Spa-Francorchamps circuit.Framed by the Ardennes, designed for the committed and courageous, a flowing theatre of racing wrapped in a ribbon of tarmac.If there was a venue at which to choose your team’s maiden win, Spa would be it.
For Jordan Grand Prix this was a circuit which already held memories. In 1991 we had unleashed Michael Schumacher upon the world of Formula One and come within a litre of oil of bringing Andrea De Cesaris a Grand Prix victory.In 1994 Rubens Barrichello put his Jordan on pole position, making the most of a drying track and further sealing the team’s reputation as the one most likely to cause an upset.
The Belgian Grand Prix in 1998 was special, but well before the race was run.
Our factory staff were there.We’d arranged a trip, the take-up was good.Denise from accounts was coming.Lots of others; the people who made Jordan Grand Prix run seamlessly, whatever the challenge.The unsung, unrecognised, unfamiliar heroes who are the people that really make a team work.
Our fans were there.Club Jordan, run by former Saab UK PR man Paul Banks, had been running a coach trip to the race for the previous two years.Visit the factory at Silverstone, take the coach to Spa in time for practice, dinner on Saturday night at which EJ and the drivers would turn up, and an allocated block of grandstand seats on the run down from La Source.
Our sponsors were there.Nigel Northridge from Benson & Hedges, the man who first met EJ when he was working with the Suilk Cut brand back in the days of TWR Jaguar’s Le Mans programme, and later transformed Jordan’s fortunes with a deal starting in 1996. Richard Child from MasterCard, attracted to F1 by the stillborn Lola programme in ’97, but converted to the Jordan cause soon after.And Richard Surface, boss of Pearl Assurance, who wasn’t sure the wing mirrors were a great space on the car until he saw them feature in every cockpit shot.
Our favourite journalist was there.Maurice Hamilton, chronicler of Jordan Grand Prix, who had penned a superb book ‘Race Without End’ in early 1994 and was now working a follow-up, ‘Jordan’s Drive to Win’.He came to Spa with our truckies, sitting in the cab of one of our high spec Scania tractor units, experiencing what it is like to be responsible for hauling an F1 team around Europe.
Our documentary crew was there from UK broadcaster ITV, desperate for something positive to record for ‘Driving Ambition – A Season with Eddie Jordan’.The project hadn’t been going well, the team not scoring a point in the first half of the season.There was a sense of crisis about the documentary not having much of a story to tell.
Everyone was there who mattered.Except Gary Anderson, the man under whose technical direction Jordan Grand Prix had arrived with a bang in 1991 and upset the establishment ever since.He was not in Spa, instead Mike Gascoyne had been parachuted in prior to Silverstone in an effort to bolster the team’s apparently ailing fortunes.There was tension at the top.
And then it all came together, starting with qualifying and a mesmerising lap from Damon Hill.
Employed to show Jordan what was needed to win, and less than two years after he had won the World Championship for Williams, Damon set things up perfectly for Sunday.Third quickest in final practice he looked set to be edged by Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari during the final run in qualifying.Michael was up on sector one, and again in sector two.The Ferrari duly sliced across the line in P3. Only for Damon to blitz sector 3, back when the Bus Stop chicane was as tricky as hell, and drop his arch rival back to fourth.Perfect.
The race was manic, chaotic and wonderful.