'I had my first F1 car and no money': Eddie recalls birth of Jordan 191 — 30 years on

F1
Michael Schumacher Jordan 191 1991 Belgian GP

The Jordan 191 in which Michael Schumacher made his debut

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It only took a short trundle out of the garage to know they had something.

“It was just so easy to drive,” says Eddie Jordan. “Easy to drive, very beautiful and quick straight away – often a good sign!”

“You can tell within about two feet of leaving the pitlane, whether a car is friendly or unfriendly,” agrees John Watson. “There’s just an inherent message that you pick up through your body, your hands, your feet. That car gave you what you needed.”

The car they are talking about is, of course, the Jordan 191, a cult racer central to one of F1’s most celebrated debut seasons. The green dynamo had its first run 30 years ago, on November 28, 1990.

“We hadn’t enough money to pay for the paint so it was all carbon, all black. And it looked awesome.”

A project which was indirectly funded by pop music’s biggest star setting his hair on fire, lost a driver to incarceration and gave the debut to one of F1’s all-time greats, the 191 could have its own feature film.

The opening scene would be an enthusiastic, mildly unkempt Eddie Jordan in conversation with Jean Alesi.

Jordan’s team had rocketed up the junior categories since its formation in 1980 and had Alesi for him in F3000.

By virtue of his Camel sponsorship connections, Jordan had managed to strong-arm Alesi into Tyrrell as a replacement for Michele Alboreto at the 1989 French Grand Prix.

It was the Frenchman who made him realise the F1 dream could become a reality.

Jean Alesi Eddie Jordan

Wise words from Jean Alesi inspired Jordan to make the F1 jump

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“Jean told me, ‘Look Eddie, I can only talk about Tyrrell, but it’s a small team – a bit like what you’re able to do with F3000,’” Jordan remembers, “He said, ‘I can promise you what we do [in F3000], the way you go about it, the technology, the discipline, the people, the fun, but at the same time the controls, are very similar. I would strongly, strongly advise you to look at Formula 1.’

Jordan went about assembling what would become a seminal F1 design team.

“I’ve always been a fan of Gary Anderson,” he says. “In Formula Three days we were all hanging out together and we became great friends.

From the archive

“He was the most practical man I’ve ever met in my life,” remembers Jordan. “I cycle a lot with Adrian Newey in Cape Town, where we both have homes. We often talk about various things, and he’s in full agreement [about Anderson] in terms of practicality.

“If he had to make the gearbox, he’d put the spanner down and get on and do it. He never asked anyone to do something that he himself couldn’t do.”

Anderson was designing F3000 cars for Reynard and initially rebuffed an offer, but recalls how Jordan wasn’t one to take no for an answer, especially when he saw the impact Anderson could have in a fledgling F1 outfit with next to no budget.

Bertrand Gachot testing the new, unbranded Jordan-Ford in January 1991. Photo: Grand Prix Photo

Gachot testing the unliveried 191

Grand Prix Photo

“I said, ‘You’re mad. I haven’t got the experience.’” Anderson previously told Motor Sport, “I kept saying no until finally, with EJ harassing me, I thought, ‘Well, I’ll probably get fed up with it after a couple of months, but why not?’”

By recruiting a couple of Anderson’s Reynard colleagues, Jordan had also managed to form the rest of the design team in one fell swoop.

“I had to go and see Rick [Gorne, Reynard Managing Director] and say ‘Gary is gonna come and join us. And the sad part is that he’s taking Andrew Green and Mark Smith with him!’”

With Anderson working on the chassis and aerodynamics, Green on the suspension and Smith taking up gearbox duties, the tight-knit group pulled together a coherent F1 package.

Come that fateful day in November 1990, it had all come to fruition. Funds were tight, but the car was there.

“We hadn’t enough money to pay for the paint,” says Jordan, “So it was all carbon, all black. And it looked awesome. We just put Jordan on the side, there was no sponsor,”

The Jordan-Ford of Bertrand Gachot in the pit garage before testing at Paul Ricard in early 1991. Photo: Grand Prix Photo

De Cesaris was brought in as the old hand behind the wheel

Grand Prix Photo

The ‘blank’ F1 car was rolled out at Silverstone as a 200mph ‘Your ad here’ sign.

A new team that had no spare parts and a very limited number of engines needed an experienced hand at the wheel. Jordan had just the man in mind.

“I didn’t really get to know EJ until when I was up testing at Silverstone during the late ’80s,” says John Watson, the first man to ever drive a Jordan grand prix car, “You would go into the Silverstone diner at lunchtime and he would be in there holding court. We got to talk and had a natural affinity.”

“John was a good friend and a great soundboard. I could always ask him some questions,” says Jordan, “Wattie is Wattie. He and I wouldn’t necessarily agree with all things, but I’d always value his opinion.”

Watson, a veteran of 154 grand prix and 5 victories, was impressed with the car’s simplicity.

“The 191 was very easy to get to the performance threshold – it had good grip,” he says. “You could, in a very broad brushstroke, say it was a F3000 car on steroids. Or conversely if Gary and the team designed a F3000 car, they would’ve built something probably similar to the car that became the Jordan 191.

“There were a lot of clever engineering and design features within the car. They ran quite large tunnels at the rear diffusers. The neat gearbox package gave the car a very good centre of gravity and weight distribution – it had a very good aero balance as well.

“And of course, there was the lovely little compact Cosworth engine. Some of the other cars of the day used V12 Hondas or Lamborghinis: big old donkeys! Heavier engines, harder to install, harder to control the height and centre of gravity.

“What the Cosworth engine enabled Gary and the team to do was to build a pretty impressive car for a first time, from a group of people that have never designed a Formula 1 car in their lives!”

Bertrand Gachot (Jordan-Ford) spins off in the 1991 Hungarian Grand Prix at the Hungaroring.

Gary Anderson and co incorporated several design innovations, including the drooping rear diffuser

Grand Prix Photo

Jordan and co realised straightaway what promise it had.

“As soon as the car hits the track on the first day, you have a very good idea of what it’s going to be like,” Jordan says. “Sometimes it has inherent problems, and sometimes you can dial them out. But if the car works and works straight away, you can then make improvements and make it better.

“When John drove the car he said “Pff! It’s just so easy to drive!”

A good car then, but no money to run it with. Jordan had run yellow F3000 Reynards sponsored by Camel and the intention on both sides had been to carry this on as an F1 title sponsorship. But Benetton had other ideas, taking the deal from under Jordan noses. “I said ‘We’re dead! We’re brown bread!” Eddie recalls. “I can’t possibly survive this!’ We had absolutely no money.”

As so often with the Jordan team throughout its F1 tenure, a lifeline presented itself. Through his Marlboro associate Paul Adams, Jordan was invited to speak at a conference of 600 Pepsico executives in an attempt to woo the company into sponsoring his team with one of its brands. Jordan was hopeful of snagging 7 UP but the cause looked hopeless.

“Paul said to everybody congregated in the assembly ‘We wish Eddie very good luck, but as you know, we need everyone here to get behind the Michael Jackson tour for the next two years. This is the biggest world tour that’s ever been done.’

From the archive

Then, no sooner had the Camel deal fallen through… “Paul rang to say that Jackson had put too much lacquer in his hair and it had caught fire. He had been quite badly burned and had cancelled his tour. So they were desperate for something else.”

Thus the green 7 UP-logoed 191 was born. Jordan made a list of other companies worldwide which used green in their logo or marketing, and went after them voraciously.

“I sat outside Fuji Film’s Tokyo office for two days. With Camel, I had [yellow-branded] Kodak almost ready to come F1 [the latter pulled out along with with the tobacco brand]. Kodak told me Fuji were their biggest competitors, and so it was perfect. I was able to tell Fuji everything.

“Fuji actually gave me more money than 7 UP, even though I gave them less space on the car but they were used to spending a ton of money in their marketing.”

Next on the hit list was the Irish Tourism Board. “Then it was easy. At the time Ireland was desperately trying to get tech companies to base themselves there, to become the European base of Silicon Valley.

Andrea de Cesaris (Jordan-Ford) seen from above with the Casino in the background durng the 1991 Monaco Grand Prix. Photo: Grand Prix Photo / Dominique Leroy

191 helped Jordan mix it with the big boys

Grand Prix Photo

“I went to the Irish government, and said ‘Look, here’s a country that is renowned for things like potatoes, butter, Guinness. It’s going to be a lot easier for you to advertise yourselves if you associate with an F1 team – it’s the pinnacle of technology.’

“As part of the deal I agreed, every Thursday on a grand prix weekend, to go to assembled gatherings at each embassy and talk about the value of the value of Ireland.”

And thus the season’s budget was secured. Now just the small matter of racing in the F1 World Championship.

“I was at Phoenix for the first race of the year,” remembers Watson, “Eddie was sh*tting rocks, because he had put everything he had into this team. The team were mandatorily having to go through pre-qualifying up until mid-season – an unbelievable additional pressure on top of the normal pressures of being in Formula 1.”

“The main problem was in pre-qualifying at 8am [on a cool track], the Pirellis were always quicker,” says Jordan, “As the day went on, the Goodyears [used by Jordan] became better, they were certainly a better race tyre.”

Eight cars were vying for four places in the qualifying session. Jordan’s young charge Bertrand Gachot made it through and would go on to qualify 14 out of 30. Andrea De Cesaris just missed the cut after a gear selection error. It would be the last time a Jordan would fail to make it through pre-qualifying.

The team went on to have a triumphant first season. Double points finishes in Canada and Germany were topped off with a memorable F1 debut for one Michael Schumacher, standing in after Gachot had been incarcerated for assault – how Jordanesque.

The team finished fifth in the World Championship, demonstrating enough potential to convince oil company Sasol to offer the team sponsorship deal, securing its future for the next three years.

Although it had been a momentous first season, a year spent living on his wits had taken its toll on Jordan.

Jordan-Ford team principal Eddie Jordn, team manager Trevor Foster and Andrea de Cesaris in the pits during practice for the 1991 Brazilian Grand Prix in Interlagos. Photo: Grand Prix Photo

Jordan and de Cesaris crunch the numbers – Trevor Foster is stuck in the middle

Grand Prix Photo

“It was just too stressful to say I enjoyed it,” he says. “Pre-qualifying was something you had to go through to realise how nerve-racking it was, trying to make the bank every time. I was on first-name terms with every bailiff in Northampton. But they were very good to me, because they would tell me when they would be coming. They’d say ‘Just make sure you don’t answer the door’.”

Somehow Eddie and his Jordan team made it through and became a mainstay in F1. They would go on to take numerous podiums, four wins and mount an unlikely title challenge in 1999, before Eddie sold the team on in 2005.

At the beginning of it all was the Jordan 191. An iconic car for a historic debut season.