FEBRUARY 25, 2002
The future is orange - but for which team?
Two years ago Orange launched its three-year sponsorship deal of Arrows with team boss Tom Walkinshaw making some fairly radical claims.
"We will establish Arrows as a top five team within the next 24 months," he said. "Arrows will be one of the best-funded teams in Formula 1 and that's what you need to compete. If you are going to do the development required it costs money. This will enable us to apply all our engineering expertise to delivering the right results."
Twenty-four months later, the team has still got a lot to prove and the next few months will be critical as Orange decides what to do in the future. When the deal was done Orange was still an independent company. Now it is owned by France Telecom. The management has adopted the Orange brand with much enthusiasm and there is no doubt that the F1 program has helped to expand the business. The big question is whether Walkinshaw can convince the French that staying with Arrows is the right move.
The advantage is that the team can offer Orange not just a title sponsorship but also the powerful visual image of two orange cars. Few other teams can deliver that. It is possible that Arrows might emerge as a top five team this year but competition is intense and in testing Arrows has done nothing to suggest that it will be beating Ferrari, McLaren, Williams, Renault and Sauber. The big question is whether it will be ahead of the two Honda-engined teams. If not it will be the eighth team.
With Vodafone making a big splash with Ferrari, Orange will, however, want to be seen to be doing a little better than has been the case and the danger is that a rival team will be able to offer Orange a better deal - at least in terms of results. It does not take a genius to work out that the most likely challenge for the sponsorship will come from Renault. The team is the most likely to finished fourth in the World Championship this season and potentially has space on the cars. And, of course, both Renault and Orange are French - and these things do count for a lot.