The 1991 Formula One season is remembered by many for several different reasons – such as the legendary Ayrton Senna snatching the third of three World Championships, Michael Schumacher’s Grand Prix debut and Martin Donnelly suffering his career-ending crash at the Circuito de Jerez. Personally however, 1991 stands out to me as the season that Eddie Jordan made the huge leap from F3000 into the world of Formula One.
Admittedly, the first season was nothing ground-breaking but it does boast the unique achievement of giving Michael Schumacher his F1 debut. Although Schumacher could have helped Jordan to the highest of heights in what would be an even more impressive story than the rags-to-riches tale of Red Bull Racing, Schumacher merely competed at the Belgian Grand Prix with Jordan before leaving the team for Benetton. Overall, 5th place in the Constructors Championship wasn’t bad for a team still finding its feet.
1992, on the other hand, yielded but one point and an eventual eleventh in the Championship. Nine finishes between two drivers out of sixteen races was a shocking fall to earth for the same team who had hit the ground running in ’91. And while a ‘glass-half-full’ kind of guy would say that Jordan’s performance in ’93 was triple what it was in ’92, a mere three points was not the performance boost the team was looking for as they settled for tenth place in the Championship.
While Eddie Irvine served a three-race ban for causing a huge crash at the 1994 Brazilian Grand Prix, his team-mate, Rubens Barrichello, brought a much-needed first podium to the team at the Pacific Grand Prix. However, Barrichello’s euphoria was followed immediately by a near-fatal crash at the San Marino Grand Prix. To his credit though, Rubens came back fighting and finished in the points four more times throughout the season while Irvine took a top-six finish three times. All-in-all the team were back on track with 28-points and fifth in the Championship to prove their progress.
1995 proved slightly less successful but the Irvine/Barrichello duo tallied 21 points to earn sixth in the Championship. Barrichello and Martin Brundle went one better for 1996, racking up 22 points and finishing 5th. Hey, it still counts as progress…
Eddie Jordan reshuffled his cards and brought Ralf Schumacher and Giancarlo Fisichella to the team for the 1997 season in the hopes of finally claiming a win. Schumacher’s first podium in F1 came at the Argentinian Grand Prix but came amidst six retirements out of seven races. However, the young German showed talent and when the car made it to the finishing line, Ralf scored points in all but one race. Fisichella wasn’t as regular in the points but took the team to two podiums, and set the team’s highest finish of second. Taking fourth in the Championship, it was clear to see that Eddie Jordan’s team were slowly, but surely, crawling towards that first win.
But my god was it a surprise when it happened. Damon Hill, following Michael Schumacher’s example, won the World Championship and immediately left Williams for a slower team. He arrived at Jordan, probably expecting to pick them up and push them to the front, but was instead met with four retirements, a disqualification and five non-points finishes before finally scoring a point at the eleventh race. Ralf Schumacher, meanwhile, had nine races before making it to the points. It signaled that maybe the win was just out of their reaches, yet again.
I suppose when you think about it, they were extremely lucky. As I’m sure you’ve probably seen on YouTube umpteen times, the start to the Belgian Grand Prix in ’98 was a complete mess. The race started in borderline doomsday rainfall which left the drivers’ vision greatly impaired, so when David Coulthard spun his McLaren, a huge pileup was inevitable. Thirteen cars were wiped out with four failing to make the restart more than an hour later. At the restart, a further two cars were taken out on a first corner crash. Through the chaos, the yellow of the Jordans shone bright and eventually both cars were on the podium – second and third. Michael Schumacher was leading the race by well over half a minute, but when attempting to lap David Coulthard, DC slowed down but failed to move off the racing line. As a result, Schumacher slammed straight into the back of the McLaren and was, naturally, out of the race. Through an incredible sequence of events, Jordan led the Grand Prix.
With the grid behind them still braving the elements, various other crashes and spins saw the final tally of drivers finishing the race reduced to a mere eight. Nonetheless it was a win. It took eight years of hard work, sweat, tears, and a fair amount of bashing by critics, but Jordan had finally won a race. Even the talks of Jordan team-orders at the end of the race, and God Save The Queen being played on the podium instead of the Irish National Anthem – Amhrán na bhFiann, failed to make a dent on Jordan’s elation.
Jordan went on to take three more wins – two the following year and the fourth and final win at the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix. In 2004, Eddie Jordan sold to Midland who retained the Jordan name for 2005 before re-branding as Midland F1 Racing for 2006 then to Spyker for 2007 before eventually selling out to Vijay Mallya who rose Force India from Jordan’s ashes.