Eddie Jordan knows the mild taste of Formula One success. In 1996, he knows he has to get used to something a little stronger
“Out of my way, you froggies,” demanded Eddie Jordan, face creased with a mischievous grin, as he pushed his way into the Ligier awning. “I’d like to have a word with my driver!
“Tom? Tom? Come out of there, you coward…”
Had the object of his taunt, Tom Walkinshaw, appeared at the door of the French team’s motorhome, nobody would have been more surprised than Jordan. He knew only too well that, less than amused by Martin Brundle’s ‘defection’ to Jordan, the burly Scot had flown out early from the European Grand Prix in order to clear his mind.
Having driven for Jordan in Formula Three against Ayrton Senna, Brundle is no stranger to F1’s somewhat eccentric methods. “It’s like somebody who’s just been away for a while,” says Jordan. “It’s a homecoming, if you like.”
Just as Britain’s most experienced GP driver is clearly at ease with Jordan, so the 47-year-old Irishman is equally at home in the F1 paddock. With a colourful vocabulary that would put Billy Connolly to shame, you sense he was born for the rumour and intrigue, the whispering knots of people loitering against the side of the transporters, the camaraderie of the Formula One circus.
Underneath the ready wit is concealed a steely desire to succeed. Having set the benchmarks to which F1 newcomers aspire, Jordan’s operation is now poised on the brink of the big time. Just four years after it began to scale the F1 mountain, it is already within sight of the summit — often beating McLaren and sometimes pressuring Ferrari. Under the alliance forged with Peugeot, though, hope has now become expectation. Next year nothing short of victory will do.
Buoyed by impressive pre-season test times, some even anticipated that accolade would be achieved in 1995. The last occasion on which the team entered a year with such an unmistakable air of optimism was 1992, the first term of its deal with Yamaha. Then, from having finished fifth in the Constructors’ Championship in its maiden season, Jordan commenced the campaign by failing to qualify one of its cars in front of the home crowd of its new sponsor, Sasol.
This time around the let down wasn’t quite so disastrous, for both cars at least qualified, but the race was short-lived. So, for that matter, were hopes of challenging the likes of Williams and Benetton.
“Everything turned to the brown stuff all right,” says Jordan. “In a way perhaps that was good. It wasn’t nice at the time, because we knew the journalists who hyped us up so much would also crucify us, but it was good in so far as expectations were unrealistically high. Instead of always being the underdog, we’re now there to be shot down. But I’ve waited five years for that situation, so perhaps I should enjoy it!”
Given the chance, he would willingly have traded positions when he embarked on the F1 project back in 1991. Jordan had won championships in every level of motorsport it had contested, becoming the first team to secure the European 3000 title and win a race the following season. But, as Pacific has subsequently demonstrated, success in the junior categories is no guarantee of displaying similar strength at such a rarefied altitude. The impact Jordan was able to make on the establishment belied its financial position.
“We went in under financial constraints, recalls Jordan. “I remember that like any new team we unveiled a car still in carbon. The reason we did that was because carbon was still quite new at the time, and we felt we had made such a beautiful job of the car, so why not show the people before it was painted? And had we painted it, we would have had to opt for a colour! Rather than painting for the sake of it, we thought, ‘Why not wait for the sponsor?'”
Jordan Grand Prix was recently held up by Ron Dennis as the shining example of how a team can enter F1 and be successful. What he conveniently overlooked was that Sasol, which rescued Jordan financially at the start of 1992, first approached McLaren and in view of a conflict with an existing sponsor was passed on.
Yes. Jordan really was a shining example, and its presentation matched its performance, but its progress also indicated the yawning gap between the Haves and the Have-Nots, and the calculated risks necessary to bridge that chasm.
The amount of money garnered in that maiden season through attractive-looking sponsorship deals with 7-Up and Fuji Film didn’t equate, even in dollars, to the outlay in pounds for Ford’s HB engines. By opting for the Ford, at a time when other customer teams were relying on Cosworth’s DFR, Jordan gambled on quickly accumulating not only debt, but points and publicity. The bid paid off, and the Sasol deal, allied to a lucrative engine tie-up with Yamaha, enabled EJ to spend 1992 paying off the deficit accrued the previous season.
“The target for Formula One was quite simply that I felt I wanted to be able to score points,” explains Jordan. “At that time you think you are better, or as good as, anybody else, so you think it’s gonna be reasonably easy. You don’t think it’s likely to be a big drama until you have such a bad year as we had in ’92, when you realise how hard it would be to have points.
“In hindsight we had a number of things in our favour in 1991: we had Goodyear tyres, so whilst our qualifying was always a little bit difficult, our race performance was always Outstanding; we had a very reliable car, very simple, and the boys had designed a great car. Ian [Phillips, the Commercial Manager] and I had just about found enough money to struggle by, although we wound-up with quite a big deficit which had to be attacked. That’s another reason why ’92 was difficult, because there is no substitute for financial stability. When you are constantly worrying about who is going to knock on your door next, it gradually wears you down.”
You could look back to 1991 and argue a case for the team having entered F1 at Precisely the wrong time. After all, 34 cars were competing for just 26 spots on the grid. The newcomers weren’t even guaranteed making it beyond Friday morning.
because “There will never be a more excruciating time in my entire life than those last 10 minutes, at 10 to 9 on a Friday morning, when your guests are waiting to know whether you will have passes to be able to come in to the race.” says Jordan with a shake of the head. “I could quite easily have done without the stress and strain of that, I felt like I had aged five years that year.”
In other respects, though, the birth of Jordan Grand Prix was timed to perfection. With Mark Smith, Andy Green and Gary Anderson joining Paul Thompson, Trevor Foster and the late Bosco Quinn at the end of 1989 – Bob Halliwell, John Walton and Gordon Russell came on board in 1990 – the team could have taken the plunge one year earlier than was eventually the case, but Jordan wanted the right package not only to hit the ground, but to hit it running.
“The adrenalin was flowing,” he confesses, “but I think it’s crucial in any kind of life, business or otherwise, that you’ve got to try and hit at exactly the right time, or as good a time as you can. Strategically, the time was right. Everything had to be funded up-front. When people are desperate they do desperate things and I wanted to be sure we didn’t fall into that category, so I went for a solid package: Goodyear tyres, Ford engine and a simple car.”
Where, for example, Pacific entered F1 in a weaker state than it had contested F3000, Jordan tolerated as few compromises as possible.
“We have a saying at Jordan Grand Prix that there is no point in being a bankrupt hero,” he insists. “The glory lasts for 10 minutes. The other way around, you live to fight another day and hold your head up high. In a very short period of time we have been able to mould ourselves into a serious team which I believe could go on to win championships.”
The Peugeot connection is vital to the realisation of that ambition, for the era of privateers doing well with a customer engine as Jordan did with a powerplant two series’ below that used by Benetton in ’91 is over. Yet Jordan’s last tie-up with a manufacturer, Yamaha, ended in disaster. Memory of 13 points in the team’s first season faded quickly as Stefano Modena and Mauricio Gugelmin scored but a solitary point in 1992, the Brazilian pondering, “You could sit on the straights [at Hockenheim] and you’d have time to read the Sunday Times before you got to the end of them.”
With the benefit of hindsight, Jordan concedes the team was not ready for such a liaison: “In ’92 I started the season in full belief that we were in very good shape. It transpired to be a very difficult year. We probably underestimated the lateness of the change, the time and travel between Japan and England. Being a very young team, on reflection we didn’t have enough people to cope with a works effort.”
Three years on, similar doubts have been raised about the Silverstone-based operation’s ability to cope with a manufacturer. Technical Director Gary Anderson spent the opening weeks of the season embroiled in meetings, and his return to a more hands-on role has been crucial in an upturn of form highlighted by the double podium finish in Canada in May. Plenty more results have gone begging, though, so what has gone wrong?
“I’m asking myself the same questions,” exclaims Jordan. “I’m not happy about it, but there have been a number of failures at crucial times when we were looking in good shape. Besides that, a year ago the car was being built for a Hart engine, then for a Ford engine and then later for a Peugeot. Next year it will be purpose-built.”
And next year there can be no excuses. Peugeot President Jacques Calvet must deliver victory to a board which saw the company score seven podium finishes in its first year with McLaren but, to date, just two in its second. A rally man at heart, Calvet is so impressed with racing that he refused even to be helicoptered in to Le Mans in ’92 when, with his cars running one-two-three within an hour of the finish, victory was assured. He has attended just one GP this season.
One of the most popular figures in the paddock, Jordan’s approach is the antithesis to the corporate image portrayed by McLaren and there was certainly an element of relief in the French camp when the alliance was struck with Ireland’s finest. But how does the Gallic mix with the Gaelic?
“With McLaren everything was here, here and here. It was black, or it was white,” he suggests. “With Jordan it is more a case of… passion. In very short time Peugeot have won championships in every area in which they’ve entered. The philosophy, the thinking, the strategic long-term view was almost dovetailing into our situation: the chemistry was right. We’ve finished second, the next thing is for us to win. And win properly, with style, rather than inheriting it.
But, for now. I’ll take the inheritance!”
Take the shirt off your back too, you sense, for Jordan revels in an image that suggests he is motor racing’s equivalent of Arthur Daley. But the cheerful banter would be nothing was it not backed by fierce determination. Legend has it that when he was sourcing finance for his first season in F1, Jordan flew to Japan between races in his pursuit of backing from Fuji Film. There his advances were scheduled to be politely but firmly declined. The meeting commenced in the early afternoon, and by two the following morning Fuji had capitulated.
It is not uncommon for people to wilt in the face of his powers of persuasion. Indeed ‘passion’ is a term often used in conjunction with a team which is fiercely proud of its strong Irish connection.
“Passion is a feeling, something you have inside, that gut feeling,” says Jordan, predictably warming to the theme. “The people inside Jordan have a deep passion: to do the best they can for themselves, their families, their team, and to help each other. That is a common passion when one person is down, the others will rally round. That may sound very tacky in certain ways in the modem era in which we live, but I promise you that is the reality.
“You always find that there is passion when you are the underdog: there’s always just that little extra ounce to prove people wrong. Which we don’t want any sympathy for, because now we are up against the real big boys, and are still, perhaps, slightly the underdog, but you can only get away with that for so long. I don’t want to get any sympathy vote, I want to get the points on the board by pure performance, ability and talent, and a good management base.”
So how can Jordan reconcile those ambitions with the sale of his best driver, Eddie Irvine, to Ferrari?
“First of all, you have to be very clear about the contractual situation,” he stresses, firmly on the defensive. “There was a mechanism within his contract which allowed him to go should a team of major standing not a smaller team, but one of major standing take his services. Against my will. I might add, but one has to honour a contract.
“I could have fought in every court in the land to stop Eddie, but it wouldn’t have stood up, number one. Number two, it would have been against every principle I hold strong to hold back Eddie’s future particularly when he has the opportunity to be the first Irish driver at Ferrari. How could I have continued to motivate him to perform had I said no, and how do you think I could have justified that to myself or slept with it?”
Buy-out clause notwithstanding, many will level the accusation that Jordan, like any mid-table ‘selling’ football team, has betrayed a lack of ambition by parting with one of his prized possessions. To begin to understand his reasoning, however, you must first remember that for all the talk of passion, Jordan’s dream is underpinned by pragmatism. Now, as it did in ’92, the team needs desperately to consolidate, to regroup, before making another push. For all that it has knocked on the door of the Big Four this season, Jordan currently lacks the infrastructure to make that final leap. Where Ferrari is talking in earnest of two separate test teams for 1996, Jordan has yet to put in place its first.
“We couldn’t have gone any further next year, had Eddie stayed, than we can now,” concedes Jordan in an uncharacteristically quiet moment of reflection. “I think both sides are happy: Eddie has a super opportunity at Ferrari and it has given us the opportunity to plan for other things, to do things on the technical side which can help us in our aim to beat Ferrari. And I have told him, he mustn’t forget that is exactly what we aim to do.”