Walkinshaw runs out of road

Derick Allsop
Friday 05 July 2002 00:00
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Arrows will have to change the habit of a lifetime if they are to survive as a Formula One team. They must come up with a win. The immediate challenge is to find the $4.7m (£3.1m) they owe Cosworth for their engines so that they can take part in today's first practice and prepare for Sunday's British Grand Prix.

However, Arrows have failed to meet earlier deadlines and their attempts to find a new backer were blocked in the High Court yesterday. Even Tom Walkinshaw, their resourceful team principal, could be stretched to avoid the ultimate defeat. Arrows have been F1's enduring underachievers. They entered the world championship in 1978 with a car driven by the Italian, Ricardo Patrese. Three hundred and eighty races later, they still do not have a win.

They were taken over by, and renamed, Footwork from 1991 to 1996, when Walkinshaw, a renowned businessman and racing man, moved in. Walkinshaw, successful in saloon car and sports car racing – he led Jaguar to victory at Le Mans and in the World Championship – he helped steer Benetton to an improbable F1 title.

Eager to have his own team, he declared his ambition to repeat the feat at Arrows. In 1997, he signed the reigning world champion, Britain's Damon Hill, to be his leader on the track. But the gamble on Hill was an expensive flop.

Arrows have had a perennial struggle to find the money to compete. They have produced good cars yet been unable to fulfil their potential because of limited funding. In 1999, they managed one point. They were more productive in 2000, scoring seven, but were back down to a single point last season.

Walkinshaw responded by dropping Jos Verstappen, and replacing him with Heinz-Harald Frentzen. That has proved an inspired signing, Frentzen performing consistently well and picking up two valuable points. But the sponsors required to take the team forward have not materialised and Verstappen has added to Walkinshaw's concerns by taking legal action over his dismissal.

The irony of Arrows' debt to Cosworth is that they have performed more impressively with their engines than Jaguar. Cosworth, like Jaguar, are owned by Ford, while Arrows are merely customers. Nicki Lauda, who as overlord of Ford's racing operation is demanding that Arrows pay up, is also Jaguar's team principal. The demise of Arrows would lift Jaguar up the grid but Lauda, three times world champion, refutes the suggestion that any ulterior motive lies behind his stance. "If I have to move up the grid like that I should stop racing,'' he said.

Lauda and other team bosses talked last night of the "fighter'' and "survivor'' in Walkinshaw. Others wondered aloud why Walkinshaw, who is also heavily committed in rugby union with Gloucester, did not simply dip into his own pocket to pay off Cosworth.

Walkinshaw, who built up the engineering business TWR, is said to be worth more than £100m. But then the smart ones will tell you that the easy way to lose a fortune is to start paying out your own money in Formula One.

He maintains he can still make Arrows a going concern, given the chance to clear this obstacle. He believes all Formula One teams are scratching the surface of their commercial potential and is calling on the rest to organise themselves to fight more aggressively in the market place. Whether Walkinshaw gets the opportunity to pursue that long-term objective depends on his ability to find that elusive $4.7m.

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