Jordan raise the stakes in hunt for driver

Derick Allsop examines one team's efforts to attract enough money to challenge for the Formula One title
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The Independent Online
No team will travel a shorter distance to the British Grand Prix this week, but Jordan-Peugeot are restless to go further. Come the late summer, they hope to be in the market for a driver of proven winning ability and be heading for the next Formula One world championship as major players.

Such progress, of course, costs money. Although Jordan are yet to win a race at this level, let alone challenge for the title, they have earned a reputation for attracting sponsorship at a rate which belies their "second division" status.

They have about 32 backers (even their marketing man, Ian Phillips, has to pause to tot up the latest tally) and have wrong-footed illustrious, now envious, rivals to secure a long-term agreement with Benson & Hedges. Peugeot and Total are not only suppliers and partners but also the team's other major sponsors.

Benson & Hedges contribute around 60 per cent of Jordan's annual budget, which is estimated at pounds 16m. It is a huge amount, yet modest compared with the resources of McLaren, Williams and Benetton, and almost insignificant by Ferrari's standards. Michael Schumacher's salary alone accounts for that much, an irony in itself as Jordan gave the German his debut.

The team are matching their own ambition with developments at their factory, across the road from the Silverstone circuit. Their work force, 42 when they entered Formula One five and a half years ago, will be up to 95 by the end of this month. Now they are chasing the extra cash.

Phillips said: "We have set ourselves a target whereby at the end of the month we will know where 75 to 80 per cent of our money for next year will be coming from, and that gives you greater powers to invest long term in drivers."

Probably the next thing Jordan needs to do, and needs to secure the money to do, is put themselves in a position to buy a driver you know is capable of winning, one who has a pedigree of winning. "When the driver market starts to be busy we need to know we are going to be a player in that. As yet, we have not been able to be a player."

That may be disturbing news for their current drivers, Rubens Barrichello and Martin Brundle, but tantalising for the sponsors and potential sponsors. And that, patently, is part of the business.

Nigel Mansell has frequently been linked with Jordan, and since there are precious few drivers around with winning pedigrees, the former champion's name has inevitably cropped up again of late. So, too, has that of Jean Alesi.

The driving force of this perpetually moving operation is the team's owner, Eddie Jordan, a Dubliner who always did talk a good race. Long before he negotiated deals for space on his grand prix car, he sold salmon to rugby fans over for internationals at Lansdowne Road.

Phillips said: "He is, for a period of 10 to 12 minutes, the most blinding salesman you are ever likely to meet. He's not a con man because he genuinely believes that what he's saying he can deliver. And at a grand prix he will charm the pants off 500 people in the Paddock Club.

"Most people call us Laurel and Hardy. Eddie will come up with the wonderful, innovative sales pitch, and at a certain time he'll come to a halt and I add the practical side of it. I guess it is a double act, but the inspiration is always Eddie.

"The other thing we have going for us is a tremendous public following considering we don't have wins and championships to our name. We want people to visit our factory and get involved with Jordan at other events. We take our car and team to the people. We are not elitist. There is perhaps too much elitism in Formula One."

Optimism and vitality have been a feature of Jordan since that first season, when they finished fifth in the constructors' championship. As yet, they have to improve on that achievement, and they acknowledge it is time they did.

"You can go for so long with the strategy of keeping the sponsors happy seven days a week, and hopefully we'll never lose that," Phillips said. "But at the end of the day the reason we are passionately involved in this game is because we want to win, and, of course, sponsors want to be associated with winners.

"We came in as total privateers in 1991, at the depth of probably the biggest recession for 50 years, and we built a very solid platform during difficult times. But the honeymoon period must now be over. The pressure is on. We don't want to be known as people making up the numbers. We are trying to convince our sponsors that with serious investment we can buy the drivers that are going to win the world championship.

"We have Peugeot, who are very close to having the best engine in Formula One, and we are investing in our own resources to make sure we've got a car capable of matching the best. The final element is drivers. You can't achieve any of that without money."