A man of the people

Time is money to Eddie Jordan; usually it’s someone else’s time and certainly someone else’s money. “Money is nonstop”, he says cheerfully, and so is he. Any conversation with him that lasts more than 10 minutes is inevitably interrupted. This time it’s yet another phone call, for which he excuses himself politely.

“That’ll be another $3.5 million if they want it,” he says brusquely, a man used to having the deals go his way. “Tell them that’s it, 3.5 or nothing.”

Telephone figure numbers roll glibly off his tongue. They always have. When Martin Donnelly first made his acquaintance, EJ was selling carpets on the Naas road outside Mondello Park. Hustling. He wrote the book on it but he’s come a long way since it first went to press.

The telephone again. More sweet talk intermingled with the jocular vulgarity that is his endearing trademark. Eddie Jordan knows everyone, and everyone knows Eddie Jordan. Sometimes thinking you know him too well is a mistake. He is uncannily adept at putting words into people’s mouths, a master of being firm, even rude, without causing lasting offence.

“Why don’t you tell them Eddie says this, tell them Eddie says that…” The caller rings off, problem solved, future line of action programmed.

This is the man who ran his Formula Three operation out of one of the converted Nissen huts at Silverstone in which Reg Parnell’s pigs used to snuffle. Who used to think that Bernd Rosemeyer was a tennis player. Who now owns his own F1 team and the brand new 48,000 sq ft factory in which it is housed. Sitting in the vast new office he occupies on the site he purchased just opposite the circuit’s main gate, you appreciate just how far he has come in his decade and a bit as a team owner. His cars don’t run on secondhand rubber these days, don’t cross finishing lines with flat tyres because the carcass has worn right through. Jordan Grand Prix is big business, a team sought after by drivers and sponsors alike. Somehow, despite that, he has managed to retain the slightly knockabout relationship with his entire staff. He’s rude to them, they can be rude back, but somewhere in among all the irreverence everyone seems to know without being told just where the line should be drawn.

This time last year the critics were just getting over the fact that the Jordan 191 wasn’t a paper project after all, but something tangible, sleek and quick straight out of the box. Jordan, typically, ever the master of opportunism, was running around in a Porsche 911 Carrera 4 on 12 months’ loan, the price he had exacted from the German company for changing his car from its intended 911 type number. One year on, he has fifth place in the Constructors’ World Championship under his belt, and can look back on a season in which he experienced just about every emotion.

“I always had this image of Formula One being so unbelievably clever, and while it may be so because it was a first year and we’d never designed a Formula One car before, I have to say that the 191 was my biggest pleasure and my biggest surprise. For me, what they designed last year was great. It won in several countries Car of the Year and was a very nice car to look at aesthetically, and engineering wise it was a very fine piece of work. And that was an area, an unknown, in which I didn’t know how we’d compete. So therefore that was a very pleasant surprise.”

What did he see in Gary Anderson that others apparently didn’t? “The thing is, I have a strange attitude to reputations and egos. Stuff like that doesn’t necessarily mean much for me. I remember Gary when he came over from Ireland to work for McLaren. Then in 1981 when we were forming the team, he had the Anson car. I remember him coming to me in the paddock and not actually criticising me, not chastising me either, but giving me very serious advice about how I should go about something. And I could see he obviously felt very strongly about his racing. He had a lot of experience. Then we were the only two people from Britain really to go and do the European F3 Championship, apart from Dave Price later. We’d travelled through Europe week in, week out together, and I was able to see how good he was first hand. He was building the Ansons, which were very pretty, and if anything he fell down on the accounting or financial side. I felt I was quite good at that. So when the time came for me to look for somebody, rather than go into the unknown and pick up a Formula One engineer – I didn’t want to have to bridge a gap where a designer with Formula One experience came into a team with none because it was easier for everyone to grow together – he was a logical choice. The fact that I knew him, that he’d obviously done a very good job at Reynard, we knew him through Roberto Moreno, we knew him through Galles, we knew him through Formula Three… I never even dreamed of it as a risk. Many people asked me why I’d taken the risk but, equally, I’m sure many people asked him why he’d taken the risk coming with me. It’s worked out extremely well. I don’t interfere with his business on the design side, and he lets me get on and do my side. He always says, ‘Have we the money to do this?’ and if we have, fantastic. And if we haven’t, he can live with it. He’s very realistic like that.”

Jordan’s greatest skill has long been recognised as his ability to manage people. His style is always to promote from within, to make sure that people fit, feel comfortable. “I think it’s one of the most important areas,” he insists. “Very few people have come in from outside. Okay, it’s difficult because we don’t have that pool or reserve that we had from 3000.” He started with 43 staff last year, and that has now risen only to 51 as JGP remains devoid of fat. He is aware that it faces its toughest year in 1992, when it not only has to prove that 1991 was no first-time fluke, but also to keep it the happy unit it was then. Nobody has forgotten how Leyton House ceased to be the smiling team of the pit lane as 1988 turned into 1989. The staff fit together with few visible joins. Anderson handles the technical side, with the calm hand of highly experienced Trevor Foster looking after team management with assistance from John Walton on the technical hardware side and Tim Scott on the logistics involved in moving a team through 16 different countries in nine months. “But is that not the way it should be?” queries Jordan, when you mention the panache of the set-up.

At present JGP sub-contracts much of its build work, the tub in particular to Precision Composites although one might speculate that this job would eventually be taken in-house in the course of time. The reason is simple; “I didn’t want to have a composite shop to begin with. What I needed was to go racing. The car is a hundred per cent designed here, all on CAD-CAM, more and more per cent is getting built here, and we see that in the long-term probably as being important. But I think you have to have a very good financial structure behind you before you are able to delve into the massive involvement of cash injections and capital investment in terms of the equipment. It’s better for us, particularly when there is lots of work of very, very high quality, that we can go out to tender. We have some outstanding suppliers, that probably we will never change from.” Already though, true to form, there is an area of the new factory set aside for a composite shop in the mid-term future.

Even for an experienced team, which had F3 and F3000 titles to its name, the move to F1 was far from easy, just as Onyx discovered. “The most difficult thing,” says Jordan surprisingly, “is the logistics. For me, getting on a plane with 22 or 23 of my people, with hire cars for them at the other end, the hotels, phones at the circuits, all the systems for the radio controls, pit allocation… I was really quite surprised how smoothly it went, thanks to Tim. Even the most ardent and hardened music rock band tour operators can’t cope with doing five continents in nine months in every year. It really is an horrific amount of work. Particularly when you’re talking about the bigger teams with 12, 13 tonnes of equipment and three cars. Obviously we’re not at that level and honestly don’t wish to be, we’ve got seven tons or thereabouts, not including the engines. In years gone by that’s always been our best side. We looked good and we always travelled well, but when you have to go on an aeroplane with all those long hauls… The whole thing’s gone up by a factor around 300 per cent. That’s not to say that Formula One is 300 per cent better than 3000 in terms of the quality of the finished work, I’m not saying that by any means. But when you’re doing hotels for a multitude of people, visas, vaccines, making sure people get the right injections… I tell you, the administrative side of doing a careful job in Formula One is quite a massive effort.

Ron Dennis, the F1 manager par excellence, is known to look many seasons ahead of the one in which his team is racing. How far ahead is Jordan currently looking? “I think the team is very concerned about 1992. Mentally I’m into 1994, which might sound preposterous because we still have 1992 to get through, and 1993, but if I adopted that attitude… Well, this time last year everyone said listen, we’ll talk to you if you get to Adelaide.”

Just looking at the new factory, it’s clear that despite everything else he had to think of in 1991 a compartment of the fertile Jordan mind was firmly devoted to the future. “I think if you apply the pain at the early stages,” he contends, “it causes less overall drama than, if you like, you had the pleasure and then had to suffer the pain. I think at the moment we have to suffer. In a year or the year after, we will get the benefit from that. We have our own factory, our own facilities. I think it’s very pleasant, in the middle of the country, it’s not engulfed by other industrial sites or whatever. We have room to expand, and it’s high quality. It tells the sponsors that these people are real. The paper car days are over!” In truth, they ended once and for all when Bertrand Gachot was chasing a point in the team’s first GP, and throughout 1991 the credibility grew steadily, with few detractions. That said, it was still no easy road.

“A lot of the sponsors had conditions in the contracts, that the payments were all made in very strange ways, so as to protect themselves, what with the history of new teams in Formula One. There are very few teams in Formula One that have been formed in the last 10 years, when you think about it.”

Of course, part of the major impact last year came from the added aura of 7Up, to which Jordan deliberately undersold in order not only to present a well-heeled image, but also to feed out a line for subsequent larger investment. In the end things didn’t quite work out as Pepsi Cola had to put most of its financial eggs into the Michael Jackson tour basket, but until Sasol stepped in at the last moment for 1992, Jordan himself was still pondering acceptance of a reduced involvement by the soft drinks giant. “We had a fantastic relationship together and that gave us a lot of credibility,” he says immediately, “but we have to move forward. What they offered us for ’92 was not possible for us to accept. We had an option for them to come with us again, but they couldn’t afford that option. They know they had unbelievable value last year,” he insists, and although he won’t mention specific figures, he admits $2.9M all-up isn’t a mile away. The deal was all geared to performance. Every time a Jordan failed to prequalify the team suffered; every time it scored a point, it gained. It was a risky contract, but Jordan has never been a stranger to risk nor cowed by it. Both sides gained and he still speaks of the “fantastic relationship that he continues to enjoy with Pepsi. It was unquestionably the right thing to do. “When they want to come back into Formula One, I am guaranteeing you they will not go for anyone else but us, because of the relationship.”

The figures of F1 hold no fear for Jordan, either. Before he set up his own team he tried desperately to buy into both Lotus and Tyrrell. When both plans came to nought, he forged ahead regardless of the relatively small size of his budget and the high cost of the project. “I don’t believe it would be possible to do it again on what we did it for last year,” he confides with a characteristic whisper of confidentiality. “It’s a great compliment, not just to the top management of the team, who knew precisely what the situation was, but also to the main bulk of the staff who took the word of the management without having to be shown figures or anything. That was one hell of a year.”

He estimates the 1991 budget to have been around $12.5M or £7M, including buying the Ford HB engines. Excluding power units, now supplied free by Yamaha, that has risen dramatically to nearly $20M or £10M, which should help him move closer still to Benetton in the chase after Ferrari’s third place ranking. But if the present looks good, the future, as usual, is never far from his calculations. As Anderson, Foster, Walton, Scott and marketing manager Ian Phillips maintain and improve current performance, Jordan has built around him the infrastructure that enables him to look ahead. “We have to think about where we want to go. Do we want to have a wind tunnel? Do we want to do all our composites in-house? How soon do we want to do that?” At present the tunnel at Southampton is used, to his great satisfaction, “but, one has to look at being totally efficient within. It’s only from a position of strength you can do that properly. Our Philosophy up to that is very much a changing thing. We came in with the philosophy that we’d never had a composite shop before, why bother? Those were decisions arrived at by experience. Gary’s been in the business for 20 years, I’ve been in it that long, so’s Trevor, John-boy’s been in it 15 or 17 years, Ian too. We’re all actually old timers in terms of everything but Formula One, and we’ve covered most aspects. I was a driver of sorts, Trevor and Gary have been in Formula One briefly before. It’s good for them because they’ve come back with good positions and from a position of strength. They can hold their heads up high. Some think we had a freak first year and that we’ll fall away this year. Let’s hope in a year’s time we can say that didn’t happen. I actually believe that our overall performance should be better, we certainly should get more points, and I hope we’ll finish at least fifth in the championship, certainly with more style. I would like to get closer to the big boys.”

When you talk to Eddie Jordan the overriding impressions are that 1991 neither surprised nor daunted him. He earned his ‘Piranha Club’ spurs the hard way over the Schumacher Affair, had further controversy with Gachot’s situation, and at the very end of the season came the worst of emotions when factory manager Bosco Quinn was killed only days before the new building on which he had expended so much effort was due for official opening. Jordan, for all his blarney, remains an intensely approachable man, whose feelings are usually visible on the surface. His heart may not be on his sleeve, but it’s under the cuff. His team is, to him, something of an extended family. “There’s no demarcation, that’s too unionised, but it’s a bit like dealing with kids. They get leeway, but there comes a point where you have to say, ‘That’s enough’.” He felt Bosco’s death keenly. “That was probably the worst part of the season. That was such a sad, sad, sad thing. It was Bosco who convinced me that we had to be totally independent, that we needed our own factory to be master of our own destiny. How right he was. It’s hard to explain that you could be so involved with a member of your staff, not just me, but everybody felt it. It was like a loss of your brother, I can promise you. It went right through the factory. A very sad occasion, because he’d been here from day one. Now, a huge tree on the corner of the plot has been planted in memory of a man who was so instrumental in setting up the factory, and a marble plaque will be dedicated within the building itself. Even in death, Jordan looks after its own.

Where Ferrari tore itself apart with politics last year, Jordan Grand Prix remains run on the very best management system despite its new status, where each key manager is motivated not to let down his peers — and by definition the rest of the staff. “We’ve learned a lot about life in Formula One this last year, he admits with an air of ruefulness. “There have been certain upheavals, and we learned politically and otherwise. We encountered almost every good and bad side. That a certain other team could stoop so low to the bitterness it used to try and stop us getting the 7Up deal staggered and surprised me. I’ve now begun to learn that that may be commonplace. We have been involved in three major sponsorships where that has happened, and each time we’ve won the contract by simply setting out what we plan to do. Maybe that is the right approach…”

To those who didn’t know Jordan, his team was the surprise of 1991. When you ask him whether he surprised himself, though, the answer is immediate, totally devoid of hesitation and marked only by a softening of the voice. “With the results? Oh no. I didn’t.”

Surprise, acrimony, emotion and hard lessons were all rolled up into that debut season, and he remembers well the most important lesson of the lot. “I remember Frank Williams saying hard luck to me at Spa when we didn’t win, and I said to him that in some ways I was glad, not bitterly disappointed. I wouldn’t have wanted to win that way, because in our first year it would have given us some almighty problems for our second. On reflection I think fifth in the championship will go down in itself as being a pretty reasonable start to F1 for a debut team, but if we had had the burden of an extra 10 points and still been only fifth, it would have been turned around for 1992 if we didn’t win and people would then say we’d had a bad year. But Frank said something to me that I won’t forget. He said: ‘It doesn’t matter how you win them. Win them. You know, the sport isn’t made to be fair, and if the chance to win it comes, always take it.’ And of course, he’s right.” DJT