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THE DAY EJ BEAT THEM ALL
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Eddie Jordan's autobiography, An Independent Man, has hit the shops and it's essential reading for any self-respecting fan.

Not convinced? Why not read an exclusive extract from a book that details the life of one of F1's most extraordinary characters.

Now take your mind back to the start of Spa in 1998. Damon Hill's third on the grid, and it's been raining since the morning warm-up...


Rain on race morning was no surprise. This region of the Ardennes is noted for weather that only an Irish person might understand – four seasons in the course of one day is close to the norm.

Damon [Hill]’s clutch snatched at the start and he spun his rear wheels on the wet track. He had dropped from third to seventh by the time the leaders reached the first corner.

Disappointment had barely taken hold when there was another surprise.

The television pictures showed mounting chaos as David Coulthard spun at the exit of the corner and car after car seemed to pile into the McLaren.

Wheels and bits of bodywork flew in all directions, leaving the organisers with no alternative but to stop the race. Damon was going to get a second chance – provided his car had not been damaged.

It had been hard to make out anything from the television pictures. We could not believe our luck when Damon and Ralf eventually confirmed neither car had been damaged.

At the second time of asking, Damon made a peach of a start. In fact, coming out of the first corner, a Jordan was led the grand prix, having passed both McLarens!

We were going to enjoy this while it lasted.

We could see that Michael Schumacher, having worked his way into second place, was closing the gap to Damon but for seven wonderful laps, a Jordan Mugen-Honda controlled the race. On lap eight, Schumacher took the lead.

As for Ralf [Schumacher], he was stuck in traffic. Both our drivers had taken the re-start on intermediate tyres but the conditions were going from bad to worse.

We brought Ralf in early for his first stop and, with nothing to lose, sent him out on full wet Goodyears. Ralf became the fastest man on the track, so this had obviously been the correct call. Other teams followed suit, which allowed Ralf into third place. Two Jordans in the top three!

A win was out of the question because Schumacher was leading Damon by 37 seconds and pulling away with over half the race still to run. Everything looked to be sorted

But then I will never forget the image on the television monitor. The picture showed the leader driving towards the pits with the right-front wheel missing from his Ferrari.

You had to do a double take.

The re-run showed Schumacher driving straight into the back of Coulthard's McLaren. DC did his best to get out of the way on the right-hand side of the track.

Schumacher, powering through the mist and rain, had not seen him until it was too late and bang! Wheel gone! He was out. Quite incredible.

The shock of seeing such a mistake was quickly replaced by the realisation that Damon was about to take the lead. Better than that, Jordans would be running first and second in a grand prix for the first time ever!

Each driver had one more scheduled stop. Ralf came in first and was dispatched without any problems. Then, a lap or two before Damon was due in, the Safety Car was brought out to deal with an accident involving Giancarlo Fisichella.

Hill rejoined, still in the lead, but the presence of the Safety Car meant the field had become bunched and Ralf was right behind Damon.

Now we had a beautiful but totally unexpected dilemma.

Ralf, who had yet to win a grand prix, had set up his car for the wet conditions whereas Damon had gambled on a drier track.

Ralf had the faster car – and he knew it. Damon, on the other hand, had done all the hard work.

The grand prix was not simply about what happened during a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon, it was also about the preparation and effort put in from the start of business on Friday. On that score alone, Damon deserved this win.

At the pre-race briefing, we had never in our wildest imagination believed we would be running first and second. This scenario had never been discussed and, if it had, the person raising the subject would have been considered certifiable.

We did not have a number one and a number two driver. However, to prevent incidents such as the collision between Ralf and Fisichella in Argentina the previous year, we had agreed whoever was in front with only a few laps to go, would stay there.

We did not want a fight between the two drivers. They would be asked to hold position.

There were five laps to go when the Safety Car disappeared. Ralf was weaving every which way in Damon’s mirrors. Damon came on the radio and said he was pushing as hard as he dared in order to stay on the road and give Jordan its first win.

He said it was up to the team to call the shots. He was very calm and very measured but the implication was very clear. He was effectively saying, ‘Call Ralf off. Don’t force me to do something stupid and risk everything.’

Damon did not trust too many people. He gave the impression that he was a little bit sceptical, a very private man who was holding back and not letting you see all of Damon Hill. There was no doubt that he had his suspicions about Michael after the collision in Adelaide that had cost Damon the 1994 world championship. Now you had the feeling that those suspicions had spread to Michael’s younger brother.

I understood the rules of engagement. So did Damon, but what about Ralf? When told to defend second place from attack by Jean Alesi, Ralf did not reply.

Here we were with a one-two finish on the cards and I had one driver threatening to run to his own agenda and possibly cost us everything.

Damon came on the radio and said someone had to make a call, otherwise this might end in tears. Sam Michael [Ralf’s engineer] told Ralf to hold position. There was no response. Sam repeated the message and reiterated that it was an instruction. Silence.

Sam asked Ralf to respond. After a short pause, Ralf replied, "Yes. I hear you." That was all he said.

There was no question that Ralf was the quickest driver on the track at the time. He had made a statement, but he stayed where he was during those very long last laps. No one said a word as we watched the fuzzy pictures on the little television monitors on the pit wall.

I cannot begin to describe the sense of relief as we saw the two yellow cars appear out of the gloom to our left and take the flag.
 
At the 127th attempt, and after almost eight dramatic seasons of highs and many lows, we had achieved what we set out to do – and not just a win for Jordan Grand Prix, but a clean sweep.

When I got to the podium, someone said they did not have the Irish national anthem – which was a major cock-up on the part of Formula One Management because Jordan was an Irish-registered team. Our first win was to be marked with the wrong national anthem. This was outrageous.

Nonetheless, the British version was the next best choice because the team was based in England and the majority of the workforce was British. It was a huge moment for us all.

I remember being saturated, not just from the rain, but also the champagne. That did not matter in the slightest because the only seriously damp part of the weekend was about to hit me once I got back to the motorhome.

Michael Schumacher arrived, as I thought to congratulate the team that had given him his F1 break at this very circuit, but he did not have it in him to do that.

He was quite arrogant about me not allowing Ralf to win. It was true that he had endured a miserable day when a win had been denied by an incident that he clearly continued to believe was not his fault.

He had been guilty of having a major go at Coulthard in the McLaren garage and now he was having a go at me. I was very disappointed in him.

The way I ran the team was none of his business and, in any case, this was not the time to discuss it. Within a few seconds of returning to the spontaneous party outside the motorhome, I had forgotten Michael’s petulance – for the moment.
 
I have to admit that I did have a drink or two while dealing with seemingly endless interviews.

I was asked if this was the biggest and best thing that had ever happened to Jordan. The answer was ‘no’. Survival was the best thing that ever happened.

Winning at Spa was second best and the sense of achievement that afternoon merely highlighted the huge stress, strain and pain that had been necessary to get us that far.


Copyright © Eddie Jordan 2007

Extracted from AN INDEPENDENT MAN by Eddie Jordan publishing by Orion priced £18.99. Available to buy at Amazon.co.uk for £11.38

You can buy the book from Amazon.com by clicking here.

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