Toward the end of the 1996 season Arrows would start all over with practically a clean sheet design. The focus moving forward would be to keep things simple. There would be very little time in which to produce and thoroughly test a complicated design. However, by keeping the design simple, Arrows would win…nearly.
Tom Walkinshaw would buy the Footwork Arrows team heading into the 1996 season. This late acquisition meant there was no time to create an all-new design in which to contest the World Championship. It would prove to be a very difficult season with the team suffering five double retirements out of 16 races. The worst experience would be that endured by Jos Verstappen. Though he would score a single World Championship point in the Argentine Grand Prix, he would end the season having suffered 12 retirements.
At first glance, Arrows seemed to be going nowhere, just as it had in the past. However, the presence of Walkinshaw at the helm offered encouragement. Furthermore, he and the team would be looking forward to the 1997 season when it would have the opportunity to debut its first all-new design.
Walkinshaw's plans and ambitions would be, well…ambitious. In 1996 the team had made use of the Hart V8. However, he knew the backbone of any winning design was the engine. The Yamaha had proven unreliable throughout its existence, but when Tom looked at the work that was going on with Yamaha he came to believe in the engine. In fact, he would decide to use Yamaha engines in his new design believing in Yamaha to have identified their troubles.
As with the approach taken with the design and construction of the car, Walkinshaw believed Yamaha had tried to do too much with their engine. He knew it was light, but he believed the engineers went too far to make it too light. The end result would be a very light engine that lacked reliability over long runs. Therefore, as Yamaha and John Judd worked on the engine, one step that would be taken would be to add weight to the engine, thereby increasing its dependability.
Throughout the whole endeavor of creating the new A18, Walkinshaw would come to rely upon all of his relationships he had built up throughout his years in racing. His firm TWR would be heavily involved but he would turn to many others, like John Judd, to make the new Arrows immediately competitive.
At the time of the unveiling Walkinshaw would be upbeat and positive, almost bordering on what many was delusional. However, Tom's faith would be anchored in the approach taken with the new car and the signing of then World Champion Damon Hill. The A18 would be built to suit Hill's drive and determination. Both would be simple and to the point, but that would be what would make them competitive.
Walkinshaw knew that if he provided a conventional, but strong, car for Hill, the likelihood of success would be there. Therefore, the design and layout of the car would be straightforward. Keeping with the conventional approach, the front and rear suspension of the car would be double wishbone with pushrods. Aided with Brembo carbon brakes, the A18 offered comparable breaking ability.
As to the design penned by Frank Dernie and later updated by John Barnard, the A18 would feature a tall nose with twin pillars and a lightly contoured front wing. The tall nose opened up the underneath of the car so that airflow could reach the splitter underneath the car and then pass around the sides of the car. This nose design would also allow more airflow to the all-important radiator inlets in each of the sidepods. Therefore, the curve of the sidepods could be increased allowing for smaller inlets and around the sides and back to the diffuser at the rear of the car.
At the rear of the car a conventional rear wing would be designed with an upper and lower element. For the higher downforce circuits another wing element could be added forward of the main rear wing.
Just under the carbon-fiber bodywork at the rear of the car, the A18 would depart from conventional just a little bit. The small Yamaha engine enabled Dernie to position the powerplant even closer to the ground improving center of gravity and handling. This also offered Dernie an opportunity. Because of the positioning of the engine, Dernie would use a cantilever design to make the rear of the car much stiffer than normal. Being much stiffer than normal, thereby avoiding twisting, the engine was capable of producing more horsepower. All of this horsepower would be controlled and sent to the rear wheels via an Xtrac six-speed gearbox. The gearbox would be actuated by paddle shifters mounted to the back of the steering wheel in the cockpit.
The new A18 would be brand new in so many ways that the crew with Arrows and at TWR would end up working around the clock just to get a couple of cars ready for the first race of the season. The bodywork and the chassis would be completed in time, but there would be many other components that would not be completed in time. The unfortunate fact many of the components were not completed in time meant evolutions to the chassis would come over the course of the season. One major component that would already be in place by the start of the season would be the new Bridgestone tires.
Still, in spite of the fact the car was not completed in time, Walkinshaw would have a great deal of confidence heading into the season. Walkinshaw would state, 'I think we have to aspire to have a car which is capable of finishing in the top three reasonably consistently in the second half of the year. If we can do that there is no reason at all why Damon could not win one or two races. If we didn't have a tire advantage I wouldn't be saying that we could win races in our first season in grand prix. I haven't got stardust in my eyes or rose colored glasses. I'm being very analytical. We have one technical aspect of our car which should give us a significant advantage over the opposition in 25 percent of the races. It is up to us to put a reliable car under Damon to enable him to take full advantage of that.'
Just as Walkinshaw predicted, the first half of the season would not go terribly well for Arrows and the A18. Hill would fail to start the first race of the season while Pedro Diniz would finish in 10th. Then came a series of double retirements. However, by the middle part of the season, when the team at Arrows was able to apply all of the new components to the car, the team would have a period where Hill would finish six races in a row including a 6th place result in the British Grand Prix. But then there would be the Hungarian Grand Prix when the advantage offered by the Bridgestone tires and the powerful chassis and engine combination came good.
Victory was in reach for Hill and the A18. The two would dominate the race until hydraulic problems with the gearbox caused the race to come into doubt with just three laps remaining in the race. Unfortunately, the gearbox problems would cause Hill to lose the lead. Still, the A18, the Bridgestone tires and Damon Hill would combine to finish 2nd, the first time since 1995 that an Arrows driver would finish on the podium.Sources:
'Arrows A18 Yamaha', (http://www.f1technical.net/f1db/cars/794/arrows-a18). F1Technical. http://www.f1technical.net/f1db/cars/794/arrows-a18. Retrieved 17 September 2013.
'Walkinshaw Reveals the Arrows A18', (http://www.grandprix.com/ns/ns00911.html). GrandPrix.com. http://www.grandprix.com/ns/ns00911.html. Retrieved 17 September 2013.
'Arrows A18 1997', (http://www.f1olivier.info/Arrows/arrows.97/arrows%20a18.htm#Tech). F1Oliver. http://www.f1olivier.info/Arrows/arrows.97/arrows%20a18.htm#Tech. Retrieved 17 September 2013.
'Footwork FA17', (http://www.statsf1.com/en/footwork-fa17.aspx). Stats F1. http://www.statsf1.com/en/footwork-fa17.aspx. Retrieved 17 September 2013.
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Wikipedia contributors, 'Arrows Grand Prix International', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 6 September 2013, 23:46 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Arrows_Grand_Prix_International&oldid=571848078 accessed 17 September 2013By Jeremy McMullen