1978: Arrows’ espionage against ShadowWritten by 'Αγγελος Φωτσεινός
Translated by Giannis Binas
The background was, is and will be the ‘spice’ of Formula 1. The sport’s competitive nature pushes teams to use any legitimate means in order to beat their opponents.
On more the a few occasions though, unfair competition practices are chosen with the most typical example being espionage: namely, interception of other teams’ designs and ideas, either through an informer working on behalf of the other team or through a ‘bold’ employee of the same team that is not as unfortunate as getting caught ‘in action’ by the other team’s crew – as strange as it sounds, there are cases in which espionage reached the point of detecting mechanics lying under another team’s single-seater patiently waiting for the garage to close in order to engage in collecting data… in pitch black!
The mostly famous espionage scandal in the history of F1, took place in 2007 and became known as ‘Spygate’ or ‘Stepneygate’:
Ferrari discovered there was a communication channel between its employee, Nigel Stepney, and McLaren’s employee, Mike Coughlan, having as a subject matter the illegal transfer of the Italian team’s confidential technical data towards the British, and filed that ‘leak’ before FIA’s Court, which addressed the case, ruling that Scuderia’s claims had factual validity.
The much publicized case received wide dimensions, as expected, also due to the proportions of the parts involved (the two teams were the two title contenders), but wasn’t the only occasion where something equivalent had occurred in the history of the pinnacle of motorsport.
That is, because 29 years prior to the 2007 scandal, there was a case that espionage reached a very… advanced level.
In order though, to bring on paper the most comprehensive way possible the 1978 “spygate”, narration of the events must chronologically begin from November 1977.
What happened that month? The founding of our case’s perpetrator, Arrown Grand Prix.
Arrows came after the withdrawal of 4 significant members of Shadow (Alan Rees, Jackie Oliver, Dave Wass, Tony Southgate), who had a fall-out with Don Nichols, founder of the American team, and decided to found their own.
Shadow’s primary financial backer, the Italian Franco Ambrosio, followed this newly established venture.
Thereby, in November 1977, a new team came into existence, getting its name from the surname initials of its 5 founders:
Arrows – Ambrosio, Rees, Oliver, Wass, Southgate.
The choices for the new effort’s driving duo, were Swedish Gunnar Nilsson and Italian Riccardo Patrese, who had run with Shadow in 1977, under Ambrosio’s financial support.
However, shortly after the agreement, Nilsson was diagnosed with cancer, which meant he had to give the most important battle in his life.
In her own honor, Arrows did not cancel the deal but, on the contrary, was willing to await if and when the Swedish driver would be able to race.
The burdened state of his health, rendered his presence at the presentation of the 1st single-seater in the team’s history, the FA1 (Ambrosio’s initials), impossible.
A presentation that took place in the middle of January, at the snow covered Silverstone.
Even though the FA1 was built in just 53 days, Arrows didn’t make it to race at the 1st race of the 1978 championship that was held on the 15th of January, in Argentina.
Thus, its debut came in Brazil, second race of the season, with Patrese finishing tenth.
Meanwhile, Nilsson’s health kept worsening, forbidding any thoughts for a return to the circuits, so, his place was covered by German Rolf Stommelen, under the German beer manufacturer Warsteiner’s financial aid.
South Africa hosted the 3rd race of the season and it came close to having a tremendous surprise: Patrese was heading to the team’s 1st victory, merely at its 2nd race, until his engine ‘breathed its last’, 15 laps before the checkered flag.
Next race was to be held at about a month later, at Long Beach.
However, between Kyalami and Long Beach, the non-championship BRDC International Trophy was held, in Silverstone.
Shadow run the brand new DN9, which attracted from the very first time the public views, as it didn't seem so...new.
In fact, it seemed like a FA1 with a different livery.
No word could be made for a coincidence, under any circumstances. FA1’s chief designer, Tony Southgate, possessed the same post in Shadow until a few months ago.
The two single-seaters were ‘photocopies’, therefore the designs on which the DN9’s construction was based, were used by Southgate to construct the FA1. Based on the above scheme, Shadows managers sued Arrows before London’s High Court for theft of intellectual property.
The court’s decision was issued in August and it was in favor of Shadow.
Specifically, the Court held that Arrows management (and former Shadow’s members) possessed and unlawfully used the designs (the copying of DN9s design patterns on FA1 was considered to be more than 40 percent) and ordered a ban on FA1’s participation thereafter.
Up to the judgment’s issuing, Arrows kept normally racing with the specific car.
Although they weren’t behaving, in Arrows they were aware of the known saying (i.e. they were anticipating the negative outcome of the case and took care to be prepared for the next day).
So, during the trial, they were already working on their next single-seater, the Arrows A1, which was built in 52 days and was presented 3 days after the judgment’s issuing.
The new car debuted at the Austrian GP and offered the team its first presence in the points, at the last race of the season in Canada, with Riccardo Patrese finishing 4th.
The ban of using FA1 meant that the remaining chassis Arrows had constructed had no use.
But that was just on paper: although the case didn’t proceed, many parts of the FA1 were used in the interval to construct the A1, whilst some chassis were delivered to Shadow that used them as spare parts for the DN9, rescuing some precious expenses, as its budget was becoming marginal.
Rees, Oliver, Wass and Southgate’s departure and Ambrosio’s withdrawal as financer marked the ‘beginning of the end’ for Shadow, which might have won the court battle but was already very ‘wounded’.
The youthful Jan Lammers and Elio de Angelis’ talent was not enough to drag the team from its declining course that ended pretty badly in the middle of 1980. Arrows on the other hand, wasn’t particularly affected by the decision against it, but saw Gunnar Nilsson departing for the circuits of the heaven on October 20, 1978 – the fight with cancer was uneven.
A1 proved to be uncompetitive, even though it won the 1979 Aurora Formula 1 British championship (championship held with single-seaters from previous years) by the hand of Rupert Keegan.
With Patrese missing a certain victory in Kyalami, many are wondering up to this day whether FA1 was a car that without matters of espionage and with the proper evolution would lead Arrows to a completely different course than what she eventually had.
It’s a question that cannot be answered easily.
What is for sure, 19 whole years had to pass in order for Arrows to be in a position to challenge for the victory, under the same terms: at Hungary, in 1997, with Damon Hill.
In the beginning of 1978, Arrows was considered on par with Williams: same engine (Cosworth), same transmission (Hewland), similar budgets and executive teams.
In the years that followed, Williams became one of the most successful teams in the history of Formula 1, while Arrows had various fluctuations going through the hoops until its terminal closure in the middle of 1992.