Exotic Emerald - 1991 Jordan 191 Ford

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Eddie Jordan Racing was a small but successful racing organization founded by the small time Irish racing driver of the same name. Through its Formula 3 and Formula 3000 operations, the team helped groom numerous future F1 stars like Martin Brundle, Johnny Herbert, Jean Alesi, Martin Donnelly and Eddie Irvine. After scoring the 1989 F3000 title with Jean Alesi, Jordan started to entertain the notion of joining the pinnacle of motorsport.

In feeder series, Jordan had relied on customer chassis from Ralt and Reynard. Securing a similar deal for their planned 1991 F1 effort was sadly not on the cards. Jordan would have to become a constructor in its own right to compete. To this end they contracted Reynard F3000 designer Gary Anderson to come up with a simple but effective racing machine. Anderson duly delivered a very traditional carbon fiber monocoque chassis suspended on double wishbones with pushrod activated suspension. Although Anderson had been relatively conservative, his pen strokes produced one of the most elegant, sexy and evocative shapes ever seen in Formula 1. The unusual raised nose, triple-decker rear wing and swooping airbox really made the car one hell of a looker.

The Ford HB V8 as mounted to the Jordan chassis

The Ford HB V8 as mounted to the Jordan chassis

The car was to be powered by an engine from Ford-Cosworth’s successful customer program. The venerable 75 degree 3.5L HBA4 V8 dated back to the 1989 season, and was two specifications back on the factory Benetton units. Nonetheless the engine still barked out an acceptable 670 horsepower at 13.200 rpm. In classic fashion, the Cosworth engine was mated to a six speed manual transmission supplied by Hewland. All in all the completed package weighed a mere 505 kg (1113 lbs).

Veteran driver John Watson (GB) was then drafted in to give the 911 its first testing miles. After a few sessions Watson’s feedback painted a favorable picture of the new car. Unlike Watson’s good vibrations, the humorless Germans at Porsche had some more negative things to say. The car maker had obvious objections to Jordan’s use of the “911“ designation. Eddie Jordan had seemingly forgotten about the world’s best selling luxury sports car, and agreed to change the name to 191 to appease Porsche.

Jordan's car originally went by the ill-advised "911" designation.

Jordan's car originally went by the ill-advised "911" designation.

With backing from major sponsors 7Up and Fuji, Jordan Grand Prix was now legitimately in business. The team’s driver talent took the forms of battle hardened old timer Andrea de Cesaris (ITA) and promising young talent Bertrand Gachot (BEL).

Immediately the rookie team had to prove itself. Unlike the meager 22 car grids of today, 1991 featured a maximum of 30 cars eligible to qualify for a Grand Prix. Even with these eight extra places, there were still more entries than available grid positions. This meant the low budget teams with little reputation had to enter a pre-qualifying session to earn a spot in actual qualifying.

Eddie Jordan enjoying the 191's lines.

Eddie Jordan enjoying the 191's lines.

For 1991 this meant eight cars had to go through pre-qualifying, with the fastest four allowed to enter the proper qualifying session. At the first round of the season, the US GP at the street circuit of Phoenix Arizona, the #33 car of De Cesaris was among them. Gachot’s #32 managed to qualify a reasonably strong 14th. The Belgian’s luck quickly ran out however, as his engine failed with just 7 laps to go. He was still classified as 10th, but had to finish at least 6th to score a point.

At the Brazilian Grand Prix, both Jordan’s comfortably made it past pre-qualifying. De Cesaris managed a decent 13th position on the grid, but was bested by his younger team mate, who started 10th. Sadly both cars were hit by mechanical gremlins. De Cesaris was first to go with a blown engine on lap 20. Gachot managed to be classified 13th after retiring with a fuel system issue on lap 63.

Bertrand Gachot, US GP Phoenix 1991.

Bertrand Gachot, US GP Phoenix 1991.

The third round at the infamous Imola circuit of San Marino solidifed Jordan’s position. Andre de Cesaris surprised by out-qualifying his team mate to take 11th, with Gachot close behind in 12th. Again both cars retired. De Cesaris lost out to his disintegrating gearbox, while Gachot had to concede to broken suspension, both on lap 37.

At the Monaco Grand Prix Andrea de Cesaris again out-qualified Bertrand Gachot. The Italian reached a top 10 starting position for the first time that season. Virtually humiliated, Gachot set out to start from 24th. For the race the tables were turned substantially. De Cesaris dropped out with a smashed throttle linkage on lap 21, while Gachot recorded Jordan Grand Prix’s first ever finish with 8th.

Bertrand Gachot, 1991 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Bertrand Gachot, 1991 Brazilian Grand Prix.

De Cesaris continued his string of powerful qualifying performances with 11th at the Canadian Grand Prix. The ailing Gachot was down in 14th. In a glorious race for the start-up team, both cars kept running with an admirable pace on race day.

The event saw an incredibly high rate of attrition, which helped the green beauties along in their valiant quest for points. With Andrea de Cesaris leading Bertrand Gachot to a 4th and 5th placing, the weekend was a major success for Jordan.

Andrea de Cesaris, Montreal 1991.

Andrea de Cesaris, Montreal 1991.

Another tenth place at the Mexican Grand Prix for De Cesaris put a bigger dent in Gachot’s confidence. Once more the Belgian was stuck in a much lower 20th position. De Cesaris started well and found himself battling for positions in the top 5. As the race progressed he settled into 4th, with his team mate closing in. Gachot screwed up late in the race by spinning out of 5th, but De Cesaris went on undeterred.

In an unbelievable bad turn of luck, the 191’s throttle linkage collapsed on the very last lap. With the finish in sight, De Cesaris made a heroic effort to push the stricken car over the line. In a feat of superhuman strength, he maintained his 4th place by doing just that, completely unassisted. With this achievement he had secured Jordan’s second points finishing result.

Andrea de Cesaris pushing his car to the finish, Mexico 1991.

Andrea de Cesaris pushing his car to the finish, Mexico 1991.

The very first French Grand Prix held at Nevers-Magny Cours yielded yet another point for Jordan, thanks to Andrea de Cesaris finishing 6th from 13th on the grid. Gachot had qualified in 19th, but spun off and retired on the first lap.

Silverstone was the venue for the 1991 British Grand Prix. The trend in qualifying continued with De Cesaris (13th) in front of Gachot (17th). On lap 41 the Italian’s suspension failed hard at Abbey corner. His car careened into the wall and bounced back onto the track in the path of Satoru Nakajima’s (JAP) Tyrrell, narrowly missing it. Gachot meanwhile put in a stellar drive and came in 4th.

Andrea de Cesaris climbing out of his demolished car, Silverstone 1991.

Andrea de Cesaris climbing out of his demolished car, Silverstone 1991.

The scary fast old Hockenheim circuit saw Andrea de Cesaris improve to an amazing 7th place on the grid. Gachot managed a relatively good 11th. During the race the Jordan’s scooped up points once more by scoring 5th (De Cesaris) and 6th (Gachot) respectively.

The Jordan’s consistent points finishes had granted them free passage into qualifying starting from the Hungarian Grand Prix. Sadly the extra rest did little to improve their times. Gachot lead the Jordan charge on P16, with De Cesaris right behind in 17th. Both men just missed out on another batch of points by finishing 7th (De Cesaris) and 9th (Gachot). In the process Bertrand Gachot had produced the fastest lap of the race.

Michael Schumacher flies over pro-Gachot graffiti left by disgruntled Belgian fans.

Michael Schumacher flies over pro-Gachot graffiti left by disgruntled Belgian fans.

In preparation for the Belgian Grand Prix at the legendary Sp Francorchamps track, Jordan was in for a shock. Bertrand Gachot had tried to solve a heated argument with a London taxi driver by gassing him with a tear gas canister. As a result of the altercation Gachot was far from the wheel of his 191, stuck in a damp British jail. He was eventually sentenced to two months in prison.

The wacky circumstances compelled Jordan to hire a little known Mercedes endurance racer by the name of Micheal Schumacher. The 22-year old German had been racing the fire breathing Sauber C11 Group C car after leaving F3, which made the switch to F1 a peculiar one at best. With an unofficial agreement between Jordan and Schumacher’s Mercedes management, Jordan had averted the crisis caused by Gachot.

A nervous Michael Schumacher, Spa Francorchamps 1991.

A nervous Michael Schumacher, Spa Francorchamps 1991.

The German youngster shocked the F1 world by putting the 191 in 7th on the grid during his very first qualifying sessions in an F1 car. His more experienced team mate could do no more than 11th. Sadly, Schumacher’s sensational debut imploded shortly after the lights went out. A ruined clutch smashed his hopes of a good finish after less than a mile covered. Andrea de Cesaris suffered a similar fate on lap 41 with another blown engine.

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His blitzing performance at the Belgian Grand Prix netted Schumacher an offer from the better funded Benetton team, Ford’s de facto factory effort. Smelling a chance for success and hoping to avoid the in his eyes catastrophic reliability of the Jordan’s, he accepted.

Eddie Jordan was not content on letting his massive accidental discovery off the hook quite so easily. During the negotiations with Michael’s Mercedes management a verbal agreement was reached to sign him for the rest of the 1991 season. On this basis Eddie Jordan took the matter to civil court. His plea proved to be unsuccessful, as he had not yet signed Schumacher to an official contract.

Eddie Jordan and Michael Schumacher in happier times.

Eddie Jordan and Michael Schumacher in happier times.

With this bitter defeat, Jordan had lost his one chance at attaining the crucial consistent points finishes. Schumacher moved to Benetton for the next race without a hitch, and sent his predecessor Roberto Moreno the other way. The Brazilian failed to make an impression. He retired at Monza and finished 10th in Portugal.

He was quickly sacked after these two races, and replaced by the Italian rookie Alex Zanardi. The F3000 runner up managed two 9th places at the Spanish and Australian Grands Prix, split by a retirement in Japan. At Suzuka a freshly released Bertrand Gachot shook up the paddock by demanding his seat back from Zanardi, to which the team refused. Seeing these mediocre performances and Gachot’s questionable actions must have pained Eddie Jordan upon realizing what exactly he had missed out on.

The Jordan 191 was a jaw-droppingly gorgeous start to a team that would lead a long and varied Formula 1 career. Despite its good looks it was plagued by serious reliability issues, a mildly criminal driver and an ill fated legal dispute.

Regardless of the many adversities the 191 faced, it will forever be in the history books for giving the most successful racer in Formula 1 history his first ever drive. And it looked damn good doing it.

 

In honor of the 25 year anniversary of Michael Schumacher’s Formula One debut.
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