The Arrows team was a relative newcomer to the grid, having been founded in 1977 by Franco Ambrosio, Alan Rees, Jackie Oliver, Dave Wass and Tony Southgate – Oliver had left the Shadow team in order to found Arrows. The team made immediate headlines after readying their first car, the Arrows FA1, in just 53 days. Signing up Swede Gunnar Nilsson and German veteran Rolf Stommelen to drive, the team made headlines as soon as they appeared for the 1978 season; Gunnar Nilsson was diagnosed with terminal testicular cancer and retired, so Italian rookie Riccardo Patrese was brought in from Shadow; financier Ambrosio was arrested for tax irregularities while the Shadow team sued for copyright infringements over the design of the FA1. A new car, the A1, was readied in just 52 days after the FA1 was banned, and Riccardo Patrese came second to Brabham’s “Fan Car” in Sweden, finishing just ahead of Ronnie Peterson’s all-conquering Lotus 79. Controversy continued to dog the team throughout 1978 as Patrese was blamed for causing the Monza accident that killed Peterson and banned from the following race at the demand of his fellow drivers. 1979 was calmer, but also less successful – though Stommelen’s replacement Jochen Mass was much more consistent than his predecessor, and the team’s fortunes picked up again in 1980 with another second place – again for Patrese, this time at Long Beach. For 1981, Jochen Mass departed and took the lucrative Warsteiner sponsorship deal with him, to be replaced by another Italian, Siegfried Stohr, and sponsorshop from Italian firms Beta and Ragno.
Born in Padua, Riccardo Patrese had a distinguised career in karts, European Formula Three and European formula Two before being handed his F1 debut by the Shadow team as a mid-season replacement for Renzo Zorzi who had run out of money. He became known for his confident, sometimes reckless, racing but scored the team a point at the last race of the year in Japan and went with Jackie Oliver to the new Arrows team after Gunnar Nilsson’s tragic death. Patrese again proved himself to be fast but often careless during 1978 and after nearly winning Arrows’ second ever race, and taking a fine second place in Sweden, he was involved in, and blamed for, Ronnie Peterson’s fatal accident, with former champion James Hunt claiming that he had been pushed into Peterson’s car by Patrese and leading calls for the Italian to be banned. A less confident driver might have fallen apart but Patrese rallied to finish fourth in Canada after a one-race suspension. 1980 saw Patrese again step onto the rostrum but again he was frustrated by unreliability.
Siegfried Stohr was born and brought up in Italy to an Italian mother and German father, and during his teenage years his love of racing came second to his academic career, from which he emerged with a degree in psychology as well as a budding karting career which he parlayed into Formula Italia cars at the grand old age of 24 in 1976. Winning the title in 1977, he moved up to Formula Three for 1978 with backing from the Beta Utensili tool company, and won the title in his first year, including a special win at Monaco against some of the best racers of his category. This led him into 1979 with Chevron, but the team was uncompetitive and Stohr switched to Alan Docking’s DS Racing team for 1980 which led him to a win and a second place, and thanks to his Beta backing, a chance at an Arrows F1 drive for 1981.