“She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.”
The car was black. It wasn’t gleaming ebony, a gorgeous vision of beauty sparkling under multiple spotlights. Nor was it staid and sensible matte charcoal, a futile attempt to camouflage any possible aerodynamic advantages. Instead it was crude carbon fibre, a blank canvas ready and waiting for any willing sponsor to promote their wares. And that was the problem. There were no sponsors…none at all.
It was an inauspicious start. The media had been invited to Eddie Jordan’s premises at the Silverstone circuit to view his inaugural entry for the 1991 Formula One season. Jordan Grand Prix may have had no sponsors, but at least the car had wheels – shod with highly desirable Goodyear rubber. They also had their hard bargained for Ford engine prominently displayed in pride of place – proving definitively to all doubters that they had indeed acquired a competitive source of forward propulsion.
This couplet of essential components had required every ounce of wheeling and dealing skills that Eddie Jordan had perfected over his time in the lower formulae. New teams usually had to accept uncomplaining whatever was available after everyone else had chosen. Despite this journalist Jabby Crombac was not impressed. He wrote, “Why do they even bother? They can’t even afford to paint the car.” There was more than a fragment of truth to this statement but it was like a red rag to a bull to Eddie Jordan. Why was he bothering? Well he’d show him…
A little over a year before Jean Alesi had won the 1989 International Formula 3000 title, driving for Eddie Jordan Racing. After ten years participating in Formula 3 and Formula 3000, Jordan had managed to accrue a bank balance of five millions pounds. He could think of no better way to make use of his savings than to fund a foray into the rarefied atmosphere of Formula One. He was very fortunate that his wife agreed…I’m sure there are many who wouldn’t! It was Christmas Eve of 1989 and Jordan had other things on his mind than the usual holiday fare of festivities and good cheer. Gary Anderson received an unexpected phone call, inviting him to design the first Jordan Grand Prix car.
Gary Anderson had made his way to the mainland from Northern Ireland at the age of 20, initially with dreams of car racing. Even racers need something to eat and somewhere to sleep and to provide the needed funds for these essential activities he worked as a mechanic in the Brabham Formula 3 team. Promotion into the Brabham Formula 1 team resulted when he impressed Bernie Ecclestone with his ability to single-handedly lift the hefty 138 kg Ford-Cosworth engine…obviously a highly valued and sought after skill. He utilised his time well, watching and learning all he could from head designer Gordon Murray, and was rapidly elevated to the distinguished position of chief mechanic.
Anderson left Brabham in 1976 to go back to Formula 3, this time designing his own car with Tyrrell mechanic Rob Simpson. They built and raced the Anson SA1 but a lack of sponsorship dollars meant they ran out of funds to continue and he was forced back into Formula 1, this time as chief mechanic at McLaren. After two years he had a short spell at Ensign before returning to Formula 3 where he spent another five years designing the Anson chassis for competition in the various championships worldwide.
Anderson then took a break from the constant financial strain that was an inherent part of design and construction and headed across the pond to gain more experience as chief engineer for the Galles Indycar team. This was followed by a return to Europe to act as technical director at Bromley Motorsport in International Formula 3000. Their driver was Roberto Moreno who won the 1988 championship driving a Reynard. Adrian Reynard then asked Anderson to design his chassis for the following year, and this is when the paths of Eddie Jordan and Gary Anderson converged. Jean Alesi won the 1989 Formula 3000 championship in the Anderson designed Reynard 89D. No wonder Anderson was the first person that Eddie Jordan rang to offer the job of designing Jordan Grand Prix’s first chassis!
Eddie Jordan later said that “Garry was the biggest possible factor in Jordan’s entry in F1. The man’s a genius. He didn’t believe in himself enough to realize how good he was. We’d have heated discussions – two Irishman in one room, one big, one small – but we always emerged without any blood on the carpet!”
Jean Alesi driving the 1989 Reynard 89D at Brands Hatch
Three people formed the technical department at the infant team…at Ferrari there would have been more personnel responsible for creating the end plate of the front wing! Mark Smith designed the transmission, Andrew Green the suspension, and Gary Anderson the bodywork and aerodynamics. First on the agenda was a clean and quiet place to work. This was provided by a mezzanine office built above the workspace. He then utilised the unsophisticated but highly effective tools of paper, pencil and ruler to design the smooth, sleek lines of the now instantly recognizable Jordan 191.
With every dollar spent only after much agonizing thought, there was no room for imaginative flights of fancy. Simplicity and easy set up were of prime importance; as a new team they would have to run the gauntlet of pre-qualifying. Their goal was to harness reasonable speed with minimal fuss. Wind tunnel testing cost 1500 pounds…per day! Jordan balked at the thought of throwing that many pound notes into thin air, but Anderson insisted. Just a few days…just to be sure. It would be worth every pound.
Gordon Murray wrote in the book “The Art of the Formula One Car” that “Garry Anderson was my chief mechanic for years and years. It’s no wonder this is such an intuitive piece of design. Our early Brahams didn’t go near a wind tunnel; everything was done with wool tufts stuck to the car at tests. Garry would have been comfortable designing it by eye with limited tunnel time. It’s very balanced and elegant – and beautifully simple. “
Eddie’s savings…followed by his overdraft…had paid for everything so far but without sponsors they were never going to be able to afford to fly everyone and everything to the first race. To give Eddie Jordan his due, he thought he had a sponsor. Jean Alesi’s winning steed in 1989 had been canary yellow and emblazoned with Camel sponsorship. Jordan had what he thought to be a verbal agreement with Camel and was under the impression that they were going to continue their relationship into Formula 1. Camel had left Lotus and as far as Jordan was aware there only remained the fine details of the contract to resolve.
But Jordan was no longer in the family-like world of Formula 3000, where you gave your competitor’s mechanics a lift to the next race. They were now struggling to keep from being rapidly eaten alive in the Piranha Pond environment of Formula 1. Flavio Briatore and Benetton had the savvy and experience to entice Camel away from Jordan, and get the money into their own pockets. They argued that Benetton had more to offer, much more. As the “works” Ford team, they could give Camel far superior exposure for their investment. Jordan Grand Prix were unlikely to be anywhere except struggling at the rear of the grid, lucky to even finish races, while Benetton would be fighting with the big boys for podiums…and even the occasional win. Camel knew what it was like to be struggling in the midfield with Lotus…and they didn’t want to be there again. They went with Benetton.
Just as well that Eddie Jordan was exceptional at thinking fast and talking even faster. Seven-up was the most popular drink in Ireland…outselling Coke and Pepsi. With a brain wave of genius he proceeded to woo them. Any money was better than nothing so he didn’t aim high. Once he had a major sponsor on-board he knew that lesser names would fall into place behind them, the amounts continuing to add up. First he had to sell the idea of the sport to the diverse board of 7-up, who needed unanimous agreement for the deal to go ahead.
Unsurprisingly many thought that sponsoring motor racing was the same as watching your money disappear into a bottomless pit in the ground. He painted a vivid picture of the advantages available to the astute sponsor. Corporate boxes at the races, mixing with the elite of the business world and the benefits of world-wide exposure of their product. Their logo would appear immensely more eye-catching at high speed than it would on an immobile billboard.
Jordan was pleasantly surprised when they quickly came to an agreement…1.1 million pounds. It was at least a start. It also provided a colour for the car…green. There was no colour more appropriate for an Irish team. He then had the brainwave that maybe Ireland could be even more prominently displayed on the car. Off Jordan went to baffle the Irish tourism board with Irish blarney. It was the first Irish Grand Prix team. Wouldn’t they like to advertise Ireland to the world…and pay for the privilege of course! The luck of the Irish was on Jordan’s side. They did. Another million pounds made its way into Jordan’s bank account. In one short week he had managed to accrue over 2 million pounds. The team could now afford to go racing!
The change in colour resulted in a new difficulty. Kodak had been interested but they balked. Green was the colour of their biggest competitor. Despite Eddie promising to paint the rear wing yellow they were not impressed. The rest of the car looked like Fuji, who was their main competition. That gave Jordan an idea. Catching a plane for Tokyo, he took a model of the green car with a (slightly larger than it should have been) green rear wing…perfect for Fuji to advertise their merchandise. His quest for money was aided by the fact that the Japanese were exceptionally keen on Formula One. After four days of wining and dining as only Japanese businessmen can, the deal was made. This time 1.4 million pounds was added to the bank balance. Last, but not least, driver Andrea de Cesaris bought with him an essential 3.5 million of Marlborough money.
Ian Hutchinson, responsible for the livery of the 1986 Silk Cut Jaguar, was given free rein with the visual presentation of the Jordan 191. Hutchinson said that “It was the easiest shape I’ve ever had to work with. What I’m hoping is that it will go down as one of the Gold Leaf Lotus type of liveries.” I think he achieved his ambition! Two tone green with blue sidepods – the car looked as stunning as the emerald fields and sapphire seas of Ireland. Even when the car was sitting stationary in the garage it looked like it was moving but at speed it was spectacular.
On January 31, 1991 the sponsorship deals were announced and their beautiful two-tone green car was revealed to the public. Jordan Grand Prix was the real deal. They had the premier Goodyear tyres, a Ford engine, 7-up sponsorship, and a country – Ireland – advertised on their car. Now they just had to qualify!
They struggled at the first race…their Ford engine causing problems during pre-qualifying for Andrea de Cesaris but Bertrand Gachot finished in 10th…which would have been in the points today! They had no further problems with pre-qualifying and by the middle of the season had enough points to be guaranteed a race start. At the fifth race in Canada they got their first double points finish…a fourth for de Cesaris and a fifth for Gachot…with another double points finish shortly afterwards in Germany.
When Gachot was unexpectedly jailed for assaulting a taxi driver, they also gave Michael Schumacher his debut race at Spa. Having a rookie to compete against gave de Cesaris the impetus he needed to uncover another couple of tenths of seconds of speed and he was running in second, even giving Senna a few concerns with a failing gear box, when his engine blew up robbing the car of what would have been its maiden podium. Unfortunately Jordan once again lost out to Benetton when they snatched Schumacher from his grasp.
By the end of the season Jordan Grand Prix had thirteen points, one more point than Tyrrell in sixth…though still a long way behind Benetton in fourth with their 38.5 points. Fifth position out of 19 teams was a great success for their first year. The only other newcomers that year were Modena who usually failed to qualify – though they did have the major disadvantage of their financier disappearing with his reported 20 million dollars.
It was Enzo Ferrari who said, “Race cars are neither beautiful nor ugly. They become beautiful when they win.” The Jordan 191 never won a race but I’m sure there are few who would be prepared to deny its beauty. But what is it that makes it beautiful? Beauty is an undefinable combination of line and shape and colour that speaks to our imagination…it defies analysis. There is no possible explanation. It just is.
Poet Laureate Robert Hass wrote, “The way in which art creates desire, I guess that’s everywhere. Is there anyone who hasn’t come out of a movie or a play or a concert filled with an unnameable hunger? … To stand in front of one of [Louis Sullivan’s] buildings and look up, or in front, say, of the facade of Notre Dame, is both to have a hunger satisfied that you maybe didn’t know you had, and also to have a new hunger awakened in you. I say “unnameable,” but there’s a certain kind of balance achieved in certain works of art that feels like satiety, a place to rest, and there are others that are like a tear in the cosmos, that open up something raw in us, wonder or terror or longing. I suppose that’s why people who write about aesthetics want to distinguish between the beautiful and sublime… Beauty sends out ripples, like a pebble tossed in a pond, and the ripples as they spread seem to evoke among other things a stirring of curiosity… Some paradox of stillness and motion. Desire appeased and awakened.”
Just as poetry can move our souls, the colour and shape and line of a beautiful piece of machinery can also move us. We can admire a car while it is sitting still and stationary, but it is only a shadow of the reality of its true self. It is when it is moving, when it is untouchable, when it is only really present in our imagination as we watch it slide through curves and corners and twitch like it is alive…then and only then is it truly beautiful. If beauty could be explained, it would most likely cease to be beautiful. It is its presence in the realm of the impossible…in the realm of the imagination. It may be only coloured pieces of metal and carbon fibre, joined together for function and not form, but it awakens in us “some paradox of stillness and motion. Desire appeased and awakened.”
“She walks in beauty like the night…”