The driver that changed the face of 90s Grand Prix racing... and beyond
- Mattijs Diepraam
- 8W Autumn 2001 issue
Early 1991, pre-season testing
The most beautiful car of the nineties, still in its virginal state - if an all-black car can be called virginal, that is. But whereas most racing cars get uglier once they have had their livery put on, the Jordan became even prettier. As is commonly accepted Jordan's first-season 7-Up paintjob is among the best of the sponsored era.
And what's more, the Jordan team's entrance into the Grand Prix realm was as successful as Williams Grand Prix Engineering's 1978 debut - and look where they went in the years after. Compared to F1's usual debut standards of the day (think Coloni, think Andrea Moda, think of every other poor excuse of a Grand Prix team to come from Italy) Jordan's first-year performance was startling. They weren't expected to disappoint, however, as EJR had been a solid and even championship-winning F3000 outfit before their final step up the ladder. Plus there was Eddie's coup in securing some powerful Ford units and a sizeable budget provided by PepsiCo, Fuji Film, Tic Tac and the Republic of Ireland. But still, 13 points, 5th in the final constructors table and a near-win was above anyone's expectations.
All thanks to that beautiful Gary Anderson-penned car, of course. It made Anderson's reputation for years and years to come but his subsequent Jordan creations were hardly ever above average. A move to Stewart finally ended in heartbreak as the team ousted him before it was sold on to Ford.
Jordan itself returned to promise in the year with Giancarlo Fisichella and Ralf Schumacher, the Jordan-Peugeot 196 - almost as pretty as the 191 - coming close to victory on several high-speed circuits such as Hockenheim. But it was never as close as in 1991.
The undoubted highlight of that season was provided by the team's performance at Spa. It's still hard to decide which Jordan-related event was the most impressive - Andrea De Cesaris' close shave with victory, or Michael Schumacher's sensational F1 debut. In the event, Andrea missed out on his win - again, and again at Spa, just as in his Alfa days - leaving Eddie Jordan to wait until 1998 for his first win. Which, fittingly, was recorded at Spa.
Which leaves that first sign of things to come: Schuey's amazing trip to 7th on the grid. And poor Bert Gachot's claim to fame is that he catered for it by his own stupidity, as effectively he was sitting on a time bomb all through his Jordan campaign. Around the time of this testing shot he got himself involved in one of those urban traffic incidents that can send emotions running up to sixth gear in no time. Except that this wasn't your ordinary traffic incident. Far from being graceful in defeat, Gachot got out of his car in anger and shot from the hip, spraying his adversary - a London taxi driver by the name of Eric Court - in the eyes with a CS gas canister he had lying about in the car. As could be expected, the cabbie did not take this lightly, in tears though he was. In fact, Mr. Court took Bert to court.
While the summer gradually went past and the court case was coming up, everyone was expecting Bertrand to get away with a fine. But as said canisters are illegal in the UK and as he was probably the same Francophone bastard in court as he was in his contretemps with the plaintiff, he was sentenced to six months of imprisonment. Yes, he was sent to jail! A Grand Prix driver! Certainly no case of class justice there…
As we all felt sorry for Bertrand, Jordan Grand Prix suddenly found itself without a driver for its No.32 car. As Gachot's racing career went into freefall as soon as his jail time started, a German sportscar driver with no previous experience of Spa whatsoever - his only track knowledge coming from a pre-race recce by bike! - stuck Bert's car onto an amazing 7th on the grid. And to get the drive all Schumacher's manager Willi Weber did was to leave a convenient silence once the all-important track-knowledge question was asked by Eddie Jordan, as if Weber was about to say, "Well, he was born 50 miles away from here. What do you expect!"
7th on his debut, with only the amassed and experienced talent of Senna, Prost, Mansell, Berger, Alesi and Piquet lining up ahead of him. A fast qualifier himself, on his favourite track no less, Andrea De Cesaris could only manage 11th, 0.7s down on the youngster from Kerpen - just to put things in perspective.
While Schumacher and Weber never looked back, piling wins and wealth onto a huge mountain of success, Bertrand Gachot wasn't the only victim of Michael Schumacher's startling first weekend in F1. How about poor Roberto Moreno, who (again) found himself with the short end of the deal just fourteen days later?