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Features - Interview

AUGUST 1, 1996

Jackie Olivier


The big story in recent weeks have been the news that Tom Walkinshaw is buying a controlling interest in the Arrows Formula 1 team and has big plans for the future. But where does that leave Arrows boss Jackie Oliver and why has he sold his team? We spoke to Jackie about the deal with Walkinshaw and found it to be a very revealing interview. Arrows has never really enjoyed a good media profile: in part because the team never achieved the results which were expected of it; but also because Jackie O has never been very comfortable talking to the press... He will not discuss shareholdings or prices or specific plans for the future. He prefers to talk about the broader issues of the deal between Arrows and TWR.

JO: "The two groups are well known in motorsport. Arrows has been in Formula 1 for 19 years and has not won a Grand Prix. There are reasons for that. Tom has been in motorsport for quite a long time in various activities and he has won everything he has entered into - but he hasn't won in F1.

"If Arrows wants to try and win some races it clearly has to change the way it goes about competing. It appeared to me that it was becoming increasingly difficult - almost impossible - for me to bring success to the company. All the things that you need to be successful - a technical group capable of delivering a winning car; a good driver; money and an engine package - were by-passing Arrows because people said that after 19 years of trying Arrows was never going to win. We weren't getting the elements necessary to get us into a winning position - despite the good things that do exist at Arrows."

Q: The perception is F1 has long been that you and your team simply did not want to win and were happy to remain a medium-sized comfortable team. Did you really want to win?

JO: "Yes. And to do that one has to change firstly the perception of the team, which the amalgamation with Tom will do, and secondly attract those people who are going to give the team a better chance to win. Tom is able to do that where I have not been. So rather than carry on with Arrows as it was and risk closing down without achieving an ambition, it seemed to me that Arrows should change and join forces with Tom in order to realise that ambition. It was his idea actually, not mine."

Q: You use the term "amalgamation" but Tom Walkinshaw talks about "acquisition". There is clearly a difference of interpretation over the deal. How will that translate into the day-to-day running of the team with Walkinshaw as the majority shareholder?

JO: "There is no point in taking over Arrows and not changing things and being in control. He has to change the perception of the team and he can only do that by changing things. You can only do that from a position of control. I do not think I am going to disagree with changes because Tom ultimately wants the same things that I do."

Q: But being a minority shareholder puts you in a very difficult position. Does it not?

JO: "Tom and I have both got the same objectives. Maybe the style will be different but the intention will be the same so I cannot see any reason why there would be any disagreement."

Q: So you are going to continue to play a role in the team?

JO: "That is the intention of the arrangement. In discussing this, however, we are getting into areas about what has been sold and for how much, what are we going to do and so on. None of these things are appropriate at the moment because some are questions for Tom and some are a matter of completing the agreement. A lot of them are to do with how the goes forward from here and no amount of genius can predict the details."

Q: Let's look back instead. It must have been very frustrating running Arrows for 19 years without success. Would that be a fair comment?

JO: "Life is frustrating, isn't it? I don't know if one can get satisfaction from simply surviving because sometimes when you go into survival mode you do things for the wrong reason. There has been criticism levelled at the organisation under my guidance. Maybe justifiably so but I cannot see how you can make something better if you are no longer involved."

Q: You competed as an F1 driver in 50 GPs between 1967 and 1977 and were an ambitious team owner in the early days. Does that ambition still burn?

JO: "The interesting thing about ambition is that it changes as you go through life. Sometimes young people succeed where older people do not because they do not stop to think about it. They know exactly what they want. It's like catching a bus. A youngster will run and jump but an older person will hold back and think about it for a moment - and will miss the bus."

Q: If you had to do it all again, what would you change in the history of Arrows? Were there mistakes made?

JO: "Of course we made mistakes. If you don't mistake, you don't make anything. Mistakes were made and opportunities lost. The one that stands out was the Porsche engine in 1991. That was the reason I sold Arrows to Footwork. I had come to the conclusion that I needed a big backer who was prepared to go out and buy an engine. Footwork did that. We had a lot of money and we had complete freedom to do what we wanted. Unfortunately the engine wasn't any good. That was a surprise - not just to me, to a lot of people in F1. Mr Ohashi - quite rightly - started to feel that a lot of money had been wasted. He felt it was better to make the team more Japanese, which was something he understood. As it turned out that was not the right thing to do either and so we never achieved much. Here we are again. I have come to another conclusion. To join forces with Tom. I am bringing an existing team which will provide Tom with a good place to start and with his determination to succeed; his connections in engineering circles and his controlling interest maybe this time Arrows will win. There is a good possibility."

Q: Did anyone else try to buy the team before Tom did?

JO: "It's been known in the last 18 months that I have been looking for a partner to help me. Jackie Stewart came to talk to me quite a lot last summer. In fact I suggested it to him. I thought it would have been a good partnership because I had an experienced team which can manufacture a car and he had the ambition for an F1 team and the reputation and connections to bring elements to improve our chances of winning. He chose to do it on his own and I understand that."

Q: What about changes within the team? Will you do the same job? And will former Arrows partner Alan Rees still be involved?

JO: "The reason Tom is acquiring Arrows - and I again emphasize that the is yet to be finalized - is because the team is already in operation. To start a new team you have to get all the people working together. I am sure that Tom will change a few things but there is no point in changing everything because that defeats the purpose of buying the team in the first place. Alan will do the same job as he is doing now. My job role will no longer be as team principal. That will fall to Tom."

Q: How do you see the team developing?

JO: "To be honest you are better able to judge that than I am. I cannot see the wood from the trees. People who go up and down the pitlane talking to everyone are better placed to see how the deal has changed the perception of Arrows. I would guess - and I would hope - that the perception is that actually now we are going to be in a position to win races. Am I right?"

Q: It is too early to say. That depends on an engine deal.

JO: "But would you say Tom's intended acquisition of Arrows is seen as a positive thing to improve the team's chances for the future?"

Q: To be honest the perception in the paddock is that Walkinshaw is taking over Arrows - as opposed to "an amalgamation" and in the fullness of time will sweep away Jackie Oliver and the old Arrows management. That is what the F1 world is saying. That is not what you are saying... It is interesting. People see, for example, that Tom is planning to take the equipment out of the existing Arrows factory and put it into his base at Leafield, leaving Arrows as an R&D centre.

JO: "What's wrong with that? That sounds the most sensible thing to do. I agree with Tom entirely. When I went to Leafield and saw that what he has was far better than we have got it was pointless to stay at Milton Keynes. A better facility will attract better people. Furthermore R&D is better separated from the main facility so it doesn't get caught up in production schedules. I agree with his analysis. That goes back to what I was saying before. I think that a lot of the things Tom wants to do - and more importantly is able to do - I am going to agree with. He doesn't do things for the wrong reasons."

Q: But a minority shareholding leaves you no say in the team if your views do diverge...

JO: "I cannot see that they will diverge because they have not done on the principle points. After 19 years of trying Jackie Oliver would prefer to be part of a success that a whole of a failure. Don't you think we can complement one another. I think people should look at it positively. It is not unusual for a number of key people to go from team to team in this business. If you look at Benetton for example it is made up - apart from Flavio Briatore - of a group of people who were senior members of other teams prior to Benetton. So why is it so strange to think that the same principles cannot apply with Walkinshaw taking over Arrows? It is only pride and prejudice which gets in the way of that and I have little of those two elements."

Q: So why is there the perception that Walkinshaw is going to come in and sweep the board clean?

JO: "I think the reason for that is that most of the team principals would not want to, or need to, or be able to do what I have done. I am quite happy with it. The reason I am happy with it is that I think it will improve the chances of our success - whereas before I don't think we would have done it."