APRIL 1, 1996

Walkinshaw's departure leaves Ligier exposed

TOM WALKINSHAW's top managers at Ligier are leaving the team this week.

TOM WALKINSHAW's top managers at Ligier are leaving the team this week. Both Operations Director Tony Dowe and Technical Director Frank Dernie will cease to be involved with Ligier and will begin work at Arrows. This follows confirmation last weekend that Walkinshaw's TWR has bought a controlling interest in the Arrows Grand Prix team.

Dowe and Dernie's first task at Arrows will be to assess how best to develop the team. The announcement outlined that the intention is for Arrows to be "integrated into the TWR Group". This suggests that Walkinshaw will quickly move all the decent machinery from Arrows at Milton Keynes to the F1 facility which is currently being put together at the TWR technical center at Leafield.

The 40% rolling road windtunnel at Arrows is likely to remain where it is, and will play an important part in the TWR F1 program once its has been verified with comparative tests with TWR's current windtunnel facility - the Defense Research Agency facility at Farnborough.

The takeover announcement said that the existing management and personnel at Arrows would remain "mostly unchanged" although TWR engineers would be moving in at Arrows. The team will also have Ligier sponsors Parmalat and Power Horse. Exactly how the transfer of backers is taking place has not been explained.

In the longer-term, Walkinshaw's plan seems to be focused on trying to land the factory Honda engine deal in 1998. This will probably mean Arrows will end its involvement with Brian Hart at the end of the season and do a deal to use Mugen Honda V10 engines in 1997, so that the basic Arrows-Honda package will have 12-months of development.

It seems that Walkinshaw will also be able to overcome the problem in which Arrows has had to call its cars "Footworks". This is likely to be solved with TWR either doing a deal directly with Footwork boss Wataru Ohashi or reaching settlement with the other F1 teams to allow the team to change the name. The only dissenting voice up to now has been Giancarlo Minardi but he has indicated that he is willing to agree to Walkinshaw's requests - with a little financial incentive.

TWR's F1 sponsor-hunter Richard Grundy was already in Arrows team gear last weekend while former Benetton team manager Gordon Message - currently working at TWR - is likely to play a major role in the new team in the months ahead.

We understand that there is also a possibility that Ross Brawn may leave Benetton to join the new operation. Brawn has a Benetton contract but this includes a clause in which he is allowed to choose whether to stay at Benetton if Walkinshaw sells of his 30% shareholding in the team. Given the strained relationship which now exists between Walkinshaw and Briatore it is possible that Walkinshaw may decide to sell.

The TWR men are already hard at work looking for more money in the long-term with Philip Morris Latin America Vice President Richard Sucre a guest of the team at Interlagos. Philip Morris Latin America are currently funding the Hogan Penske Indycar with its Marlboro, Tang, Milka and Kibon brands. Both current Arrows drivers Ricardo Rosset and Jos Verstappen are Marlboro drivers.

TWR engineering activities at Ligier will be wound down between now and the end of July. Ligier is expected to keep engineers Andre de Cortanze, Loic Bigois and Claude Delbet. It remains to be seen what Ligier owner Flavio Briatore is going to do to rebuild an engineering team. Briatore told Ligier staff in Brazil that he intends to switch some of Benetton's engineers to Ligier and current speculation suggests that the man most likely to be given the role of technical director is Nick Wirth, former boss of Simtek, who has been working at Benetton this season. Wirth did a lot of work with Ligier before launching Simtek into F1, and was responsible for the design and installation of the Ligier windtunnel at Magny-Cours.

It is expected that the team will be run after July by Cesare Fiorio - who is currently working at Forti. We do, however, hear rumors that whoever the new Ligier shareholders are, Philippe Alliot is likely to be involved in the team in some capacity - although not as a driver - as he is very well-connected in French government circles. At the moment, however, there is no indication as to who is buying the 35% of shares which are needed to give the French 50% of the team (Team founder Guy Ligier still holds 15%). Alliot incidentally is refusing to deny that he might be involved.