Modern Times

While Ferrari scored a predicted 1-2 at Silverstone, helped no end by the superiority of Bridgestone’s wet-weather tyres over Michelin’s, the chief excitement of the meeting surrounded the financial fate of the Arrows team. Non-payment of £3.2 million-worth of bills due to Cosworth for the team’s engines meant that, on Niki Lauda’s orders, the vital electronic control units needed to run at Silverstone were withheld. (Lauda, as head of Ford’s Premier Performance Group, is responsible for Cosworth as well as the Jaguar F1 team.)

On the Thursday before Silverstone, at a hearing in the High Court, Arrows had applied to lift undertakings they’d made earlier to their creditors and to Morgan Grenfell, which is apart-owner of the team. Rejecting the application, the judge had some harsh words to say about Arrows’ desperate attempts to stay in business while their creditors, including former team driver Jos Verstappen, were not able to get paid.

So it was no surprise that, during Friday practice, the Orange Arrows cars remained locked in their transporters. If they couldn’t race, Tom’s woes would increase: when an F1 team misses a race, the FIA levies a fine of £300,000 per car. But, late on Friday, Cosworth got their money. Apparently Tom wrote out a personal cheque for £3.2 million: despite Arrows’ difficulties, he is still a wealthy man. The cars emerged from their transporters, and on Saturday Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Enrique Bemoldi qualified 16th and 18th. Tom must have permitted himself a brief smile at that, for Lauda’s Jaguars, using the same engines, a considerably bigger budget and their much-vaunted new aerodynamic package, qualified 19th (Irvine) and 21st (de la Rosa). In the race, Irvine crashed and de la Rosa finished last, but Frentzen was well up in the early stages, and could have finished fourth — until his Cosworth engine failed…

Now, with Cosworth demanding payment up front before the next race, financial pressures are mounting, and Arrows seems likely to be sold (both ex-BAR boss Craig Pollock and the Red Bull drinks tycoon are said to be interested) or to disappear completely.

If Arrows does die, after a quarter of a century in Grand Prix racing, it will be a further demonstration that life is hard near the back of the grid. At Silverstone, Max Mosley was unmoved by the team’s problems, saying that, down the years, at least 60 teams had failed, and yet F1 continued to prosper.

A quick glance at my archives indicates that, as usual, Max (or one of his minions) has done his research. In the 52 years since the world championship began, if you discount single-car efforts in the early days, there have indeed been 62 teams, from AGS to Zakspeed, that are now only names in the history books. Some of these subsisted on little more than optimism and enthusiasm, and came and went rapidly. Who now remembers Bellasi, run for Silvio Moser in 1970 and 71? Or Eurobrun I Ford, Life and Rial; Onyx, Theodore and RAM; Scirocco, Spirit and Tecno: all were equally insignificant blips on F1’s radar. Another was Andrea Moda, which entered two cars in 1992, but only managed a single start before the team owner, shoe manufacturer Andrea Sassetti, was arrested at the Belgian GP on suspicion of financial misdealings.

But there have been other small teams that deserved to succeed. After 18 F1 seasons, Minardi lives on still, thanks to current owner Paul Stoddart — although, had he not won the right to the TV revenues uncollected by the bankrupt Prost, the end might have come this year. Osella was another team driven mainly by Italian enthusiasm and, under its own name and Fondmetal, it plugged on for 13 seasons to 1992. In ’94, two gallant British efforts made their bow in the shape of Simtek and Pacific, but both were gone by the end of 1995.

But much more significant, and regrettable, has been the disappearance from Formula One of so many of the really great names. Some died through takeover — as with Tyrrell, which was used to get the BAR team up and running. Some just died, like Team Lotus. Colin Chapman’s forceful direction drove Lotus to greatness over 24 seasons, netting seven constructors’ championships and six drivers’ titles, but after his sudden death in 1982, it was never the same again. The genius of Ayrton Senna brought a three-year revival in the mid-80s, but thereafter it just faded away.

Brabham had two periods of success: under Jack himself, and then under Bernie Ecclestone. But, once Bernie had decided that running FOCA was more fun and sold it, it died quickly. BRM usually promised more than it delivered, from the chaotic V16 in 1950 to the desperate Stanley-BRM of 1977, but it did have its great championship year of 1962, and 17 victories between 1959 and 1972. Cooper changed the face of F1 with its rear-engined cars in the 1950s, only to fall behind during the 1960s in the very technology race that it had initiated.

In France, Talbot-Lago and Gordini were scuppered by a lack of money, while among the Italian greats, finance was often a problem. Maserati was Ferrari’s strongest rival for much of the 1950s, giving Fangio his final tide in 1957: when the money ran out, they withdrew gracefully. Lancia was a potential winner from its first race with the side-tank D50, but after four grandes epreuves team-leader Ascari was killed and the cash was gone, and Lancia handed everything over to Ferrari. Enzo took all the credit when he won the world championship the following season, but his 1956 car was actually more Lancia than Ferrari.

The first world champions, Alfa Romeo, withdrew at the end of 1951 when hoped-for state backing to meet the new challenge from Ferrari failed to materialise. After nearly 30 years, they returned under Carlo Chin, but in 97 grands prix they never won a race, although Bruno Giacomelli and Andrea de Cesaris took a pole position each. Dan Gurney’s career as a constructor only lasted three seasons, but his cars were among the most elegant and beautifully-constructed of their era, and he scored a historic win at Spa in 1967.

Three F1 world champions who inaugurated their own teams — Surtees, Hill and Fittipaldi — achieved less than Gurney, although Surtees plugged on for nine seasons, and Fitfipaldi for eight Another champion who found running his own team an insurmountable task, of course, was Alain Prost, who took over Ligier at the end of 1996, only for the team to collapse under its debts five seasons later. Today, triple champion Lauda has the brow-furrowing task of running the Jaguar team: so far his efforts have garnered scant reward.

The Arrows team itself came from controversial beginnings. The American Don Nichols brought his Shadow team into F1 in 1973. Then in 77 his fellow directors, Alan Rees and Jackie Oliver, broke away to set up Arrows, and the argument about whether the new Tony Southgate-designed car belonged to Shadow or Arrows ended up in court. It was only in 1996, after a spell at Benetton, that Tom Walkinshaw took over the team. Ironically, the only Shadow Grand Prix victory —with Alan Jones at the Osterreichring in 1977 — happened just before the breakaway, and Arrows itself has failed to score a win in 381 GP starts — which is itself some sort of dubious record.

In fact it nearly won its second-ever race, for Riccardo Patrese was leading the 1978 South African Grand Prix at Kyalami when the engine expired with 15 laps to go. And there was so nearly a fairy-tale victory at the Hungaroring in ’97. Wallcinshaw had thrown Arrows’ lot in with Bridgestone and, when the Goodyears on Michael Schtunacher’s Ferrari wilted in the Hungarian heat, Damon Hill took his blue-and-white Arrows past to lead for 62 of the 77 laps. He was half a minute clear with two laps to go when a hydraulic leak hobbled the throttle and jammed the car in third. On the final lap Jacques Villeneuve went by, and Damon staggered home second. It was the might-have been of the decade.

And now Arrows, in its present form at least, may not be long for this world. Despite Max Mosley’s relaxed view of the rise and fall of teams, I think that’s a cause for regret. It makes his avowed intent to reduce the real cost of F1 more crucial than ever.