Sport On TV: Of hustlers, heroes, hubris and the hard of hearing

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The Independent Online
THE MARCH of the docusoaps means that behind-the-scenes documentaries like Driving Ambition: A Season with Eddie Jordan (ITV Tuesday) have a lot to live up to.

It's difficult to imagine as canny an operator as Jordan granting unlimited access, for example - and if he did, it did not show. "Some people say I am a bit of a hustler," he said at the beginning. "I do things differently... the fact that I have no idea what I am going to do tomorrow creates a buzz." An example or two of how this alleged crazy guy works would have been nice.

Instead, he comes across as a quiet sort of bloke just about staying afloat in perilous waters. Still, the film did provide a glimpse into the pressure of Formula One. After five races, the Japanese sponsors aren't too happy with the absence of points, Damon Hill hates plodding along in the wake of drivers he was trouncing a few years ago, while his colleague Ralf Schumacher is having one or two problems in the roadholding department.

Journalist Maurice Hamilton wonders whether Jordan is hard enough for this racket: "He's a flibbertigibbet... He's got a 30-second concentration span." It's left to Jordan's mum, though, to highlight the real problem - his ridiculous and unnecessary facial hair. What is it that possesses an otherwise sane man to tease out his whiskers so they stretch out across his cheeks into attenuated dribbles towards his nose? "If you let them grow any more they'll form a moustache round the front," she told him as they sit in her back garden. Even at the golf course they shout: "Tell Eddie to get rid of those things on his face!"

He looks on indulgently, "You're afflicted. God love you".

Mum's over for the Monaco Grand Prix, where it's the same sad story - Schumacher retires, Hill comes fourth from the back. A phrase echoes through the film - "qualifying is going badly" - and at Silverstone, Schumacher stalls and is banished to the back of the grid. Which is inconvenient, as his agent has turned up to talk about next year. As Jordan poses with glamour models in the pre-race festivities, one of his technicians mutters ruefully to camera, "The lads are enjoying the tits, but they're not doing their job."

Come showtime, Hill spins off in the rain, but Schumacher clings on for the team's first point. "Every time you are supposed to do it you fuck it up, and when you're not supposed to do it you do OK," Jordan tells him by way of congratulations.

For someone who has so far failed to set the world alight in his chosen field, Jordan seems to be doing very nicely thank you, as he relaxes in his Spanish villa. He throws a party at which Hill dances like a schoolteacher, while Schumacher fails to show. He's been tapped up by Williams and is investigating ways of breaking his contract.

By the Belgium Grand Prix, things are tense, though Hill makes third on the grid. "Too many people telling me what to do," a techie grumbles bitterly. There's a huge crash at the start, and on the radio we hear Schumacher: "My God, I was really lucky," says the spooked voice of a man who has just stared death in the face.

Hill leads the re-start, Ralph's big brother overtakes but crashes into David Coulthard, and suddenly it's a Jordan 1-2. Hill is quick to sort out one or two things. "Now listen to me, this is very important" he tells ground control. "We're in a position to win this, but not if we race each other. It's up to you."

There's only one decision, but communicating it to Ralph is another matter. Jordan tells him not to overtake, only to be met by silence. "Can you hear me Ralph? Did you get that? Can you hear me?". There was a mental picture of Ralphie smiling that Schumacher smile: "Oh, Gott im Himmel, I've accidentally put my elbow through the radio..."

The message does finally get through, Hill holding on for the team's first win of the season. He does his trademark podium leap while Schumacher attempts to grin rather than grimace. Never mind - he's off to Williams, while for Jordan, "It never stops. Never Stops. Never Stops."

Jordan could have been talking about Murray Walker, who contributes Murray Walker's Top Ten (Wednesday) to ITV's somewhat low key F1 preview package. It a fairly uncontroversial selection - in ascending order, Mansell, Ascari, Lauda, Stewart, Schumacher, Clark, Moss, Senna, Prost, Fangio. Prost squeezes ahead of Senna because of the latter's "ruthlessness which could prejudice the safety of others"; Schumacher (that's Michael, by the way) only makes number six because he's not finished yet. As Walker says, "he could be the greatest driver of all time".

Perhaps Schumacher needs to look ahead of him in Walker's list and learn a few things. "I have a good feeling for the limit," he says when asked to explain his success. So did number three and number five.