Arrows Grand Prix International saw the light of day in 1977 after a group of disgruntled employees from the Shadow F1 team decided to go rogue. The new team’s name was derived from the last initials of the five founding fathers: Italian businessman Franco Ambrosio, former driver turned engineer Alan Rees, former driver Jackie Oliver, and designers Dave Wass and Tony Southgate.
With very limited initial funding, they were unable to design an entirely new chassis of their own, so they sneakily copied a design from their former employers at Shadow. The resulting FA1 lead to Arrows being sued for copyright infringement. The High Court of Justice in London then banned Arrows from entering the car in F1. As a response the team then quickly pulled the A1 chassis out of its hat, and commenced racing in 1978.
A lackluster season with the unremarkable A1 got the creative juices at Arrows flowing. Earlier in 1977 Team Lotus had introduced the concept of underbody ground effect aerodynamics with the innovative 78 model. The 78 had shown impressive speed, winning four races in 1977. Although reliability and various teething problems prevented it from clinching a title, Team Lotus’ 78 had clearly shown the way of the future.
Arrows sought to capitalize on the brand new concept and set out to develop its own dedicated ground effect car. The base of the car was an aluminium monocoque chassis. Like the Lotus it was designed around underbody wing profiles which were fitted in venturi tunnels. These tunnels were meant to accelerate the air flowing underneath the car, creating a low pressure area. This low pressure area caused the car to be sucked into the ground at speed, providing it with vastly increased amounts of grip and making higher cornering speed possible. To contain the low pressure air the sidepods were extended to the full length of the wheelbase and fitted with movable rubber skirts to close the gap between the bodywork and the tarmac.
Furthermore the entire profile of the car’s bodywork was adapted to a giant wing shape. Even the engine was titled forward at a 4 degree angle to facilitate the A2’s otherworldly silhouette. The ground effect floor generated so much downforce that a conventional front wing could be emitted from the design, which greatly reduced drag.
In fact the car was meant to be totally wingless, but a rear wing was soon added when this was found to be impossible. The example Arrows came up with flowed elegantly into the sidepods and made the A2 appear like something out of science fiction. The finished package weighed just 591 kg (1302 lbs) and was propelled by the venerable combination of a Ford-Cosworth DFV 3L V8 (485 hp) coupled to a Hewland FGA 400 5-speed manual transmission.
Arrows retained its driver line up from 1978 for the new A2, which consisted of former Shadow driver Riccardo Patrese (ITA) and former McLaren driver Jochen Mass (GER). The pair had to make do with the evolved A1B chassis for the first half of the season. The largely untested A2 was finally ready for round 8 on the 1979 calendar, the French Grand Prix at Dijon-Prenois.
Right away there were considerable problems. The A2 produced masses of downforce on paper, but in the real world this did not provide the advantage it promised. To maintain the low pressure area under the car very stiff springs were fitted. The stiff springs kept the car planted and stopped the low pressure air escaping from underneath the car. Again this worked great in theory, but in practice the car suffered from numerous handling problems. In addition to having the turning qualities of a slab of concrete, the A2 suffered from a phenomenon called porpoising.
The term porpoising referred to the tendency of badly designed ground effect cars to rock back and forth, like a porpoise (a large marine mammal) diving in and out of the water. Because little was understood about the finer details of ground effect, smaller teams like Arrows were basically just guessing what Lotus was actually on about. This resulted in the center of low pressure moving around under the car according to various speeds. As the center of low pressure moved, it interacted with the car’s rock hard suspension setup, and the car would begin to resonate. This would cause it to rock back and forth violently, which was a significantly unpleasant experience for the poor soul trying to drive it.
As a result Patrese and Mass physically suffered trying to manhandle the A2 around Dijon, and qualified in a low 19th (Patrese) and 22nd (Mass). Luckily there were some retirements amongst their competitors, allowing them to finish in 14th (Patrese) and 15th (Mass), just ahead of arch rivals Shadow.
The disappointing performance of the A2 lead to a slight panic at Arrows. Almost immediately work began on designing a more conventional successor. Meanwhile Riccardo Patrese and Jochen Mass were still stuck with the unruly A2.
Their second outing with the car at Silverstone made it all too clear exactly how much they were in over their heads. Patrese and Mass qualified in tandem again, with the Italian taking 19th and the German 20th. The race itself proved even more disastrous when both cars retired with a similar transmission failure. Jochen Mass managed 37 laps to Riccardo Patrese’s 44.
At the high-speed Hockenheimring a pattern was emerging. Mass out qualified his teammate this time, but only beat him to 18th over 19th place. After 34 laps Patrese’s race was over as he suffered a violent puncture. His team mate carried on however and managed an impressive 6th position, one lap down on winner Alan Jones (AUS) and his Williams. In the process Mass had scored a single championship point for Arrows.
The season continued its streak of high speed tracks with round 11, the Austrian Grand Prix. The beautiful flowing circuit at Spielberg seemed to suit Riccardo Patrese somewhat, as he picked up 13th place in qualifying. Jochen Mass had remained on point in 20th. Bad luck hit the experienced German right away on lap 1, with his Cosworth giving up the fight prematurely. Patrese ran as strongly as was humanly possible, but a suspension failure took him out once again on lap 34.
Round 12 at Zandvoort provided another long, extremely fast and flowing circuit. The Arrows were in their familiar spot, with Jochen Mass 18th and Riccardo Patrese 19th. It was now the Italian’s turn to suffer some harrowing bad luck. On lap 19, while fighting with Tyrrell’s Didier Pironi (FRA) on the approach of Tarzan corner, his brakes went on a sudden unannounced strike.
He hit the wall head-on, but miraculously ran away from the wreck unharmed. Jochen Mass meanwhile had tried his best to keep the Arrows honor high. Again he finished in 6th place, two laps down from winner Alan Jones. With this feat he scored the A2’s second and final championship point.
Riccardo Patrese experiencing a close call at Zandvoort, 1979.
It seemed top speed venues were in high supply during the 1979 season, as the famous Monza track was next on the calendar. Patrese managed 17th in qualifying. Mass was far behind in 21st. Jochen’s race was a short one once more. Collapsed suspension saw him grind to a halt after completing only three laps. Patrese meanwhile had an uneventful race, bringing his A2 home in 13th and last position, 3 laps down from winner Jody Scheckter (SA) and his Ferrari.
The second to last race of 1979 was again at a demanding high speed venue, Circuit Ile Notre Dame, Montreal. Things took a turn for the worse as Jochen Mass failed to even qualify his car for the race. This left Riccardo Patrese on his own, starting 14th on the grid. Patrese too could not deliver and spun off on lap 20.
Riccardo Patrese about to be lapped by the leading Ferrari 312T4 of Gilles Villeneuve (CAN), Montreal 1979.
The fast and flowing track of Watkins Glen was the stage for the final Grand Prix of the 1979 season. Again Jochen Mass failed to qualify in the second North American race. Riccardo Patrese was left in an all too familiar 19th place on the grid. Spins, accidents and mechanical failure swept through the field, and Patrese was able to make up some much needed positions. He made it to a comparatively strong 11th before his suspension let him down for the final time.
After a truly dreadful season with their experimental car, Arrows had seen enough of daring experimental designs. The A2 was quickly put out of its misery. A carefully conservative and extremely conventional design which shied away from ground effect completely followed in 1980’s A3 model.
The Arrows A2 was a truly tremendous sight to behold. It had looks that were plucked straight out of Star Wars. Inspired by the much better funded and better staffed Team Lotus, it was supposed to be Arrows’ all out attack on the front of the grid in only their second year.
Unfortunately a poor understanding of the forces at play resulted in a car that handled like a pregnant hippo and actively tried to pulverize its drivers. As a result, Arrows grew a lot more careful after the monumental failure of their wheeled thought experiment. The A2 lives on as counter evidence of the old adage “If it looks fast, it usually is fast“.