish driver the advantage over his Colombian rival with the final race of the year due to take place at California Speedway in two weeks .

Walkinshaw's major problem appears to be raising the finance needed to get one or the other out of their existing contracts in America. This will be expensive but will make sense for the driver as staying on in America to try to win the title again may be less attractive than switching to Formula 1. Arrows may not be a top team at the moment but Walkinshaw is understood to have impressive plans and a low-profile entry into F1 will avoid the problems which Alex Zanardi has encountered this season with Williams.

Walkinshaw was at the Sydney International Motor Show last week and commented that Arrows would have "no excuses" if it did not perform next year as the design staff have had plenty of time to produce a good car and the team has a deal to use Supertec V10 engines. A good season is essential as we believe that he must achieve certain performance goals in order to get the works engine supply which he wants in 2001. This is expected to be some kind of deal involving Renault's sister company Nissan as part of the restructuring of the Japanese company.

Nissan cannot be seen to be entering F1 for some time as it is about to announce a massive "Revival Plan" at this week's Tokyo Motor Show. These have been drawn up by Nissan's chief operating officer Carlos Ghosn and are likely to involve thousands of jobs being cut and probably the closure of at least one factory in Japan. The package will also include Ghosn's plans for improving Nissan's brand image and products. While an F1 program would do wonders for the Nissan image it would be disastrous if Nissan were to lay off thousands of workers and then announce an involvement in the expensive world of Grand Prix racing.

In the meantime Walkinshaw needs more money for the 2000 season and wants a topline driver. Pedro de la Rosa has shown some promising form this year and he brings a large sum of money from Repsol. Tora Takagi, who brings money from PIAA, has shown himself to be quick but very erratic and Walkinshaw is not expected to extend the relationship.

Another name which is being mentioned a lot is that of Dutchman Jos Verstappen. Although Phillips Electronics has decided not to enter F1 we hear that Verstappen has the backing of several other big companies and has a budget of around $10m available.

But because of the problems this year the team is having trouble raising other sponsorship and as it needs around $50m to do the job properly next year, there is still a major shortfall in terms of budget. We have heard whispers in recent days that investment bankers Deutsche Bank Morgan Grenfell might be willing to sell its 40% shareholding in the team for around $45m and we have heard of several possible buyers including David Hunt of Team Lotus and Sauber's Fritz Kaiser, who is expected to go his own way shortly.

A driver line-up of Jos Verstappen and Pedro de la Rosa may not be sufficient to impress big sponsors but signing up Montoya or Franchitti would certainly help. In the meantime we hear that Walkinshaw has exercised his option on de la Rosa. This could be renegotiated particularly if Tom can convince Franchitti to come back to Europe because Dario and Pedro share the same manager - Julian Jakobi. Pedro also has the possibility to move across to the Telefonica-Minardi team which may even have moved to Spain by next year.

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