A point, a whole point and nothing but a point

SPORT ON TV
Click to follow
The Independent Online
By the time the Jordan team reached their "home" grand prix at Silverstone last year, they had been to the races eight times without scoring a single World Championship point. It was the worst start to a season in Jordan's 20-year history. So it was hardly the ideal moment for a trio of Page Three girls to descend on their pit lane for a photo- shoot. "There's a time and a place for these things," Mike Gascoyne, the chief designer, complained. "And it's not in the garage when it's going to be a wet race and we haven't scored a point. They're not doing their jobs, are they? Half of the boys are outside looking at three pairs of tits."

Perhaps they just fancied a rest from the pair steering the cars, for as Driving Ambition: A Season With Eddie Jordan (ITV) ably demonstrated, these were difficult times for the last of the half-decent private F1 teams. Even Damon Hill was feeling the pressure. "I can't engineer the car with you now," he told a mechanic through moderately clenched teeth just an hour before the race. "I've got to go and do some more photographs." By his unflappable standards, it was an attack of the screaming ab-dabs.

Yet Silverstone was where the season turned around, with Ralf Schumacher scoring their first point, and there were doubtless viewers who punched the air with just as much delight as Ralf and his boss last July. On paper, Jordan had threatened to be a difficult man to like: a multi-millionaire who spends most of the year indulging his passion for cars in the world's most glamorous locations, before returning home to his trophy wife and family. But after just five minutes in his company, it was impossible to do anything but.

For one thing, he is the first man to risk pointy sideburns since Midge Ure almost 20 years ago (and yes, they still look daft). As his endearingly feisty mother told him: "Even when I'm up at the golf course, people are shouting across at me, `Ah, tell Eddie to get rid of those things'."

Then there was his resilience in the face of adversity. "What have you learned from this weekend?" he was asked as he tramped back to the garage after a disaster in Monte Carlo, by a reporter who clearly fancied a microphone sandwich. Eddie's reply was quick and unduly courteous. "I've learned," he said, "how to endure very large amounts of pain."

Above all, though, there was Jordan's infectious, all-consuming ardour for the business of racing cars, which refuses to be dampened even when the competition has more money, faster machines and better drivers. He had spent two decades at it, without so much as a single grand prix victory to show for his efforts, and yet once a fortnight there he was at track- side, back for another dose of what, on all known form, was going to be bitter disappointment.

But this, of course, was another of the programme's attractions, for as 99 per cent of the audience will have already been aware, that elusive first win was just around the next chicane, in Belgium. Even when you knew the result, though, the manner of its unfolding was gripping. First, Michael Schumacher, with the race at his mercy, collided with David Coulthard's McLaren and turned his Ferrari into a red Reliant Robin. Then, with Hill and Ralf Schumacher running first and second, the German's pit crew passed on Jordan's orders that he was under no circumstances to attempt to overtake, despite gaining three seconds a lap on the leader. From Schumacher, there was no response. They tried half a dozen times, with increasing desperation, before he radioed a grudging acknowledgement. It was the most eloquent silence you will hear all year.

And so it was that the last great privateer in the ultimate corporate sport finally got to stand at the top of the podium, cheerfully oblivious to the thunderstorm of a face on Schumacher, one step further down. "What was the deal with McLaren?" his young son asked him as soon as he arrived home. He's a chip off the old block, that one.

The only shame about this enthralling film was its scheduling, so close to midnight that only devotees will have bothered to stay up. With a mid- evening slot, ITV might actually have persuaded a few more people to take an interest in the new season. One fag packet on wheels looks pretty much like another, after all, but at least we now know that the one flogging Bensons has a bit of a hero in charge.

If Jordan's celebrations at Spa were the most uplifting image of the week, then a cameo in Football's Foreign Legion (C5) was the most sobering. On a training ground somewhere in London, Terry Venables was attempting to communicate with his new signing for Crystal Palace. This was proving difficult, because the player in question was from China, and the interpreter standing in the middle did not seem to have a strong grasp of either English or Chinese.

If Venables had foreseen the problems, he had clearly chosen to ignore them. And yet this, some say, is the greatest footballing brain in Britain. Not any more, it isn't.

Comments