Tom Walkinshaw was a significant figure in motor racing whose steely determination saw him rise from humble beginnings at a farm in Edinburgh to motorsports entrepreneur, spearheading the Jaguar sports program and the Arrows F1 team.
Walkinshaw’s dream was to compete in the highest tier of motorsport. However, having retired from racing in 1984, Walkinshaw wouldn’t be turning a wheel in F1. In 1991, Tom Walkinshaw Racing made a bid to take over a 35% stake in the Benetton Formula One bringing along Ross Brawn (Walkinshaw had worked with Brawn in the Jaguar sportscar program).
In 1991, the pair also had a hand in bringing young German hotshot Michael Schumacher to the team who had impressed in German sportscars and his debut with the Jordan team at the Belgian Grand Prix.
Walkinshaw’s burning ambition was to become an F1 team owner but he wasn’t quite there yet. After a failed bid to take over the Ligier team, he bought a share of the Arrows team in 1996 and co-owned the outfit along with one of the original founders Jackie Oliver.
Walkinshaw made his mark on the team straight away by signing World Champion Damon Hill to the team for the 1997 season. In order to assist with the cash-flow, he signed wealthy businessman and racing driver Pedro Diniz.
The car proved to be unreliable after suffering four double retirements in the first six races. The team wouldn’t score their first point until the ninth round of the championship where Hill finished an emphatic sixth place at the British Grand Prix.
Hill narrowly missed out on a victory at the Hungarian Grand Prix when a heart-breaking car failure forced him to slow. He did finish in second place, which matched the teams’ best efforts back in the late 70’s and early 80’s with Riccardo Patrese and Thierry Boutsen in 1985.
The team finished the 1997 season in 8th place with a total of 9 points and had a better reliability record in the latter half.
The teams’ A19 chassis was designed by John Barnard who had worked with McLaren, Ferrari, and Benetton and had the potential to be a brilliant car. Unfortunately, problems with the engine meant that the team was unable to compete for regular points.
Walkinshaw’s drive to make Arrows a thoroughbred racing team saw him invest into the Hart engine company. Arrows was the first British F1 team for 20 years that would develop its own engines but the organisation didn’t have the budget to match the more established manufacturers.
The car was unreliable and wasn’t finished in time; as such the team had a number of retirements and couldn’t reach the high top speeds of the other cars. A double points’ finish in Monaco shielded the team from their engine woes and highlighted how good the chassis was.
Pedro Diniz stayed on for a second season whilst Mika Salo joined to replace Damon Hill who moved to Jordan for 1998. The team ended the season in 7th place with a total of 6 points.
The 1999 season was an eventful one for the Arrows squad as their lack of on-track success was marred by off-track controversy.
The team was left without a major sponsor after Danka pulled their funding so the A20 was an evolution of last years’ car. The car wasn’t competitive and used the same Hart engines as the previous season. After a small ownership dispute with Walkinshaw, Hart left the team.
Their miniscule resources were still no match for the rest of the grid and the team battled towards the back of the grid. They managed to score a solitary point in the first race, but failed to score for the rest of the season.
A small glimmer of hope came in the form of Malik ado Ibrahim, a Nigerian prince who bought a 25% stake in the team and with it came his T-Minus brand. Malik had aspirations and wanted to bring the Lamborghini brand into F1, but he brought no money into the team and the dream ultimately failed.
Pedro de la Rosa made his F1 debut with Toranosuke Takagi making the switch from the Tyrrell team, who had closed their doors.
The turn of the millennium showed some promise for the Arrows team with a solid car and a new set of sponsors including Eurobet and title sponsor Orange. They had a decent driver pairing too with Pedro de la Rosa returning to the cockpit and experienced Dutchman Jos Verstappen returning to the team, which he had previously raced for when they were known as Footwork.
The team used a Supertec badged engine which was designed by Renault and built by Mecachrome. The engine proved to be unreliable with the car suffering six double retirements; but the A21 was constantly topping the tables in the speed traps.
There were some high points with de la Rosa nearly reaching the podium in both Germany and Austria, but driver error and a spin meant he lost out. The team eventually finished in 7th place with a total of seven points thanks to some heroic drives from Verstappen and de la Rosa.
The Arrows A22 was an evolution of the previous years’ car designed by Mike Coughlan. The team used Asiatech engines (rebadged Peugeot engines) but with another engine change (the second in two years), the team struggled with low top speeds and unreliability.
The technical decision to give the A22 a smaller fuel tank forced the team to employ low-fuel tactics. These tactics suited Jos Verstappen who had returned to Arrows for this season. The cars were quick early on in races and were able to make gains in the opening laps, but they couldn’t quite reap the rewards and gained a sole point at the Austrian Grand Prix.
Red Bull sponsored rookie Enrique Bernoldi brought some much-needed funds to the team, but couldn’t match his more experienced teammate for outright pace. It was a relatively quiet year for the team, whose budget was slowly running out and the team couldn’t keep up with the development pace.
There were a few occasions for the team to cheer about, but Jos Verstappen’s collision with race-leader Juan Pablo Montoya at Interlagos was a low point for the outfit.
The team switched their focus to 2002 in the latter half of the season and finished in 10th place with just one point.
This would be the final year that the Arrows name would race in F1. Like with previous seasons, the years started with a lot of promise. Walkinshaw managed to bring Cosworth engines to the team which would help the team race amongst the mid-field.
The A23 chassis was designed around Jos Verstappen who was contracted to race for the team. The team encountered financial problems and signed experienced Heinz-Harald Frentzen who would bring some much needed sponsor money to the pot.
Even with the extra cash from Enrique Bernoldi’s Red Bull backing, the teams’ cash eventually ran out mid-season. Their final race was the French Grand Prix where the team sent both cars out in qualifying but deliberately failed to set a competitive laptime.
Racing After F1
It was sad end to a racing team whose ambition was ultimately beyond their means. Walkinshaw’s fighting spirit kept the team on the black stuff and managed to pull some miracles. Their cars were often great racing cars which, because of monetary reasons, lacked a competitive engine. It’s a testament to their engineering skill given that the A23 was used by Minardi and Super Aguri right up until 2006.
Tom Walkinshaw was a powerful figure in the paddock and a true racer. Following from his dream of owning and managing an F1 team, Walkinshaw made a return to V8 Supercars with Holden finding immediate success. After purchasing a 50% stake in the Holden Racing Team, Walkinshaw took full control over the team and renamed it Walkinshaw Racing.
Walkinshaw died on Sunday 12 December 2010 at the age of 64. He died through complications after suffering from cancer and is survived by his first wife Elizabeth, their son Fergus, his second wife Martine, and the sons Ryan and Sean.