Nostalgia
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Nostalgia

Retro 1991: How the Jordan F1 team was born

Twenty-six years ago, Irishman Eddie Jordan created his Formula 1 team and produced one of Grand Prix racing's most iconic cars, the stunning 191. Rene Fagnan looks back with the team's marketing director Mark Gallagher.

Retro 1991: How the Jordan F1 team was born
Gary Anderson, left, during assembly of the Jordan 191
Mark Gallagher
Andrea de Cesaris, Jordan 191
Michael Schumacher with Eddie Jordan
Michael Schumacher, Jordan
Michael Schumacher, Jordan
Bertrand Gachot, Jordan 191
Andrea de Cesaris, Jordan 191
Bertrand Gachot, Jordan 191
Andrea de Cesaris, Jordan 191
Andrea de Cesaris, Jordan 191
Mauricio Gugelmin, Jordan Yamaha 192
Bertrand Gachot, Jordan 191

Jordan was a successful racer himself before he decided to run his own team and competed in the lower formulas. He clinched the British Formula 3 title in 1987 with Johnny Herbert and the Formula 3000 championship two years later with Jean Alesi.

Gallagher, who was a journalist in 1988, was a close ally of Jordan and was involved with the burgeoning F1 project from its inception.

“Eddie had been working on his F1 idea for a couple of years at that stage,” Gallagher told Motorsport.com. “In 1988, Eddie had managed to attract the support of Camel for his F3000 team. But at first, Camel did not want to sponsor him.

"So at the first race, Eddie borrowed some Camel decals from an Italian team and stuck those on the side of Herbert’s car, which won the race.

"He then struck a deal with Autosport magazine to put the photo of the car on their cover. Duncan Lee, of Camel, decided to go for it, and sponsored Eddie’s team.”

Camel had been in Formula 1 with Lotus since the start of ’87, but the relationship was no longer as fruitful since Senna had left the team at the end of that season. Jordan also managed the career of Martin Donnelly, who was to join Lotus for 1990.

“Through his relationship with drivers, Camel and Lotus, Eddie then made a play to buy team Lotus. I think Eddie wanted to repeat what Ron Dennis had done with Marlboro and McLaren, but that failed to materialise,” Gallagher explained.

The first test

During the winter of '89-90, Jordan decided to invest all his personal money into the creation of his own F1 team.

“He employed Gary Anderson, Andrew Green and Mark Smith as the designers,” Gallagher continued. “The first car was produced in October.

"Eddie believed that the best way to sell sponsorship was to present companies with the actual car rather than going around with a glossy brochure. He was desperate to show people that he had a car that was running.

"We tested the Cosworth-powered 911 [as it was originally known] with John Watson behind the wheel, just to show that Eddie was serious, and it gave him the chance to get sponsors.”

At the time, the Jordan team comprised 33 people, about 20 from the F3000 team, and a dozen more working on the F1 project.

The car was painted green, partly in deference to Eddie's Irish roots, but also because he had done a deal with the Irish tourism office. This is when the team's iconic sponsor, 7UP, comes into the picture.

“Eddie got wind of an opportunity to approach Pepsi Cola for the sponsorship from their 7UP brand,” Gallagher recalled. “A sponsorship agency, Parallel Media, helped us out.

"That deal was just about 2 million dollars. I think Pepsi Cola got behind it because it was not a huge deal, and they figured that if they lost money, it was not going to be that much.

"Because the car was green, Eddie made a list of every company in the world that had the green colour in their logo or scheme. And this is how we got Fujifilm on board. He chased them really hard…”

A problem with Porsche

All was going well then, until a certain German car company objected to the car's 911 nomenclature.

“Porsche AG became aware of this and sent a long letter written in German, stipulating to stop using the 911 designation, because they claimed they owned it,” Gallagher said. “Eddie didn’t care about it.

"A few weeks later, we got another letter, this time in English, repeating to stop using the 911 designation. Eddie booked an appointment with Porsche UK and went there to face an army of lawyers. He explained that the season was about to start and such a change of name was going to force him to completely re-brand the company.

"As a favour, Porsche proposed to give him a brand new 911 Carrera. Of course, Eddie took the car and renamed the F1 car the 191, a change that didn't cost us a cent!”

Jordan ran Bertrand Gachot and the veteran Andrea de Cesaris for most of the 1991 season, and then later in the year replaced the imprisoned Gachot with Michael Schumacher - who was swiftly snapped up by Benetton after a stunning Spa debut - Roberto Moreno and Alex Zanardi.

The first-ever Irish F1 team finished the season with 13 points and in fifth place out of the 18 teams in the Constructors’ Championship. De Cesaris achieved the team's best results, fourths in Canada and Mexico, and finished a creditable ninth in the drivers' table.

“Alain Prost gave us the best compliment of all that year. One day he said the one car that was impressive to follow through a corner was the Jordan. The car was just glued to the track. Gary [Anderson] had made a tremendous job,” Gallagher said.

Financial difficulties

Despite this success, Jordan was in serious financial difficulties by the end of the 1991 season.

“We had a big overdraft with the bank," he said. "I don’t know the real numbers, but I can estimate that Eddie had a budget in mind of around $7.5 million, and that first season cost around $11m.

"But the team had done very well, and that led to a very fortuitous phone call from Ayrton Senna at Christmas 1991 which led to Eddie being introduced to Sasol."

Sasol, the South African petroleum business, basically had a tax break from the government to promote itself out of the country. They wanted to do F1 and they went shopping. McLaren, Ferrari, Williams and Benetton already had sponsorship contracts with other oil companies.

“The first team in the standings that didn’t have such a deal was Jordan,” Gallagher said. “Senna was able to make the introduction because he wanted to help his good friend Mauricio Gugelmin to drive for the team. Senna was very keen to see it happen.”

Jordan duly clinched the Sasol deal for 1992, and replaced its famous green livery with the new sponsor's pale and dark blue colour-scheme. The team struck a deal to race the V12 Yamaha OX99 engine in place of the customer HB Cosworth engines it had used to such good effect in 1991.

Unfortunately, the Japanese motor turned out to be a disaster, and Eddie Jordan’s team endured a very difficult time in 1992 as a result, scoring just one point.

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