Jordan drives towards Abramovich deal

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The Independent Online

In this pantomime time of year, Formula One team owner Eddie Jordan is still looking for his fairy godmother. But it remains to be seen whether the 37-year-old Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, who owns Chelsea Football Club, is going to fit the bill, as rumours suggest he is about to buy the team.

Certainly, capturing such a big fish would be entirely in keeping with Jordan's ability to wheel and deal - he was one of the first people to appreciate Ayrton Senna's talent and gave Michael Schumacher his grand prix debut in Belgium in 1991.

Jordan are a team in trouble. Though they won the Brazilian Grand Prix last year, thanks to a superb drive by the Italian Giancarlo Fisichella, it was a poor season. "We've had nine years in the top five, and despite the win in Brazil we had a glitch in 2003," Jordan said. "It was a massively disappointing year, and the best thing about it is that it's over. We are aiming to rectify that at full speed."

New financial structures are in place, but clearly significant investment is required if the team is to continue to keep up. Abramovich, who visited the European Grand Prix at the Nürburgring in Germany in 2003, has the financial wherewithal to make a big impact.

A year ago Jordan bucked the advice of ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone and refused to sell out to the Red Bull energy drink company, but he has since had several meetings with Abramovich, and it is doubtful that his discussions with the sacked BAR-Honda driver Jacques Villeneuve would ever have come about if there was not the suggestion of some serious finance on the horizon.

This could be a very good time for Jordan to liquidate some of his own 51 per cent shareholding, after Warburg Pincus's share was recently sold to an Irish conglomerate. However, suggestions that Abramovich is about to pump US$270m (£150m) into the team are wide of the mark, given that in 2002 the now defunct Arrows team, though valued at $150m by owner Tom Walkinshaw's advisers, was offered less than $30m in a rescue package put forward by Red Bull. Jordan would certainly be worth more than $30m since they have no debts, but Abramovich did not accumulate a fortune estimated at around $6bn my paying way over the odds.

Jordan does not deny his talks with Abramovich, but says: "At this time of year I have many private conversations with many people, but clearly it would be improper of me to divulge the contents."

Jordan's new car will be unveiled on 4 February, and it will have the same specification Ford engine as the Ford-owned Jaguar team in 2004. That could make it a competitive proposition, especially with an on-form Villeneuve at the wheel. Jordan has also recently expressed a long-term interest in the rising Russian racer Vitaly Petrov. "I'm now totally focused again," he says. "I hope I'll look back on the pain [of 2003] and say that I needed that."

It might all seem a little far-fetched, but Jordan is probably the only man in Formula One who could pull off such a coup.