Features - Interview

JULY 1, 1993

Jackie Oliver


A couple of years ago the Arrows Formula 1 team disappeared. Instead there was a team called Footwork. In fact nothing much changed apart from the name. The team was still the same beneath its pseudonym.

A couple of years ago the Arrows Formula 1 team disappeared. Instead there was a team called Footwork. In fact nothing much changed apart from the name. The team was still the same beneath its pseudonym.

Arrows was formed in November 1977 by five men: Franco Ambrosio, Alan Rees, Jack Oliver, Dave Wass and Tony Southgate - A, R, O, W and S. They were missing a second R, but figured correct spelling was better than absolutely accuracy and so the Arrows F1 team. From the start it was a team in the news. Born from an acrimonious split of the Shadow F1 team, the men at Arrows built a car in record time and when Riccardo Patrese led the South African GP in 1978 - the team's second race - F1 sat up and took notice. Within a few months Patrese, who had joined the team from Shadow, finished second in Sweden.

But off the track there was also drama: Ambrosio ran into trouble with the Italian authorities and disappeared off to jail. Then the High Court in London declared that the Arrows car infringed Shadow copyright and the team was banned from using it. Another had to be built in a matter of weeks. Patrese was then accused of causing the death of Ronnie Peterson - by the other drivers.

It was an extraordinary time but Arrows survived those tumultuous days and settled in as a solid member of the F1 community. Southgate and Wass eventually went their own ways leaving Oliver and Rees running the show.

In 1989, however, they received an offer they could not refuse. Japanese tycoon Wataru Ohashi wanted to buy the team - but he was happy for Oliver and Rees to go on running the show. Oliver became managing-director and team principal, Rees stayed team manager. The only real change was the arrival of new directors John Wickham - once the boss of the Spirit-Honda F1 team - and Yoshihiko Nagata. Little has changed since in the management structure. Rees became financial director, allowing Wickham to run the team on a day-to-day basis, while Alan Jenkins was recruited as technical director and Keiichiro Masuyama arrived to bolster the expanding team structure.

One thing remains unchanged in the 15 years which have followed the traumas of 1978, the team has still to win its first Grand Prix victory - after 223 events. The record books are harsh: Arrows/Footwork can claim four second places and three thirds. Seven podiums in 15 years. Despite this record - which is unparalleled in F1 history - the team has always survived through thick and thin, recession and boom.

Critics - and Arrows/Footwork has had many - argue that the team management is not hungry for success. And yet in the 1960s both Rees and Oliver were both hungry young racing drivers - each successful in his own right. Have they forgotten what it feels like to win? Has it become just a job? Or do the jibes hurt?

"It hurts because it is right," says Oliver. "It is a very mediocre record. I suppose that over the passage of time people say: "There must be a reason why they haven't won". You start to give the reasons to explain why we haven't won and they come out as excuses. In our position you have two choices, you either say: "The criticisms are justified. We are no good. We're going to stop". Or you say: "The criticisms are not justified. There are reasons and we are trying to put those to rights". I prefer the latter explanation.

"Look at Frank Williams. He tried for a lot of years in F1 without success. He didn't give up and he has succeeded. Even now, in his partial paralysis, he is still trying and still succeeding. There is an example that, if you continue to try, sooner or later you may succeed. We're still trying and maybe one day we'll do it.

Does Oliver know why the team has not succeeded?

"We have run the team for many years based on a survival package. There have been the odd moments when that policy has produced a good car, but the money has never really been there and we have tended to err on the side of caution. When you do that the performance drops away. The important thing is to stay in business. There are other teams which have gone for it - produced some success - but the deficit at the end of the year has compromised them or put them out of business.

"Whatever else happens I have always tried to stay in business. It has been an amazement to some people how we have kept our team going without success, but the reason for that is that we have always tried to improve - and the bank manager hasn't closed us down at the end of the year."

Oliver's dream of having the right money to do the job properly came true in 1989 when Ohashi bought the team. He wanted to expand his Footwork Corporation on to the worldwide market and he stumbled on the idea of having his own F1 team - just as the Benetton family had done with Toleman. Ohashi's financial clout brought a Porsche V12 engine deal for 1991.

"With Porsche we didn't have a survival policy any longer," says Oliver. "We had a winning policy. There were not the restrictions that had existed before."

And yet, it all went horribly wrong. The Porsche engine was a complete disaster - far removed from what was needed to be competitive. Porsche was humiliated. Footwork had no choice but to switch in the mid-season to running Brian Hart-tuned Cosworth DFR V8s.

"Considering the amount of money he spent on the one year waiting for Porsche and the disastrous second season, Mr Ohashi was very understanding," says Oliver. "It was an awful waste of money. It only needed him to have a loss of heart and pull out - which he could easily have done - and I don't know what would have happened. It is his company and he could have decided to close the doors. Fortunately he didn't and that gave us the opportunity to prove that it wasn't all our fault and that we could do a decent job if we had a reliable engine. That was the task we set ourselves. We had a conservative programme to allow us to rebuild."

It was a good solid package with a proven engine from Mugen (the rebadged Honda V10), a neat design from Alan Jenkins and his team and the experience of Michele Alboreto, who scored six points for the team to lift the team to seventh in the constructors' title and back to F1 repectability.

"It was our second most successful season," says Oliver, "but it is what you do next year which is important. As far as I am concerned, 1992 wasn't a bad year, but we were recovering. Now we have to improve and that is the difficult bit."

Despite the setbacks Ohashi has not interfered, keeping the team to run itself.

"Ohashi leaves us to run the show," says Oliver. "He's a very good person to work. He's a great enthusiast and very patient. He was clearly not happy with the performance in 1991 but he did not given us a hard time.

So, despite the lack of success, Oliver believes he knows what it takes to put together a winning F1 team?

"You need the engine company to get the job done and a big enough budget to allow you to go out and get the best drivers. You cannot get the best drivers unless you have the money and what seems to be the best car. We've never been in that position and until you've got that you have to be conservative. I thought we were going to be there with the Porsche deal, but it didn't materialize."

Although results have been hard to come by, Footwork has invested in building the right facilities to win. In 1988 Oliver and Rees embarked on an ambitious program to construct an F1 manufacturing centre on land adjacent to the old Arrows factory. The result was a 50,000 sq.ft Technical Centre, purpose-built and designed to make the business of constructing F1 cars as efficient as possible. It cost US$10 million and includes everything a modern F1 team needs. At the end of 1990 work began to turn the old factory into a 0.4-scale wind-tunnel.

"We have carefully constructed the Technical Centre so that the various departments compliment one another, in terms of location as well as production. I believe we have an excellent facility.

"We had management consultants in to sort out our structure. It was something we instigated because we have a lot more people shuffling paper than before. The trouble is that when an organisation gets quite large unless you have these things in place mistakes are made - and mistakes lead to failure.

"Technology is important but the organisation of the team is also vital. Ron (Dennis) was the first to bring in the organization aspect of running and building race cars and a lot of his success has been because of his organisation at McLaren. We have to do it better than he is doing it and if we don't we won't be successful.

"People from the old days of F1 say this is not what racing is about. It is not, but that is what it takes to b successful these days. That is what we have got to do."

For the immediate future the team has Jenkins and his crew working on a new FA14 chassis, which should feature some of the latest F1 electronic technology, including a semi-automatic gearbox and traction control. An hydraulic suspension system is under development. Derek Warwick is coming back to F1 to partner Aguri Suzuki. The pair will use much-improved and lightened versions of the Mugen V10.

And what does Oliver expect?

"Well, I don't expect a quantum leap in 1993. When you have your worst season ever followed by your second best it looks good, but we want some real progress, not just fighting back to where we should be."