With the Formula One car-launch season about to start, I have been reflecting on what a special time of year this is for the teams and some of my own experience of this industry phenomenon.   With new regulations every year, and this year more dramatic than most, the factory-based staff spend June-January becoming ever more focussed on a specific day, indeed even a time of day, when their highly complex Formula One car will be unveiled to the world’s media.

I have enjoyed being involved in many car launches, including at Red Bull and with our customer teams at Cosworth.  But the 10 years I spent at Jordan undoubtedly produced some memorable moments, and none moreso than the launch of our first car.

It was during 1990 that Eddie Jordan had finally taken the plunge and decided to enter Formula One the following season, promoting his Formula 3000 team to the senior category and recruiting Gary Anderson to design the first car.  My job had been to announce the creation of the team in Monza and then help arrange the launch of the very first Jordan chassis that autumn.

One of the things that EJ got right was his decision to personally fund the development and build of the first car long before he had secured any sponsors or drivers.  It was classic entrepreneurial risk-taking.  He believed that, without a car to show people such as potential sponsors ‘7Up’, he would only come across as yet another Grand Prix dreamer.  Along with Gary, he also wanted to ensure that the team did some winter testing in order to prove the car before its pre-qualifying debut at the United States Grand Prix in March 1991.

Watching that very first Jordan car come together was exciting for everyone involved, and not a little daunting for EJ given that he had yet to pull the budget together.

Meantime we decided to launch the car to the ‘world’s media’, by which I mean around 12 journailists sitting on fold-down seats in our modest Silverstone workship.  It was a far cry from the launches we would later arrange in London’s Albert Hall or Prince of Wales Theatre with entertainment provided by Cirque du Soleil and Riverdance.

John Watson was invited out of retirement to give the car its shakedown and, without sponsors, it was kept in carbon fibre black.  The only logos on it were from suppliers Goodyear and Ford Cosworth, together with that of the team and the car’s name; Jordan 911.

We came up with the name sitting in the office one day.  The ’91’ was in relation to its debut season, and the ‘1’ for Formula One.  Its successors would be the Jordan 921 and so on.

The launch went well, apart from famed French journalist Jabby Crombac writing ‘why are they bothering?’ in his report, until a few weeks later we received a letter from Stuttgart.  It was written in German, with some red ink to show that it was serious. EJ’s general manager, the late Bosco Quinn whose memorial plaque stands on the side of the Force India factory, asked me if I could help translate it.  I had studied German at school.

The problem was clear.  Porsche was unhappy that we had called our car the 911.  This, of course, hadn’t occurred to us for a number of reasons, not least because we called it the ninety one one, whereas they were calling it the nine eleven.  Someone said we were ‘being Irish about it’, which offended me, EJ, Gary and Bosco…

The upshot of this, and subsequent letters, was that EJ headed off for a meeting at Porsche Cars GB where he walked into a room full of corporate executives and lawyers rather concerned about Jordan’s breach of their rights to any car designated ‘911’.

The result of this meeting was an instruction from EJ that we had to ‘change everything’.  This meant me undertaking not to use the term ‘911’ in any further press releases and Bosco paying for a couple of new stickers for the car.  Cost?  £25 in all reality.  And we simply altered the sequence of numbers so that, from then on, the car became a 191;  or one ninety one to us.

What we didn’t realise, however, was that EJ had apparently explained to Porsche that ‘rebranding’ the entire team might involved quite a lot.  And, being a multinational company, Porsche understood the massive cost that a ‘rebranding’ excercise might involve.  New car branding, new team clothing, repainting the trucks, new stationary; why, the list might be endless.

Presumably feeling sorry for this hard pressed new team boss who was having to spend valuable millions on rebranding his team, Porsche thought it only fair to offer some compensation.  Which was why Bosco and I were a little surprised when a brand new Porsche 911 turned up at the factory. Registration? JGP 911.

The delivery driver came into reception.  Bosco said words to the effect of ‘who the hell is that for?’  The driver replied it was from Porsche Cars GB for a Mr E Jordan, and could we sign for it?

Not bad for £25.

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