The best and worst of Eddie Jordan
One of the great motor racing team bosses, ‘EJ’ was a complex man to work for – frustrating, dogged and often very likeable
“One day he’s a character you’d drive off the end of the earth for, and the next… if you had a gun you’d shoot him.” That’s Trevor Foster’s verdict on Eddie Jordan, the man whom he worked for the longest during his 50 years in motor sport.
The best of EJ explains why Jordan survived through the 1990s when the likes of Lotus, Tyrrell and Brabham faded. “He’d be in from 8am until 7 or 8pm trying to get the deals in,” says Foster. “He was an eternal brush salesman, something I couldn’t do. He’d knock on the door: ‘Sir, would you like to buy a brush?’ No, slam the door in his face. Then he’d go back a week later, knock on the door and say, ‘This brush: I’ve got a better idea, it’s a blue one instead of a red one.’ This is how it was with chasing sponsors: he’d make a pitch and they’d say, ‘We’re not interested, we are going to sponsor golf or horse racing.’ A month later he’d be back on the phone saying, ‘I know what you said last time, but what about this angle?’ He was relentless. He’d have 100 ideas a day, but couldn’t always decipher the good ones.”
In the early F1 days, Jordan put everything on the line for his team – including his own home. Foster has never forgotten that. “The first thing he used to say to me was, ‘How much money do we have in the bank? We pay the wages first. Forget the suppliers and the VAT man, wages first.’ I always respected him for that. It was touch and go for months at the end of 1991 and the thing that saved us was the car was so good. That brought in funding from Sasol the following year. Unfortunately the damage had already been done financially and we couldn’t commit to the Cosworth engine, so we had to take the Yamaha and the guys had to re-engineer the car with a bigger, longer engine. It didn’t work.”
Foster was tempted away by Peter Collins at Team Lotus in 1993, frustrated by his widening role as team manager and race engineer at Jordan – plus he was keen to work with Johnny Herbert again. But it’s a period he won’t dwell upon. “After I left Lotus I helped out Richard Dutton at Fortec with race engineering for a season, then out of the blue I got a call from Eddie asking if I’d come back. While I’d been away he’d split the roles, like I’d been asking.”
Foster was present through the Benson & Hedges years: winning the first race with Damon Hill at Spa in 1998, and working with drivers like Ralf Schumacher, Jarno Trulli and Heinz-Harald Frentzen. “By 2001, because we’d worked so closely with each other, it became like a divorce,” says Foster. “I didn’t agree with the direction Eddie was taking the team. It was his company, his team and his choice, but as a senior member if you disagree with where it’s going you have the right to walk away, which is what happened. We didn’t fall out as such, but we disagreed more than we’d ever done.”
Foster isn’t defined by his time at Jordan, but it’s the team he remains most associated with and there’s plenty of pride in what was achieved. “When you put your heart and soul into this job, you’ve got to really want it,” he says. “I’m not talking just about in the good times. Even when you haven’t got the best car or drivers you still have to put everything into it. If you’ve got a really talented driver or engineer they can carry you through. When you have someone not at that level you have to work even harder to make up for the shortfall.”