Paul Kimmage meets Eddie Jordan: Motorsport’s master of illusion sets record straight on his extraordinary life

Paul Kimmage meets Eddie Jordan: Motorsport’s master of illusion sets record straight on his extraordinary life

Eddie Jordan. Photo: INPHO
Eddie Jordan. Photo: INPHO

A Monday morning at the Kensington Hotel in London. He descends from a suite on the first floor with his wife, Marie, at 8am and invites you to join them for breakfast. Twelve years have passed since our last interview; 27 have passed since our first time to spar. He’s wearing G-Star jeans, a patterned Falken shirt, shoes by Angelo Galasso and tinted spectacles a-la Bono.

“There’s nothing on me that I’ve paid for,” he smiles. “Nothing. Not one thing. Let me think . . . maybe the socks, definitely not the knickers and not the belt. I don’t take any pleasure in that but what do you want me to do? Send it back?”

Eddie Jordan with Ralf Schumacher who was bought out of his contract with Jordan by Williams. Photo: ReutersEddie Jordan with Ralf Schumacher who was bought out of his contract with Jordan by Williams. Photo: Reuters

Eddie Jordan with Ralf Schumacher who was bought out of his contract with Jordan by Williams. Photo: Reuters

This is Eddie Jordan at 70.

Are you not entertained?

The month is July, 1991. He is sitting on some tyres on a Saturday afternoon after the final qualifying session at the French Grand Prix. It’s my second year as a reporter and I’ve been sent by the Sunday Tribune to write a feature on the proprietor of Ireland’s new Formula 1 team.

“What do you know about F1?” he asks, extending a hand.

Eddie Jordan celebrates a 1-2 at the Belgian Grand Prix in 1998. Photo: ReutersEddie Jordan celebrates a 1-2 at the Belgian Grand Prix in 1998. Photo: Reuters

Eddie Jordan celebrates a 1-2 at the Belgian Grand Prix in 1998. Photo: Reuters

“Nothing,” I reply.

My education starts with a tour of the Jordan garage, where John ‘Boy’ Walton, a Dubliner from Coolock, is supervising work on one of the cars. Jordan calls him over and begins an interrogation.

“What team were you with last year, John Boy?”

“Benetton,” he replies.

“And why did you leave Benetton to work for me?”


#bb-iawr-inarticle- { clear: both; margin: 0 0 15px; }

“Coz you’re my hero, EJ.”

“Stop messin’, John Boy. Why?”

“I’m tellin’ you,” John Boy insists. “I always said I’d be back when you come into F1.”

Such was the enchantment of Jordan.

“He has the annoying habit of making you want to believe in him,” Giselle Davies, a former press officer once observed. “It’s a sort of heart-and-head thing. You are listening to him and your head is saying this is all nonsense, but the other side of you is saying that this is believable, and you feel drawn by it all the time. It’s the power he has over people.”

And by Sunday evening I had joined the ranks of the bewitched.

Over the next five years, as my career in journalism progressed, I became a ‘Jordan’ correspondent, penning stories on his march to the motor racing summit from the four corners of the globe. He swore like a trooper and was always a brilliant interview but access became more difficult once you had been lured into the honey trap.

I remember a Belgian Grand Prix once at Spa and sitting around the motorhome until 10 o’clock at night for an interview that had been scheduled for lunchtime. It was almost midnight by the time we had finished. I was facing a two-hour drive to my hotel, my car was parked five miles from the circuit and the shuttles had stopped running hours before.

“Why don’t you come back and stay with me?” he offered. “There are two beds in my hotel room.”

We jumped into a Porsche Carrera Turbo that somebody had lent him for the weekend, screeched from the paddock on to the finishing straight and he gave me a white-knuckle guide to the circuit. Then we got to his hotel and he threw me a spare toothbrush and a pair of slightly worn but recently laundered Hugo Boss shorts.

How great was my love for Jordan? How deep was my obsession with this man? I put them on and wore those boxers until the crotch was in shreds. Every time we would meet he would ask: “Are you still wearing my knickers?” And I’d smile and tell him they were hanging on my trophy wall.

They’re still there.

1 Deal junkie

Eddie was only at the start of his spectacular career when he helped me to get around to the various motor racing circuits in Britain. On one occasion we drove from Edinburgh to Liverpool, towing the Ford Escort, which was my ‘super saloon’. We were both exhausted by the time we reached the outskirts of Liverpool and had no idea where we were going to sleep. I needed a good night’s rest as I was racing the next day at the Aintree Motor Racing Circuit. We were short of money and barely had enough for petrol.

It was ten o’clock at night and Eddie pulled over beside a row of houses. He knocked on the door of one of them and asked for Mrs Grimshaw. When the lady told him there was no Mrs Grimshaw living there, he pointed at me sitting in the car and told her that I was racing tomorrow and we were sure Mrs Grimshaw was going to put us up. Eddie had such a way with him, he could charm the birds off the trees, and the woman looked at him and then at me and took us in.

‘Driven’ – Rosemary Smith

Paul Kimmage: I was running out the door to the airport yesterday and there was an invitation to the Philips Sports Manager of the Year award in my letter box.

Eddie Jordan: I think I won that.

PK: Yeah, in 1994.

EJ: But it was a fraud, wasn’t it?

PK: A fraud?

EJ: It was a fix.

PK: How’s that?

EJ: I was sponsored by Philips!

PK (laughs): Were you?

EJ: Yeah.

PK: That year?

EJ: Well, maybe not that year but around that time . . . But that’s a while ago, isn’t it? Was that when you stole my underpants?

PK: No, that was Spa in ’92.

EJ: That was fun. You were nice then. I could talk to you before you became bitter and twisted and a begrudger. Have you seen this? (He shows me a tattoo, ‘FTB’, on the back of his wrist.)

PK: What’s FTB?

EJ: Fuck The Begrudgers.

PK: (Laughs)

EJ: All the boys (his sons) have it. It’s the Jordan family motto.

PK: What’s a begrudger?

EJ: Well, you should know, you’re the ultimate.

PK: That’s unkind.

EJ: That’s what you are. I’m going to give you a long lecture about it when this interview is finished.

PK: Okay, well let’s start. We’re only a short walk here from the Royal Albert Hall where you launched your new car for the season in January 1998 with Cirque du Soleil.

EJ (smiles): That was great, wasn’t it? No one does things like that anymore, it’s all very corporate now. That was the rock and roll era of Formula 1 . . . it was exciting . . . it was noisy . . . it was sexy . . . and the girls, millions of girls, you could have who you liked on the grid. It’s changed but the world has changed. Everyone has to wear a yellow bib these days.
Eddie Jordan enjoys a pint of Guinness at the Toucan Bar in Soho, London, after learning he is to be made an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) in recognition for his services to charity and motor racing. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday March 28, 2012. Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

PK: (Laughs)

EJ: Some people think it’s a better world; some people are not so sure.

PK: You were a driver before you started the team?

EJ: That’s where I learnt it all – driving was the best university of all time. I was in the Marlboro World Championship team in the mid-’70s with (Alain) Prost and Niki Lauda and Emerson Fittipaldi and James Hunt. I was older than them and did not have their talent but you pick up these little gems as you go along, what to do, what not to do, and it allowed me to become a deal junkie. That’s what I really was.

PK: A deal junkie?

EJ: Every minute and every hour was a deal. I was a deal junkie from the first day I met Marie. I had to have the deal.

PK: What was the deal with Marie?

RACING Asc_119.jpg
Eddie Jordan and wife Marie Jordan during day two of Royal Ascot 2016, at Ascot Racecourse

EJ: Well, when I saw her I had to have her, simple as that. Have I told you how we met? It’s a great story but not for this.

PK: It has to be for this.

EJ: The first time I saw her she was in a car with a friend of mine. The following Sunday I’m with my girlfriend at an afternoon music gig and I see her again, and get chatting, and she tells me she’s heading off that night on holiday to Greece. I drop my girlfriend home and drive straight to the airport but she’s already down at the gate. I run to security and show my Irish Times press card: “I need to speak to Miss Marie McCarthy – it’s quite urgent.”

PK: Where did you get an Irish Times press card?

EJ: One like this you mean? (He whips a press card from his wallet.) I don’t know, I forget, anyway, I get to Marie:

“What are you doing here?” she says.

“I came to see you.”


“Will you go out with me when you come back from your holiday?”

“Yeah,” she says.

And 42 years later she’s still here.

PK: How old were you?

EJ: I was 28. Marie was 18.

PK: And you were married two years later?

EJ: Yeah, in January ’79. I did this TV ad for Nissan the following morning and she went mad.

PK: What was the ad?

EJ: Something like: “I drive a Datsun because I need to get to places all around Europe on time and in comfort.” Did I get money for it? No, but I got the car.

PK: What was the car?

EJ: A Datsun 160J coupé. Jaysus, it was a gorgeous thing. Gorgeous. We got married and I did the ad and then it was off to England for the Formula 3 Championship. We were living in a caravan. Is that normal?

PK: No, probably not.

EJ: I don’t like normal things. It makes me edgy.

PK: Tell me about Mrs Grimshaw.

EJ: Who?

PK: Rosemary Smith tells a story in her book about driving from Edinburgh to Liverpool with you. She says you got there and had no money, and nowhere to stay, so you knocked on the door of this random house and spun a yarn to the proprietor, a woman, that Mrs Grimshaw had promised to put you up. The woman took you in and gave you separate rooms.

EJ: Does she say separate rooms?

PK: Yeah. Why? Did you sleep with Rosemary Smith?

EJ: What the fuck is wrong with you? She’s a lovely lady. An elegant lady. A classy lady. Rosemary Smith one of the great pioneers. What’s your angle here? I will rack my brain about serious things but if you’re going to be hideous . . .

PK: I’m not being hideous, I’m curious. Does that story sound plausible to you?

EJ: Is it plausible that I went to the departure gate that night to see Marie? Is that plausible? Do you think I felt good about that? Which did I feel best about? That I had a date when (Marie) was coming back, or that I got all the way up there without a ticket?

PK: I’d say it was a flip of a coin.

EJ: How do you think I felt driving home?

PK: I’d say you felt good. How long did it last?

EJ: What?

PK: The buzz of the deal.

EJ: I do deals all the time.

PK: What was the deal with Rosemary? What were you doing in Liverpool?

EJ: I have really no idea. I probably had a race in Ingliston on the Saturday, and was due to race in Aintree on the Sunday . . . Mrs Grimshaw. I like that story, one of my better ones, and that wouldn’t be out of the ordinary. But what’s wrong with that?

PK: Knocking on a stranger’s door? Spinning her this blatant lie? What sort of brass neck would you need to do something like that? I read something else recently about your flying escapades, that you would always buy an economy class ticket and chance your arm to get into business class!

EJ (Aghast): Business? You mean first.

PK: (Laughs)

EJ: I still do it, great fun, and I had it down to perfection. The trick was to be last onto the plane, or near enough, because (the stewards) are always fed up (checking the boarding passes) at this stage. And I’d dress better than I normally dress because the smarter dressed people usually sat at the pointy end of the plane. I’d walk on, turn left and have a good scan to see who’s sitting down. I don’t put my bag up, I put it on a seat that’s empty, then walk up and down and the bag is still there .. . (exhales) Phew!

PK (laughs): You’re in?

EJ: Yeah. I’ll tell you how I got caught. I got on this time and put the bag on a seat and walk up and down. We start pushing back and the bag is still there so I sit down. ‘C-H-I-C-K’ (mimics the fastening of the belt): ‘This is fuckin’ perfect!’ Now, if I’d been listening carefully I’d have heard the whoosh of the loo being flushed but the next thing there’s this guy standing over me, “I think you’re in my seat.” He’d gone to the fucking loo as the plane was pushing back!

PK: (Laughs.)

EJ: The stewards come running over: “Can I see your ticket, sir?” I pretend I’ve lost it – that’s another thing, you must never show your ticket – and the next thing I’m being frog-marched down the back. The plane erupted. There was about a hundred Formula 1 guys on the flight and here’s me, the owner of Jordan Grand Prix, being marched to the back. Some people would say it was wickedly embarrassing; I’d say it was the best fun ever.

PK: It’s outrageous. When did you try it first?

EJ: You’ll have to ask Marie – I used to drag her up as well. The last time was coming back from Austin (the United States Grand Prix). I walk on and notice (Mark) Webber in first and ask him to check the wine list so he can send me back a bottle. Then, as we’re chatting, the purser comes over: “I’ve just been talking about you,” she says. “I was wondering if you were on the flight.” “That’s handy,” I say. “I think you’d better have my bags sent up because I’m going to be sitting here, aren’t I?” “Of course,” she says. So I sit down.

PK: (Laughs)

EJ: A week later I get a letter (from the airline) that (a leading light in F1) had made an official complaint that “people in first-class should pay the first-class fare.” They didn’t want “people like Eddie Jordan buying business and winding up in first because he knew a member of the staff.” I swear to you! An official letter!

PK: Was that a prevalent view of you in Formula 1?

EJ: What?

PK: That you were . . .

EJ: A hustler?

PK: A hustler.

EJ: That’s what I got off on. I’m a hustler.

PK: It’s not a derogatory term for you?

EJ: Oh, not at all. It’s a term of endearment.

2 The Monkey Pole

Within a year he was the Irish kart champion and progressing through the single-seater ranks. His career could have been finished early by an appalling crash . . . He suffered compound fractures to both legs, injuries serious enough to keep him out of a 1976 season in which he would have figured prominently. There were not just injuries to his legs, but a disfigurement that has had millions of fans guessing for years. The trauma made his hair fall out and he has lived with alopecia ever since, wearing wigs so convincing that few who have seen him on television have any idea. Although he seems unembarrassed, he rarely mentions it, not even in his autobiography.

‘Driven: The Men Who Made Formula One’ – Kevin Eason

PK: I asked Marie where you got this hard neck from and she said: “His mother.”

EJ (smiles): Eileen.

PK: Tell me about your parents. Your father, Paddy, was a quiet man?

EJ: Very quiet. Clever. Bright. A great accountant but never pushed himself. He was a great footballer, played for Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians. A number seven, Snitchy Jordan. He had a trial with Everton but came home when his father died, to look after the family.

PK: Home to where?

EJ: Bray. My father grew up in Bray. My mother was one of 13 – a Mahon from a staunch Republican family in Stradbally, Co Laois. She came to work as an assistant in Tanseys, a shop in Bray, where she met my father.

PK: So, different characters?

EJ: Yeah, my mother controlled the house and the budget and was always trying to improve us – a better house, better food, better clothing. My father felt that it was more important to prepare a girl for later life than a boy, so they saved like crazy to send my sister to St Louis in Rathmines, and I was dumped off to Synge Street. I’m different to my sister. Helen is a more . . . stylish person than me.

PK: What do you mean by stylish?

EJ: She had great dress sense, just a stylish girl.

PK: And she’s older than you?

EJ: Yeah. I had attention deficit disorder but no one knew what that was. The teacher would be talking and my mind would start wandering: “Jordan! Are you paying attention?” And you might get a smack or have to stand up.

PK: Did you get many smacks?

EJ: I got plenty of smacks. I just didn’t have the power or ability to concentrate but give me anything to do with maths, give me figures, and I’d kill anyone. They have all these scanners now in supermarkets – ‘beep’ ‘beep’ ‘beep’ – but I could add a shopping list quicker than any machine.

PK: You grew up in Dublin?

EJ: St Kevin’s Gardens, just off Dartry Road, but I spent a lot of my childhood in Bray. All my aunts lived in Bray and I’d get the train down after school on Friday afternoon with a few books – supposed to be doing my homework – until Monday. My father was captain of Bray Golf Club and during school holidays I’d play golf in the morning and sail in the afternoon with Bray Sailing Club in those little dinghies. And all of my close pals were in Bray: Eddie O’Byrne, whose father was the state solicitor for Wicklow; Jackie O’Driscoll, whose uncle was James Joyce; Seánie Fitzpatrick, who went on to Anglo (Irish Bank).

PK: How were you shaped by that Ireland of the ’70s?

EJ: Well, it was before the boom when everyone used to go to Spain on their holidays, and quite a few English people would come to Bray. It was a holiday resort. The beach wasn’t great but it was a beach, and you had nightclubs and music and dancing. We used to go to this place called The Monkey Pole, which was halfway up Bray Head, and watch these English girls from Leeds or Yorkshire or wherever, walking up the hill on a nice sunny day and put chat on them.

PK: Put chat on them?

EJ: We’d chat them up like crazy and see could we get a kiss or whatever out of them, or as we’d call it ‘the wear.’ ‘Did you get the wear?’

PK: (Laughs)

EJ: So you’d be bursting your nuts to see could you get a wear and the reason I’m saying this, to answer your question, is that it gave us confidence. I think Irish people before (my generation) suffered from a lack of confidence. We’d had maybe 600 years of British occupation. We were controlled by the Catholic church. We were naturally inferior and very insular. So for us meeting these girls, meeting people from other countries, was like the shackles coming off. You weren’t interested in some old culchie when you could chase these girls with their flash English accents.

PK: (Laughs)

EJ: And I think that helped me enormously. ‘Oh yeah, I pulled that girl. I got the wear.’ And that sowed a seed. When I was working in the bank, we’d put the car in the back of the van and head to England for the weekend. I’d race on Saturday, find another race Sunday, and take the overnight ferry back to work on Monday morning. And I’d be bollixed but I’d gone over there and done it. And the fellas in Ireland were saying, “Well if Eddie can do it, I can certainly do it.”

PK: Tell me about the transition from school to a job in the bank. Didn’t you study dentistry at some stage?

EJ: My father’s father and my uncles were all teachers or professors of dentistry and it was always put in front of me as an option. I tried my hand at it and wasted a year and then went to this place called Ross’s College where they prepared you to do the banking exams. That’s where I met Dermot (Desmond), we both joined the bank more or less at the same time. He went to the World Bank and I joined the Bank of Ireland, but I hadn’t the slightest interest. I was only interested in cars at that stage.

PK: What was Dermot like?

EJ: He was a bright kid, wanted to make hay, and a bit of a deal junkie as well.

PK: How do you know ?

EJ: You know the way people talk, don’t you?

PK: You knew he was a deal junkie?

EJ: Well, at that stage we probably didn’t know. It was just . . . inherent.

PK: When did you know? What was the first buzz?

EJ: My sister had just married (Neil McCarthy) who worked for Hanlon’s (the fishmongers). They did these vacuum-packed salmon, which was kind of unusual at the time, and I’d take a load from him on rugby weekends, particularly the French ones, and go to Lansdowne Road wearing a blue-and-red scarf. I didn’t give a monkeys! Same thing happened when (my car) was sponsored by The Flooring Centre. I’d get a load of rugs and carpets from Joe Eustace, throw them in the van and take them to a stall on . . . do you know where the Dandelion Market was?

PK: No.

EJ: Rice’s pub?

PK: No.

EJ: Christ! You haven’t lived. Anyway, I’d sell them there or pitch up beside the Travellers on the North Road. Then at the bank, because I was good with people and knew about cars, they put me in charge of car loans. So I gave lots of people car loans and might advise them to buy something I had in stock, and there would be a little ‘touch’ in that.

PK: So it was in your DNA?

EJ: Right back to when I was a kid…going to the hawkers in Moore Street, buying under-the-counter bangers from the fruit stalls, and charging the kids in school double what I’d paid. It’s called ‘enterprise’. And it was no different to what happened after except that the deals got bigger and more risky.

PK: How did you get interested in motorsport?

EJ: I had an uncle, Noel Smith, who won an Irish championship in rallying at a time when the Cooper S was the business. I never quite got into rallying – wheel-to-wheel and jockeying for position was more my scene. I started with karting and then went on to single-seaters.

PK: It was through a karting accident that you lost your hair?

EJ: Yeah, a compound fracture of my tib and fib at (a race in) Monasterboice in ’72. I woke up next morning at Our Lady of Lourdes and thought: ‘What’s all this on my pillow?’ It was my hair! I was in shock. I said, “Nurse, what’s this?” She said, “The doctor will tell you about it.” I said, “No, I need to know.” She said: “You’re losing your hair. It’s called alopecia.” They never told me it was going to be permanent.

PK: That must have been pretty traumatic?

EJ: Oh God, yeah. I was a young kid, 24, a time when image is everything. And people can be very unkind.

PK: I remember Jack Charlton going berserk once when someone made fun of a guy who was bald. His brother, Bobby, lost his hair quite young.

EJ: Yeah, but his was gradual. He did the sweepover. This was like losing your nose. Did I learn to cope with it? I had no choice. And I was lucky, because if it had been 10 or 15 years before there would have been nothing but there was a company in Dublin, Hair Extension, and we sorted something. And I kept telling myself how lucky I was that I was walking and able to pursue a career.

PK: You realised, soon after you married, that you weren’t going to crack it as a driver?

EJ: Yeah.

PK: So you took another direction and went into management.

EJ: Yeah, but there was another part to that. I (set up) a young Formula 3 team (Eddie Jordan Racing) and was always on the look-out for exceptional drivers. We didn’t have money to pay them but I’d encourage them and steer them into (bigger) teams for a modest fee of about 20 per cent. After a while I thought, ‘There’s definitely an angle here’, and was paying little retainers for guys to go to races and report to me. Then I created the Formula 3000 team and really did start to make money.

PK: 1.5 million?

EJ: No, I had five.

PK: Five?

EJ: Yeah, I had (managed) about 15 drivers – Johnny Herbert, Martin Donnelly, Martin Brundle, Kenny Acheson, Richard Reydel – and made about five million. I think, to date, I’m the only one to have bought and sold drivers. So, (Eddie) Irvine would come to me for free and I’d give him a three-year contract, and build him up, and build him up, and then sell him to Ferrari. He’d get 13 or 14 million and Ferrari would pay me five. (He rubs his hands and smiles).

Eddie Irvine.jpg
Eddie Irvine

PK: (Laughs)

EJ: Perfect. Everyone is happy. And that happened with (Jean) Alesi, Stefan Johansson, a little bit with Michael Schumacher, (Giancarlo) Fisichella and (Rubens) Barrichello. I had a great time with Ferrari, but then the fact is that I blooded them. I took the pain when they were crashing; I took the pain when they were learning. It was like a dress rehearsal, ‘You’re ready now, off you go!’ Okay, so they could have been at their best for me but I needed the money.

PK: The Ferrari deals were after you’d gone into Formula 1.

EJ: Yeah.

PK: Go back to just before that. There was a documentary made about you when you had the Formula 3000 team and were living in Sotogrande.

EJ: RTé did that, a lovely piece.

PK: It was obvious, watching it, that you had a very nice lifestyle.

EJ: We had a very nice lifestyle. We had a place in Sotogrande and a very nice house in Oxford and . . .

PK: Five million you said?

EJ: Yeah.

PK: And you decide to put it on the line to go into Formula 1?

EJ: Yeah.

PK: Why?

EJ: I was a deal junkie. I had to do it. At that stage, no team had won as many Formula 3 or 3000 races as Jordan had, and it was going to be very hard for me to inspire these young drivers to do great things while there was one Formula above me which was the pinnacle. So it was a natural progression of sorts.

PK: Right.

EJ: And I needed to do it. I was getting confidence and wanted to see who these great people were. Who is this Ken Tyrrell? Who is this Frank Williams? Who’s Enzo Ferrari? These were people I’d dreamed about and I wanted to take them on. Was I prepared to lose the five mill? I never even thought about it.

PK: You must have thought about it.

EJ: Well, I obviously didn’t think about it long enough because if I did I wouldn’t have done it. I kind of dismissed it. I thought, ‘Well, there’s always a way back. I’ll always get a job.’

3 Sun and shade

At the end of our first season in F1 we were about to finish fifth with 13 points. Quite unbelievable. You would have thought I’d be ecstatic. I was anything but. Motor racing allows no time to bask in past achievements. This was but one season and it was about to be consigned to history. Time was ticking on, 1992 beckoned, and the financial reality associated with the here and now was kicking in. I was looking at a serious amount of debt. Jordan Grand Prix was facing possible closure.

‘An Independent Man’ – Eddie Jordan

PK: You make your Formula 1 debut in March 1991 at the United States Grand Prix in Phoenix and there’s still a sense of ‘Is this guy for real?’ But within a couple of races the whole country was on board. It was an amazing start that captured the imagination here almost immediately.

EJ: And everywhere else. I still get it today . . . or last week in Abu Dhabi: “You have no idea how popular you are.” I think there was a natural love affair for what Jordan had created in terms of the ability to start from nothing. I think the team touched a lot of people, not just in Ireland.

PK: You had a horse with Mouse Morris once, Master Of Illusion.

Trainer Mouse Morris. Photo: Steve Humphreys

EJ: Yeah.

PK: It was a great name for an Eddie Jordan horse because we were often blinded by the glamour and glitz, particularly in that first season, when the reality was that you were hanging on by your fingernails.

EJ: Yeah.

PK: What happened at Spa? You’ve been offered 150k to give a young German, Michael Schumacher, his first drive in F1, but when he arrives at the circuit the two Jordan cars have been impounded.

EJ: Yeah.

PK: What was all that about?

EJ: Some weird bloke I owed money to, or had left short. The rules in Belgium were always different. In Italy or Ireland or any other sensible place, you apply for an injunction or go in front of a court but you have to tell the person (you’re in dispute with). In Belgium, you don’t. So the police arrived with a bailiff and chains: “We are sequestering this equipment.” And we never did the qualifying (session) on the Friday.

PK: How did you resolve it?

EJ: I went to Bernie (the former F1 ringmaster, Bernie Ecclestone) for help and he sent (a guy) on a motorbike to all the gates and collect as much money from whatever was on the gates.

PK: Ticket money?

EJ: Yeah.

PK: To pay the bailiff?

EJ: We just about got enough. I did feel a bit of a dick I must say, everyone (in the pit lane) was bursting their ass laughing.

PK: I don’t remember reading about that.

EJ: Well, for sure, it wasn’t something I was very proud of. Anyway, they got the money and then Schumacher left (for Benetton) and I got an injunction in Italy (to prevent Schumacher leaving) and I think we got about a million out of it eventually. And we needed it.

PK: You had used all your money at that stage?

EJ: I had done the five million, and the sponsorship money (7-Up and Fujifilm) and was in a hole for about another five. So to start with five and wind up down five was tricky, but it never worried me.

PK: How do you explain that?

EJ: I don’t know. I’m still not worried . . . Well, it’s different now.

PK (laughs): I should hope it’s different now when you’ve 70 million in the bank.

EJ: Seventy?

PK: That’s what I’ve read.

EJ: I’m not telling you because you’ll print it.

PK: Yes, I will, but you take my point.

EJ: That was the first time I was ever sick and it was 100 per cent due to stress.

PK: You’ve just told me you weren’t worried!

EJ: I was, at that stage. Behind the scenes I was worried. I had the most unbelievable piles. Fuck they were sore! Savage! And piles are an instant reaction to stress.

PK: Was Marie worried?

EJ: No. She never had a worry in her life.

PK: How do you explain that?

EJ: She had the kids to look after.

PK: I’d get it from my wife.

EJ: Well, I’m with Marie 42 years and . . .

PK; How has that lasted?

EJ: Ask her.

PK: I’m asking you.

EJ: Well, I’ll tell you what she’d say: “He was away an awful lot.”

PK: And that’s a good thing?

EJ: We couldn’t have survived if we’d lived (constantly) together. I don’t think living with me would have been very pleasant. It’s a roller coaster for me, but it’s a nightmare for anyone else.

PK: Go back to the stress. You survive, and pick up a good sponsor in Sasol – a South African oil company – but the second season with Yamaha (engines) is a disaster.

EJ: I couldn’t have survived without Yamaha. Bernie gave me the deal. He said, “Do you want to stay in the business or go back?” I said, “I want to stay.” He said, “Well, listen to me. It’s free engines. It’s not going to be nice. Ride it out.” And we rode it out.

PK: I remember the first race that season in Kyalami. The car was a heap. You had to cut pieces of the bodywork to get extra coolers on the engine.

EJ: Yeah, we needed Sasol’s oil because they were the only people who could keep enough in the thing! We’d put a new engine in and fire it up on the trestles: “Vroom.” “Vroom.” “Vroom.” I’d be like: “Oh, thank God!” Then the fucking thing would blow and we’d have to put another one in.

PK: (Laughs)

EJ: Then there was a problem with (the payment from) the circuit, and talk about being paid in diamonds, and Bernie was negotiating the fucking diamond deal and . . . Oh my God! . . . They were great days.

PK: (Laughs.)

EJ: Unbelievable.

PK: What was the goal, Eddie?

EJ: I wanted to beat them.

PK: Did you?

EJ: Like you can’t believe.

PK: When did you accept that you couldn’t?

EJ: Well, I did on occasions. I won some races . . . And got lucky . . . You think I won that race in Spa by not being lucky?

(Jordan’s first Grand Prix victory was the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix on a treacherously wet day at Spa. After a 13-car collision on the first lap, the race was dominated by the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher who looked set for victory until he slid off the track as he lapped the McLaren of David Coulthard. That opened the door for second-placed Damon Hill who finished in front of his team-mate, Ralf Schumacher, to complete a Jordan 1-2.)

Michael Schumacher

PK: You mean the Schumacher crash?

EJ: Yeah, and Damon should never have won.

PK: Because Ralf was quicker?

EJ: Of course, but I wouldn’t let him pass, or I made it very clear to him that he wasn’t to pass. And then Michael came to me after, upset because he should have won and because of Ralf. I said, “Look, Ralf has been driving for me (for years) and I haven’t seen you. The last time I saw you was when you fucked off to Benetton and thought you were smart but I still got your money. Now fuck off out of my garage.” He said, “My brother will never drive for you next year.” I said, “Let me give you a small piece of advice. There is a document. It’s called a contract. Ralf has a contract with me next year and in that contract there’s a buy-out clause. So pay the money and you can have your brother.”

PK: Right.

EJ: They paid me two-and-a-half million! Ralf went to Williams and never won a race. I took (Heinz-Harold) Frentzen from Williams for nothing – he won twice and nearly won the Championship!

PK: I’d say you got a fair buzz from that one?

EJ: Fuck me! Did that give me an erection! Oh my God!

PK: (Laughs)

EJ: That gave me the greatest buzz because Williams were all-conquering. But Patrick Head (the chief engineer) was a tough man to drive for, and they were very tough on Frentzen, but I knew that if we looked after him he could be very quick. And he was awesome, not the cleverest driver but fast like crazy.

PK: Tell me about the ‘End’ and moving out of Formula 1. The goal was to beat them and you did that to a degree; you won a couple of races and . . .

EJ: Don’t say couple, because couple to most people means two.

PK: Sorry, you won four Grands Prix and finished third in a championship. Tell me about the decision to sell the team in 2004.

EJ: Well, it was very simple. It was becoming very, very corporate.

PK: And the cigarette money was gone?

EJ: There were several aspects; Lucky Strike (a rival team with the same sponsor) were putting a squeeze on, so there was pressure from there. Then there was government pressure to lessen the amounts of (cigarette) advertising, which affected the sponsorship. Then you had BMW and Renault and Peugeot and Toyota and Mercedes and a whole lot of other brands coming in so . . .

PK: Didn’t Honda offer to buy the team?

EJ: Yeah.

PK: You turned them down?

EJ: Well, I turned them down in ’98 when I thought we were going to do really well.

PK: Was that a mistake? Did you regret that later when the results weren’t as good?

EJ: Financially, it probably was but does it matter?

PK: The perception of you was that it was always about money.

EJ: Yeah, well it probably is.

PK: It is?

EJ: Money is still important to me, it was never not important, but the writing was on the wall. Honda didn’t want to lose me, but they owned the team which was sponsored by Lucky Strike. We won with Ford in Brazil in 2003 and then Ford pulled out. There was no way Benson & Hedges could continue and I didn’t see enough ready cash around the globe to take the fight to manufacturers who didn’t have the restraint of those corporate commercial sponsorships. I went to Bernie for some advice: “What’s your take on this?” He said: “I’ll help you but it’s only one word – sell.”

PK: So you sold?

EJ: Yeah.

PK: And the timing was perfect.

EJ: Impeccable.

PK: How tough was it to walk away given what you had put into it?

EJ: For the first race the following year, 2005, Marie arranged for us to go to Dubai. She hired a boat and we sailed to Amman and the captain made sure there was no television or radio or (distractions). But for sure there was nostalgia, this was my life and blood . . . but the TV stuff has been brilliant for me.

PK: It helped with the transition?

EJ: It also gave me an incentive to keep in touch with what was going on. When Schumacher was coming back, I had it first; when Lewis Hamilton was leaving McLaren, I had it first. I had all those stories, first.

PK: When is the last time you saw Michael?

EJ: I haven’t seen him since his accident. (In December 2013, the seven-times world champion suffered a catastrophic brain injury in a skiing accident. He spent six months in a medically-induced coma, and continues to receive treatment at home but remains unable to talk or stand.) I asked (his wife) if it was appropriate: “If he starts to get better I would like to visit.” She said: “I’ll tell you if he does.” I knew her very well.

PK: His wife?

EJ: Yeah. That’s not to say that she would do me any favours over anyone else but she knows my intentions are right. Would I go and see Michael? At the drop of a hat if I thought I could make a difference, but it’s not what the family wants and it’s their decision.

PK: What about what’s happened to him?

EJ: I would not want to live in that environment. You hear things like: “Maybe he understands what people are saying” but hopefully that’s not happening. I would not want to be captured inside my body.

PK: Sure.

EJ: I want a life where I can contribute to myself and to other people. Every dog and every cow and every horse is put down if they’re in severe pain, but we have this fucking archaic judicial system that arrests people for murder if they assist someone doing something which is absolutely right. Can you explain that to me?

PK: No.

EJ: People should have that right. It’s their life and no one else’s – not a priest, not a judge and not a fucking archbishop! It’s their life. I’ve made it clear to Marie and the kids if it happens to me, ‘Roll me out to Dignitas’.

PK: Rosemary Smith has made plans for her funeral. She’s been to the undertaker, ordered the coffin and made the arrangements.

EJ: Is she going out in flames or going underneath?

PK: She’s going out in flames.

EJ: Yeah, I’m going out in flames.

PK: You don’t spend much time in Dublin these days?

EJ: Well, the kids were in university there. Miki has kept an apartment there. My sister is there. I see my sister at the races, mainly either Cheltenham or Ascot. Marie goes back . . . she’ll be back a week tomorrow for a lunch with all her family. And I’ll try and go back the same time and have a dinner with a lot of my mates.

PK: Home is Monaco now?

EJ: Yeah.

PK: “A sunny place for shady people.”

EJ: That’s the one. Who wrote that?

PK: Somerset Maugham.

EJ: But it’s wrong, isn’t it?

PK: (Laughs)

EJ: I think it’s one of greatest places on earth.

Sunday Indo Sport

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *