MARCH 18, 1996
Walkinshaw buys Arrows!
Details of the deal are unlikely to be announced until all the paperwork has been completed, but the move makes perfect sense for Walkinshaw after his decision to cease his involvement with Ligier.
Walkinshaw has said in recent days that he is not interested in being involved in a team unless he has total control over it, and so one assumes this is the case with the deal that has been struck.
It has been an open secret in F1 in recent months that Arrows has been for sale - at the right price. It was surprising that Jackie Stewart did not take advantage of this and buy a complete F1 operation rather than trying to establish one from new, particularly as Stewart Grand Prix is to be based in Milton Keynes - the same town as Arrows.
The ownership of Arrows has been somewhat confused since the team was bought from founders Oliver and Rees by Japanese businessman Wataru Ohashi in November, 1989. Ohashi was the boss of the Footwork Group, a Japanese transport and services empire which wanted to use F1 to spread its fame internationally.
The team had all the makings of a successful operation with Ohashi buying the team shortly after work had been completed on a $10m, 50,000 sq. ft. Technical Center. Footwork continued the investment: hiring designer Alan Jenkins and concluding an expensive engine deal with Porsche for a supply of V12 engines. Ohashi also funded the construction of a state-of-the-art 40% rolling road windtunnel in the old Arrows factory, next door to the Technical Center.
But the Footwork-Porsche adventure was a disaster, and in 1992 the team switched to Mugen Honda V10 power. Eighteen months later Ohashi was forced to pull Footwork out of F1 because of Japan's economic problems. Mugen Honda moved on to supply Lotus.
Hoping to revive the team at a later date, Ohashi leased it back to Oliver and Rees for 1994. The pair then "regained ownership" in 1995 - although Ohashi is believed to still own the windtunnel.
The purchase of Arrows is a clever move for Walkinshaw following Tom's decision to give up his involvement in Ligier.
In a stroke he has acquired a fully-operational F1 team with around 120 experienced people. Arrows is lacking design engineers following the defection of Jenkins to Stewart Grand Prix, but Walkinshaw is not short of engineers who can be put straight into Arrows. This will mean that he can build cars immediately - without problems over intellectual property rights, which might have resulted if the TWR engineers had continued to develop ideas from the Ligier concept. The Footwork-Hart FA17 is clearly a useful car and will provide a good base for development.
It also ensures that Walkinshaw does not have to struggle through a first year in F1, paying all the travel expenses. In buying Arrows he has acquired FOCA benefits for 1996 and probably for 1997 as well - as the current Arrows looks likely to score a few points in the hands of Jos Verstappen and Ricardo Rosset this year.
The deal also brings Verstappen back into Walkinshaw's camp, Tom having played an important role in hiring the Dutchman for Benetton at the end of 1993.
Another advantage is that Walkinshaw will know exactly what he is buying because the Arrows Technical Center was established by Ross Brawn before he quit Arrows to work for TWR on the Jaguar sportscar program. Brawn was one of the men that Walkinshaw implanted at Benetton in 1992, and it is likely that Brawn will be pulled out of the team at the end of this year to return to the TWR fold.
Despite this, the 1997 season is bound to be something of an interim season for TWR/Arrows. The new TWR F1 base at Leafield is not yet ready to run a complete F1 operation. It is, however, only 35 miles from Arrows, and in the long term Walkinshaw can transfer staff and equipment from Arrows if he chooses to do so. The Arrows factories could then either be sold off or used by one of the many other TWR Group subsidiaries.
The 1997 season will also see a great deal of stability among the engine manufacturers before what is expected to be a big change around in 1998. Walkinshaw will almost certainly be trying to get a deal with Honda for 1998, and so for 1997 will probably continue to use Hart engines.