First kart race at 22. First Kart Championship at 23. First FF1600 Single-seater Racing at 26. First Formula Atlantic race victory at 29. First Formula 2 race at 30. It’s hardly the profile of an F1 champ. But that’s Eddie Jordan for you, head of a Formula One team at 43. Winner of the “Ernst & Young Irish Entrepreneur of the Year Award” at 52.
Edmund Jordan was planning to be a dentist but dropped out of college and became a bank clerk instead, joining the Bank of Ireland in 1967. For the next three years he worked in the bank before a strike in Dublin saw him posted to the island of Jersey, a well-known tax haven off the French coast. It was in Jersey that Jordan had his first contact with motor racing, watching go-karts on the famous Bouley Bay hill climb.
Mad about racing, he returned to Dublin and bought himself a kart. He won the Irish Championship and in 1974 moved into Formula Ford 1600 racing. The following year he raced in Britain but had a major accident at the end of the year and so missed most of the 1976 season.
In 1977 his wheeling and dealing took him into Formula Atlantic racing with an ex-Alan Jones March and the following year he won the Irish title. His next move was to team up with Sweden’s Stefan Johansson to race in the British Formula 3 series under the Team Ireland banner and in the course of 1979 Jordan raced an F2 car at Donington and tested a McLaren F1 car.
At the end of that year he set up Eddie Jordan Racing and in 1981 ran David Leslie and David Sears (later the boss of the Supernova Formula 3000 team). In 1982 he hired James Weaver and a string of pay-drivers but by 1983 was sufficiently established to run Martin Brundle in Britain (he finished second to Ayrton Senna) and Weaver in European Formula 3. The team would finally win the British title in 1987 with Johnny Herbert driving.
Jordan also ran a team in F3000 but without success until 1988 when Eddie got the first Reynard chassis and Herbert won the first race of the season. Second driver Martin Donnelly also won that year and finished third in the championship but Herbert crashed heavily at Brands Hatch and was out of action for the rest of the season. The following year Jordan’s team dominated the series with driver Jean Alesi (then champion), Donnelly and Thomas Danielsson, the team winning six of the 10 races. In 1990 Eddie ran Eddie Irvine, Emanuele Naspetti and Heinz-Harald Frentzen but it was a bad year, Irvine winning only one race.
After ten years in the lower formulae, EJ made the transition to Formula One for the 1991 season, changing its name to Jordan Grand Prix and the team entered F1 with Bertrand Gachot and Andrea de Cesaris. The team finished its debut year in an impressive fifth place in the World Championship and brought to the sport certain energy and vibrancy previously unknown.
Dealmaker par excellence
As a team owner, Eddie could sell, charm, and know how to make a race-team work. That’s exactly why Jordan received considerable help from Peugeot, which supplied the engines in 1995, 1996 and 1997. This enabled Jordan to land a major sponsorship deal from Benson & Hedges.
Then in 1998, he did something that put cash-rich teams and their masters to shame. He hired ex-World Champion Damon Hill and switched to Mugen-Honda engines. The masterstroke paid off. At Spa, Hill and his teammate Ralf Schumacher beat the odds of dangerous weather, a massive start-line pileup and an unlucky Michael Schumacher, to score a Jordan 1-2, the team’s first victory. Jordan finished the season in 4th place with 34 championship points.
1999 turned out to be even better. Damon Hill was joined by Heinz-Harald Frentzen who won the French and Italian GPs. Jordan finished 3rd in the World Championship, with 61 points.
EJ’s days in the Sun
In what had become a big business sport, dominated by blue chip corporations and motor manufacturers, Eddie Jordan was beginning to prove the richer teams wrong. Suddenly, the wild, adventurous days of privateer teams giving the big boys a hard time seemed to be back again.
Everybody in the paddock began to reckon that EJ’s time to join the Grand Prix Hall of Fame had arrived. But fate had other plans. The 2000 season turned out to be a disappointment for Jordan. However, EJ convinced Honda to supply him with factory V10 engines for 2001. Sadly, the deal lasted just 2 years, with Jordan scoring just 19 and 9 championship points respectively. By the end of 2002, it was crisis time again. Honda decided to pull out of Jordan and partner exclusively with BAR.
For the 2003 season, EJ was forced to switch to Ford Cosworth engines. EJ’s fall from grace continued. Before the 2004 season started, there was confident talk that the EJ 14 had made huge aerodynamic gains over its predecessor, and that the team could compete for 5th in the constructors’ title. Both predictions proved well off the mark. Fortuitous points at Monaco and Canada could not disguise the fact that the car was cumbersome to handle, slow in a straight line thanks to a down-on-power Cosworth, and one of the most unreliable in the field, with notoriously troublesome hydraulics and 11 mechanical retirements in total.
When strength became weakness
Tactically EJ’s team was astute, occasionally moving into competitive midfield positions by using heavier fuel loads, but in other areas they were less so. Their 11th hour choice of Giorgio Pantano not only brought a driver who had difficulty paying, but who was also the worst under-performer in the field. By contrast, testers Timo Glock and even Robert Doornbos proved much more impressive. Also, EJ’s stop-start attempts to sign Jos Verstappen proved a futile waste of time.
Where you’d think EJ’s charm would prove effective, Jordan was noticeably weak: in obtaining sponsorship. Compared to Minardi, they were unable to attract small backers, and were left with displaying obscure messages on their cars. Rumours abound that they were going to lose their one remaining commercial asset from their glory days of 1999, their Benson & Hedges support. No wonder EJ spent much of the year looking at potential Middle East investors and new engine suppliers, after tension with Cosworth, in order to start afresh in 2005. But that meant Jordan’s eyes were off the ball in 2004. The result: just 5 championship points.
It ain’t game over yet
When Eddie Jordan attended his first meeting as a member of the elite organization of Formula One team owners, he was greeted by the words, ‘Welcome to the Piranha Club.’ Jordan thought the message was a joke, but he was soon to learn that just like life, Grand Prix motor racing is Darwinian.
With the recent talk of spiraling costs, the looming global economic crisis even big players like Jaguar and Ford pulled out of F1. With its engine partner suddenly out of action, it looked like game over for Jordan. However, the master dealmaker that he is, Eddie Jordan struck an engine deal with Toyota and found a buyer in the form of the Midland Group.
With a driver line-up that’s still wet behind the ears, no one expects Jordan Grand Prix to blitz the championship. In fact, nobody believes they can. However, with Jordan’s eternal financial uncertainty finally put behind, this could be their best ever chance to hunt down the Piranhas. Sadly though, EJ himself might not be around to celebrate when it finally happens.