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Jordan hopes to turn pain into gain

February 13, 2003 12:20 IST

 Eddie Jordan is not a man to be lost for words.

Fighting talk trips easily off the tongue of the irrepressible Irish entrepreneur after more than a decade as a Formula One team owner -- which is just as well because he needs it now.

Jordan have had more struggle than success of late, fighting a mid-table battle last year and forced to make staff redundant as title sponsor Deutsche Post departed and the economic recession bit.

The memories of Damon Hill leading Ralf Schumacher to a one-two finish in Belgium in 1998 and of Heinz-Harald Frentzen soaring to third in the world championship in 1999 are becoming increasingly blurred.

Launched in 1990 from a lock-up garage at Silverstone on a shoestring budget, Jordan have gone from the lows of near financial failure to the highs of grand prix wins and back to battling for funds.

Gone are the days when 'EJ', an engaging Dubliner capable of selling almost anything to anybody after early days offloading second-hand cars and carpets, could stand up and talk convincingly of challenging for the title.

When he presented new British driver Ralph Firman this month, the opening questions were about how much money the rookie might be bringing to a team still looking for sponsorship.

He denied that Firman was paying for his drive but times are hard and Jordan, like many other teams, have had to cut their cloth accordingly.

The 2001 Christmas party was cancelled after the team finished fifth overall and 15 percent of the staff were shed last April. Testing has been limited, and will be cut back even further once the 2003 season starts in Australia on March 9.

SERIOUS PAIN

But Jordan says his team, sixth overall last season thanks to a late fifth place secured by Takuma Sato in his home Japanese Grand Prix, are survivors.

In Italian Giancarlo Fisichella, they have one of the most highly regarded drivers on the grid, while Firman has overcome a lack of funding to win in every junior category he has entered.

"What is important I think for a driver is to know the downside," said Jordan, predicting that the 27-year-old Formula Nippon champion could be the surprise of the year, with words that could equally apply to himself.

"When you have felt the pain, I promise you that you don't want to go back there again.

"The one fantastic attribute that Ralph has is that he has suffered some serious pain. He is not going to be rolled over by the media or by circumstances when they go bad for him because he knows what it's like to witness the bad side.

"He can dig in and he can fight.

"And what we need at the moment is someone who can dig in and fight and bring the car home."

"I think that Fisichella is a driver capable of beating (Ferrari's world champion) Michael (Schumacher) over a period of time and Ralph may be just the new guy on the block who may also be able to do that sort of thing."

Jordan said last season that he had no alternative but to grab the team by the throat to ensure it stayed in business as costs soared and the major manufacturers took a dominant position.

But he did not believe Jordan had ever been in any major danger and team members rejected comparisons to struggling teams such as Minardi, despite both signing up for a limited testing option this year.

"We can all talk ourselves up or down as the case may be," said Jordan. "We can talk ourselves into recession and vice versa. But Jordan has never been in a bad situation.

"Sure, sponsorship generally is tight and every sport knows about that and Jordan is no exception."

SUBSTANTIAL LEAP

The new EJ13, with a Ford engine replacing last season's poorly performing Honda unit, has been running in Spain under the supervision of race engineering director Gary Anderson.

"Gary, who was the catalyst for most of the success we've had in the past, is back and he assures me that the car he and Henri Durand have been involved in is certainly as good if not a lot better than what we have ever had before," said Jordan.

"I'm pretty confident. We have made quite a substantial leap but it all depends on how big a leap the other teams have made. I think the car is great."

In the past Jordan would have had a formal launch, presenting the car with a flourish and predicting great things.

Japan's Takuma Sato, fast but too often crash-happy, was even compared to Ayrton Senna when he joined at the end of 2001 while Jordan said at the 2002 launch that "a win for Giancarlo could be on the cards".

The glitz has been spared this year and a new sense of realism is evident.

"We've been struggling a little for the last two years, and that I wasn't comfortable about, but the two years before that we were able to win some races," said Jordan.

"Clearly understand that Michael has to retire or something has to happen either permanently or at odd races for someone else to win now. But I think that may change.

"Instead of me telling you in the past that it (the car) was going to be doing this, that or the other and then people coming and slagging me off for being a bit of a dreamer or an optimist, I think I'd be better off saying nothing.

"Other than the fact that I'm optimistic."

Alan Baldwin
Source: source
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