Rockstars and Rear-Wings: The Birth of Jordan Grand Prix

Feature image: girado.com


When Eddie Jordan was growing up in the city of Dublin in the 50’s, he wasn’t really sure what he wanted to do with himself due to the pressures around him. Would he follow in his father’s footsteps of being an accountant? Or would he follow his uncle’s and grandfather’s steps and become a dentist? Or even more astonishingly, would he join the priesthood? In his own words he jokingly felt the latter would have been the one for him, telling Tom Clarkson on Beyond the Grid that he thought he ‘would have made a very good priest’.

After dipping his toes in accountancy for a while, Jordan’s first taste of racing came in 1970 while working on the British island of Jersey in the summer. Between working the books at an electric company in the day and pouring pints at night, EJ got into karting at St Brelade’s Bay and entered a few unofficial races. It wasn’t until he returned to Dublin before he got into it properly into his karting and started off by entering and winning the Irish Karting Championship in 1971.

After a few more years karting, Jordan started his move up the single seater feeder categories and tested himself in Formula Ford and Formula Three. Missing a year in 1976 due to a broken leg, he switched to Formula Atlantic in 1977 and won the Irish Formula Atlantic Championship the year after. Racing alongside Stefan Johansson in British Formula Three for the 1979 season, Jordan realised that he didn’t quite have the pace to be a championship winning driver. Instead, he set his sights on becoming a championship winning team leader.

Photo: brdc.co.uk

Even though he ‘didn’t have two quid to rub together’, EJ founded his first team towards the latter stages of 1979 which was self-titled Eddie Jordan Racing. After a championship battle between Aryton Senna and Jordan driver Martin Brundle in the 1983 British Formula Three championship, Jordan felt it was time to move up a category into the International Formula 3000 championship in 1988. A championship winning season in 1989 with Jean Alesi saw Jordan set his sights on the pinnacle of single seater racing, Formula One.

After a failed attempt at purchasing Team Lotus, Jordan instead opted to enter his own team and a press statement at the 1990 Italian Grand Prix announced to the world the birth of Jordan Grand Prix. Gary Anderson was brought on board as Technical Director, and it was his job alongside three other young engineers to design the Jordan 191 autumn testing in 1990 ahead of the 1991 season.

Photo: motorsportmagazine.com

Jordan was a huge fan of Anderson, who would later go on to work with Jackie Stewart at his Stewart Grand Prix team. Talking about Anderson, Jordan said ‘Gary was the biggest possible factor in Jordan’s entry in F1. The man’s a genius. He didn’t believe in himself enough to realise how good he was’.

On his wrist where he usually wears his watch, the Irishman has a tattoo which simply reads ‘FTB’. The acronym stands for ‘F**k The Begrudgers’, a motivation for Jordan which dates back to the unveiling of a livery-less Jordan-Ford 191 in Silverstone at a press conference where the late French journalist Jabby Crombac gave his two cents on the car. Though they became good friends afterwards, Crombac wasn’t impressed with Jordan’s first attempt in Formula One, writing ‘Why do they even bother? They can’t even afford to paint the car.’

As it turned out, Jordan’s first attempt at Formula One had turned out to be one of the most beautiful and memorable cars of the 90s era. Powered by a Ford Cosworth V8 and covered in top-quality brands such as 7UP, Fujifilm and Marlboro, they scored their first points at the 1991 Canadian Grand Prix with Andrea de Cesaris and Bertrand Gachot taking P4 and P5 respectively.

A week before his home race at the Belgian Grand Prix, Bertrand Gachot and the Jordan team were stunned when the Belgian was handed an 18-month prison sentence for assaulting a taxi driver at the end of 1990. Without a driver and at a track where the Jordan was expected to ‘fly’, EJ was stuck looking for someone else to fill his seat. He looked to a young German who had been making waves in other racing categories called Michael Schumacher.

Photo: formula1.com

After a test in August, Schumacher was given the seat (after Mercedes left a sweet $150,000 cheque on EJ’s desk). He unfortunately retired without completing a lap and after a dispute between Jordan and Mercedes, he was quickly snapped up by Benneton shortly after. De Cesaris had a superb race and was gaining on the race leader, Aryton Senna, before his engine gave up three laps from the chequered flag.

The team finished fifth in the constructor’s championship that season and it would be another seven years until the Irish-based team would taste victory for the first time at the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix with a 1-2. However, to finish fifth in their debut season as a fully-fledged Formula One team was unheard of and embarrassed the Ford works team Benneton on quite a few occasions.

As well as becoming a team that could push for podiums and even race wins, the team got a reputation for also knowing how to enjoy themselves in the process. As many British fans will know, the traffic jams outside Silverstone are no joke which led EJ to host a post-race BBQ which then developed into a full rock concert which became a fan favourite across all levels of the paddock.

One year after their maiden victory in 1998, Jordan Grand Prix put up a championship fight in 1999 with Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Winning in France and Italy, the German was up there with Irvine and Häkkinen and ended the season in third position for the drivers’ championship, the closest that the Irish team would come to a World Championship.


[This was originally written and posted by me to DriveTribe in January 2021]

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