Me and my Arrows

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At a time when Formula One cars generally looked very individual, the Shadow and Arrows of 1978 were startlingly similar – and more than one person noticed. Among them was Alan Henry, who describes how he – and arrows – were court in the act

It’s funny how a throwaway remark can sometimes boomerang. Walking into the Shadow team’s garage at the 1978 Silverstone International Trophy meeting, I caught my first glance of its new DN9. And stored up a whole lot of grief for myself.

“Good God, it’s an Arrows!” I blurted.

Four months later I found myself in the rather more formal surroundings of London’s High Court on the Stand in a witness box, to be precise.

“Mr Henry,” said a sharply suited barrister, “is it true that, when you first saw the Shadow DN9 in my client’s garage at Silverstone, you, and let me get this right, remarked spontaneously, ‘Good God, it’s an Arrows’ or words to that effect?”

I took one look at Arrows’ directors – Jackie Oliver, Alan Rees and Tony Southgate – giving me the beady eye from the dock directly opposite the witness box, and said something like, “Er, um, yes.” This was one of the strangest episodes of my F1 reporting career.

As Arrows, by now owned by Tom Walkinshaw, went through what must surely have been its death throes in the closing weeks of 2002, it’s difficult to imagine the mood of upbeat optimism which surrounded the team’s birth 24 years ago. More specifically, on the form it demonstrated during that first season, 1978, the thought that it would go 372 races without a win, before sinking almost without trace, was impossible to contemplate.

However, this is running slightly ahead. To understand the convoluted story of Arrows, one first has to recall the Shadow F1 team, which was founded at the start of 1973 by entrepreneur Don Nichols. An American with an engaging character, a dry sense of humour and a pleasant air about him, Nichols’ Tony Southgate-designed F1 cars notably the DN5 of 1975 – were among the most competitive Cosworth-engined machines of their generation. You will already have read in this issue that Jean-Pierre Jarier (see page 46) very nearly won the 1975 and ’76 Brazilian GPs in one of these cars. Yet by the end of 1977, Shadow had lost that initial impetus. Rees, Oliver and Southgate felt they would do better to strike out on their own and duly left the team late that year. Trouble was, Southgate tucked the drawings for the new Shadow DN9 under his arm as they closed the door behind them.

In retrospect, their actions smacked of naivety rather than wholesale deceit. Southgate firmly believed that, in his role as an independent consultant, the drawings were his, and he never really discussed the matter with Oliver until they were embroiled in their legal problems.

Anxious to become members of the F1 Constructors’ Association in 1978, Arrows had to get its skates on if it was to qualify, for the rules of Bernie Ecclestone’s club permitted them to miss just one non-European round of the world championship if it was to gain the valuable commercial benefits such as subsidised air freight. At its new premises in Milton Keynes, the new team worked flat out to ready the first Arrows, FA1, which was unveiled to the press in a snow-covered Silverstone pitlane just days before it was flown out to Rio for the Brazilian GP, second round of the world championship.

The new car ran particularly well in only its second outing, at Kyalami, where Arrows team leader Riccardo Patrese stormed through from seventh on the grid to snatch the lead from the Wolf of local hero Jody Scheckter. But with only 15 of the race’s 78 laps left to run, the Cosworth engine in the Arrows expired and a tearful Patrese soon reappeared in the pitlane. “Oil, water, everything was perfect,” he reported. “I just change up from second to third gear and the engine goes bang!”

Two weeks after the South African race came the International Trophy, my casual remark — and the resultant court appearance. Being a devout coward, I made it clear to the Shadow team that I really didn’t want to be involved. Its response was to send round a man with a High Court subpoena at 12.45am the night before the hearing. So that was that.

So Nichols duly got his revenge on Arrows. With my modest assistance, Mr Justice Templeman ruled in his favour and declared that it just wasn’t possible for Arrows to have built its new F1 car so quickly without referring to the Shadow drawings. He concluded that 40 per cent of the Arrows FA1 was effectively the Shadow DN9, banned the car from racing, and insisted that Oliver and his mates hand over all the offending components. They also had to pay £15,000 in damages, a sum dwarfed by legal expenses almost double that. (They had, though, offered Nichols £75k to settle out of court.)

Arrows was at least shrewd enough to see the verdict coming. At the start of June 1978, Southgate started work on a new car, designated the A1, which was ready in time to compete in the Austrian GP. So Arrows did not miss a race. Thereafter the team settled down to establish itself as a consistent midfield performer. There were moments of high promise — the highlight being Patrese’s pole for the 1981 US GP at Long Beach — but, unfortunately, there were more false dawns, changes of ownership and tension behind the scenes. The team never quite cracked it, basically.

At the end of 1989, Arrows was sold to Wataru Ohashi’s Footwork corporation, and John Wickham (formerly of the Spirit F1 team) and Yoshihiko Nagata were named directors. Oliver and Rees remained in management roles.

In 1991, the team announced a major new deal to run Porsche V12s, but this was to prove a disastrous episode in the firm’s history. The engines were too heavy and laughably badly packaged; Porsche engineer Hans Metzger could hardly believe the evidence of his own eyes when one of the Brian Hart-prepared Cosworth DFR’s, which Arrows switched to as an emergency measure, was weighed in front of him together with his own V12.

Things looked rather better in 1992 when Japanese driver Aguri Suzuki arrived on the scene, bringing with him a deal to run Mugen V10 engines. Derek Warwick returned to the squad in 1993, but the team lost Ohashi’s funding at the end of that year, leaving Oliver and Rees to buy back the shares.

By 1996, Arrows was again facing severe cash-flow problems. It was using Brian Hart’s bespoke Type 830 3-litre V8 engine, and Oliver started the year knowing that his team did not have sufficient funding to complete the whole season. Even by Melbourne, the first race of the year, it was behind in its payments to Hart and, with another payment due the day after the race, Brian had to take a firm line: “I told Jackie I was not going to the South American races unless I was paid. And they owed us a substantial six-figure sum.”

On the face of it, this looked an even more serious moment in the team’s history than that London court appearance 18 years before. Oliver and Hart went to see Ecclestone. It was a major crisis, and the way out of it would, ironically, prove to be the start of the team’s rocky road to ruin.

Walkinshaw had switched to the Ligier team after his stint with Benetton and was seeking to buy the French outfit from its majority shareholder, Flavio Briatore. Unfortunately, Briatore was unable to deliver the total shareholding as the team’s founder Guy Ligier did not want to relinquish his remaining minority stake. So Walkinshaw started looking elsewhere and, on the Tuesday after the 1996 Australian GP, a deal was done for the burly Scot to take control of the Arrows operation.

At the end of that year, Walkinshaw played what looked to be an ace card. He entered the F1 driver market with £6 million bid for recently crowned world champion Damon Hill, who had been made redundant by the blue-riband Williams team. Using Bridgestone tyres and Yamaha engines, Hill propelled Arrows into the F1 limelight by leading the 1997 Hungarian GP for much of its distance and eventually finishing second behind Jacques Villeneuve’s Williams-Renault This was, however, a performance which only briefly raised the team’s profile.

For 1998, Walkinshaw bought control of Brian Hart Ltd and began to produce his own Arrows F1 engine, which was based on Brian’s second-generation Type 1030/98 V10.

There was yet another reorganisation at the end of the season, with Nigerian Prince Malik ado Ibrahim leading a consortium which acquired 60 per cent of the team, Walkinshaw retaining the rest. Malik disappeared from the scene after only a few months, leaving Tom in firm control again. Yet the team was gradually slipping into debt, despite more high-profile backing from the investment bank Morgan Grenfell Private Equity.

By the summer of 2002, the team was battling a legal action in the High Court as Morgan Grenfell sought to recoup its money. They also fell behind with their lease payments for Cosworth V10 engines, despite a personal verbal guarantee given by Walkinshaw to then-Jaguar team principal Niki Lauda, who was responsible for negotiating and managing such arrangements.

In the High Court yet again, Mr Justice Lightman described the Arrows team’s proposals for restructuring and refinancing as “underhand and improper, indeed downright dishonest”, and indicated that the court would not be intimidated into a decision by Walkinshaw’s threats not to pay for the engines.

He added: “It cannot, and should not, allow itself to be dragged into making the orders sought unless it is satisfied that the application was made in good faith and supported by credible evidence. We are not satisfied any of these have been met” It was a far more damning indictment than anything delivered by Mr Justice Templeman way back in 1978. The death knell had sounded.

By the end of the season, Arrows had missed five grands prix and was desperately seeking more sponsorship to survive. Then, at the start of December, the axe finally fell when the FIA turned down Arrows’ application to enter the 2003 world championship. The young-buck team which had started out amid such optimism had slid ignominiously into oblivion against a backdrop of economic depression.

Looking back from a perspective of more than 20 years, Oliver believes he now realises why Arrows failed to make a bigger impact.

“We can all learn from history,” he says. “If you look at the teams which have won the world championship over the last 20 years, there are only three who have been there regularly [Ferrari, McLaren and Williams].

“The other winner was Benetton, which thrived during the early 1990s. Many people at the time believed this was due primarily to the talents of Flavio Briatore, and Tom Walkinshaw joining [as its engineering director]. But in reality, that success depended far more on the talents of key technical staff like Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne plus, of course, Schumacher’s driving talent. When they all moved to Ferrari, Benetton didn’t win anymore and Ferrari did.

“What this teaches us is that one has to look very closely at all the variable ingredients which go into making a successful Formula One team: enough money, the right engines, the best engineers, the right drivers and so on. Let’s say there are about four or five key variables and that you have to get at least three out of five if you’re going to have a reasonable chance. If you are sitting there with only one, then you have to concentrate simply on surviving. “And at no time did Arrows ever have more than two of those variables in place. But when we did have two, in 1988 — Ross Brawn and BMW turbo engines — we were fourth in the championship. See my point?”

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