Eddie Jordan remembers his F1 team’s last win: 'It was total carnage'


F1 has rarely seen more chaos than in the rain-soaked 2003 Brazilian GP, where less than half the field finished and Giancarlo Fisichella's win was confirmed after a legal battle. The result may have looked lucky, but Eddie Jordan reveals the clever strategy behind it

Giancarlo Fisichella Jordan 2 Brazilian GP trophy 2003

Fisichella took his first win for Jordan at Brazil 2003 – amid much confusion

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Twenty years ago in a courtroom hosting an FIA hearing, Jordan Grand Prix was awarded its final F1 win, after running its 200th race five days before at Interlagos.

The week after the hearing, on the Imola start/finish straight, team boss Eddie Jordan and his driver Giancarlo Fisichella finally got their hands on the Brazilian GP winner’s trophies they deserved, handed over by a smiling Ron Dennis and Kimi Räikkönen.

Even by Jordan’s slightly zany standards, this was a quirky way to snare a GP win – and it came from one of F1’s most thrilling races, the 2003 Brazilian GP.

Utilising a canny strategy typical of one of the last true independent F1 teams, Fisichella had come through what Eddie Jordan remembers now as “all kinds of chaos” to win at Interlagos.

2003 Australian GP Giancarlo Fisichella Jordan

Early 2003 races brought no joy for Jordan

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And then it was snatched away from them.

After a period of confusion, an incorrect timing decision handed the victory to McLaren’s Räikkönen, and Jordan had to fight through legal wrangling to get back what was rightfully theirs.

The little team was not without serious talent though – technical director Gary Anderson rejoined in 2002, Rob Smedley, who would shortly move to Ferrari, was Fisichella’s race engineer and the car’s aerodynamics had been shaped by Henri Dumand, fundamental in designing the sleek McLaren MP4/8 in which Ayrton Senna took five wins in his final year at Woking.

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Then, as so often was the case in Jordan history, an opportunity presented itself.

Just three races into the 2003 season, and yet again the team had already experienced all the highs and lows that come with life in F1: almost foundering on the rocks of financial disaster, then winning a grand prix.

“That was a very tough year,” Jordan remembers. “We were really suffering because it was coming to the end of the Benson and Hedges era, the end of tobacco for us.

“I realised that without a very major corporate sponsor, things were very difficult.

“Ken Tyrrell was no longer there, Frank Williams was not as strong as he used to be.”

Jordan had suffered the double blow of losing title sponsors DHL, then engine supplier Honda deciding to move its works operation over to BAR for 2003 – leaving the Silverstone team using customer Cosworth units.

2003 Malaysian GP Ralph Firman Jordan

Two races and no points finishes for Jordan prior to Interlagos

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“The price Ford made us pay for the engines were astronomical, so clearly I wasn’t overjoyed with them,” he says.

“I could see the writing on the wall that it was going to be really difficult to survive.”

Jordan had salvaged sixth in the constructors’ championship in 2002, but the lack of funds and an underdeveloped car in the EJ13 meant that it started again on the back foot in 2003.

The little team was not without serious talent though – technical director Gary Anderson rejoined in 2002, Rob Smedley, who would shortly move to Ferrari, was Fisichella’s race engineer and the car’s aerodynamics had been shaped by Henri Dumand, fundamental in designing the sleek McLaren MP4/8 in which Ayrton Senna took five wins in his final year at Woking.

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Car issues caused Fisichella to retire from both races while Firman spun out at Melbourne on his debut and came in 10th out of 13 finishers in Malaysia, a lap down.

At the third round of the season in Brazil, Fisichella had done well to put himself eighth on the grid – F1’s new rules for that season meant he’d score his first point of the season if he finished in that position. But Smedley, Anderson, and Jordan wanted more.

Prior to race, set to be run in torrential rain, Smedley had suggested to his superiors the idea of pitting early to fuel to the end and fitting new intermediate Bridgestone tyres that should outlast their Michelin-shod rivals. Jordan says the team’s knowledge of the race officials’ inclinations meant the plan was worth a gamble.

“Knowing [race director] Charlie Whiting as we did, he would do everything he could to get the race to three-quarters distance [and therefore award full points] – he was dead against half points,” says Jordan.

“So we reckoned we’d put fuel in at a stop to get us to at least 75% of the distance.”

Giancarlo Fisichella Jordan with engineer Rob Smedley Brazilian GP trophy 2003

Medland persuading Fisichella to follow Jordan’s cunning plan

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The race started with rain hammering down, and ran under the safety car for the first eight laps.

As Smedley told Motor Sport in 2020, he spent that period trying to persuade Fisichella to buy into the plan.

“These were the days when you could talk openly on team radio,” he said. “I explained the strategy to Fisi and he said to me, ‘Might be an idea, but we’re not going to do that.’

“Giancarlo was sitting on the fence about it and then said, ‘No, I don’t want to do it because we’re eighth, we can get some points.’

“Gary Anderson was now a firm believer in this strategy. So he was saying, ‘C’mon, c’mon, tell him!’

“I said [to Fisichella], ‘Yeah, all right, well let’s just try it and I’ll take responsibility. Just do it.’”

The Italian dutifully peeled in on lap six, dropping to the back of the field before the green flag was given on lap eight. At the time, the decision seemed mystifying to some: “If you were going to do that, you should’ve come in earlier,” said commentator Martin Brundle.

From there, all hell broke loose. As Jordan describes: “The race? It was a total carnage.”

Minardi’s Justin Wilson was the first to fall foul of standing water at Turn 3, before Firman’s suspension failed and took out Olivier Panis with it, narrowly missing Fisichella.

Once that mess was cleared up, Juan Pablo Montoya, Antonio Pizzonia, Michael Schumacher, Jenson Button and Jos Verstappen all went off at the same spot as Wilson earlier.

After yet another restart, race leader Rubens Barrichello broke down on lap 46, while all the time Fisichella was closing in on the leaders.

Giancarlo Fisichella Jordan celebrates on podium Brazilian GP trophy 2003

Subdued Fisichella on Brazil podium

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By lap 53 the Jordan man as up to second, right behind Räikkönen, and at the Merghulo corner a twitch of oversteer for the Finn allowed Fisichella the lead.

Just two laps later and a huge shunt for Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso brought the race to an end – just as Smedley, Anderson and Jordan had predicted.

Cue ecstatic celebrations for the beleaguered Jordan team, they’d won. Or had they?

“I was kind of overjoyed, but furious at the same time”

Stewards deemed that the results had to be rolled back one lap from what had last been clocked on the timing screens – which meant Räikkönen was the winner, not Fisichella.

Eddie and his team were left stony-faced under the podium, as front-running Räikkönen was awarded his second winner’s trophy in as many races, while backmarker Jordan was left with the runner-up spot – “I was kind of overjoyed, but furious at the same time.”

However, the irrepressible Irishman and his team believed they had a case that victory was theirs, they just had to prove it.

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“I had to bring it to the FIA to appeal it,” he says. “At the time, they’d followed protocol and manually moved the results back one lap [to when Räikkönen was in the lead] from what was on the telemetry, but the computers had already done this for them – it was already accounted for in the system. The win was rightfully ours.

“I had to fight with the FIA. Obviously, there was a big rigmarole. [FIA president] Max [Mosley] didn’t want to hear the appeal, but he had to.”

As Jordan now rightly asserts, it was a simple case of human error.

“As we were going into the court, Charlie, said to me, ‘Look, I don’t think we need to go through with this. I think the FIA will accept your claim. And we understand there was a mistake made by the timekeepers’”.

Fast-forward to Imola and McLaren team boss Ron Dennis and Räikkönen handed over the trophy to Jordan and Fisichella, but the latter says he still felt a bit short changed.

“I was a bit annoyed because when we had our first win at Spa in ’98, they didn’t have the Irish national anthem,” he says. “We then didn’t get it in Brazil, and they didn’t play it for us in Imola either.

Giancarlo Fisichella Jordan awarded Brazilian GP trophy 2003

Winners finally get their trophy

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“I think it would have been really nice for everybody associated with a small team. I felt cheated – it wasn’t our mistake.”

Jordan is therefore lumbered with the statistic of only having had its national anthem played at 50% of its victorious races.

For Fisichella though, one of F1’s nearly men at that point with so many grand prix near-misses, he was finally off the mark with a win – he didn’t get to stand on the top step of the podium but he did get to celebrate the win in his home country.

“Those days were wild, crazy and good fun”

“Coming back to Jordan was a big ask for him and a big risk,” Eddie says. “Fisi had good times and bad times with us. I adored the guy.”

In Jordan’s colourful history through F1’s red-blooded V10 era, Brazil 2003 was its last hurrah, after similarly cute wins at Spa ’98, as well as Magny-Cours and Monza the year after.

“The Fisi thing in Brazil, in my opinion, was a fair amount of luck,” he says. “But we were in a position to take a bit of luck because we’d already pre-planned it as much as we could do.

“What I loved about the team was that we were small, but we all knew what was going on in the race, because we all talked about it beforehand.

“Those days were wild, crazy and good fun.”