The Fl `silly season' has been as outlandish as ever in 1996. Speculation began early in the year, and for the past two races much talk in the paddock has centered around driver line-ups, and possible new faces on the scene for 1997. No doubt...
The Fl `silly season' has been as outlandish as ever in 1996. Speculation began early in the year, and for the past two races much talk in the paddock has centered around driver line-ups, and possible new faces on the scene for 1997. No doubt more conjecture will be put forward at the next event, the Belgian Grand Prix, which takes place on Sunday 25th August at the majestic Spa-Francorchamps Circuit.
Benson and Hedges Total Jordan Peugeot boss Eddie Jordan has a reputation for being a `talent spotter', and his list of former drivers lends credit to the suggestion. Current World Champion Michael Schumacher was a Jordan `find' back in 1991 and many of his contemporaries - including Damon Hill, Jean Alesi, Eddie Irvine, Johnny Herbert, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, and of course current B&H Jordan drivers Rubens Barrichello and Martin Brundle - have all climbed up through the sport on the Jordan ladder. So what does Eddie look for when assessing a driver?
"The most important element has to be speed" he. says, "although mental discipline comes a close second. Winning is as much an attitude of mind as a physical ability. Winning the odd race is one thing - having the mental ability to put together a championship winning season is a very different discipline. After speed and mental discipline, technical ability comes fairly high. However, it needn't be a priority these days; every aspect of what a driver does in the car is monitored and can be viewed on a computer screen, so if he can't understand what's happening to the car, his engineer can always tell him, A technical understanding is definitely an advantage, but it is not as vital now as it used to be"
What about money? "It can play a crucial role in some cases, but from a Jordan point of view we are no longer in the position of having to consider what a driver can bring to the team in terms of sponsorship. I won't deny that it's there in the back of my mind because there's always things to spend more money on in this business, but for the past couple of years we've had an element of freedom of choice. It only applies up to a certain level at the moment - we are not yet in a position to pay the huge salaries that some drivers would like. However, the amount we can afford gets bigger every year and therefore the range of people we can look at widens along with it.
"There are other important commercial aspects besides money though" Jordan continues. "Nationality very often has to be taken into account. If you have a team sponsor who is particularly active in certain countries, then having a driver from that country can be important, It's crucial to ensure that all the commercial aspects of the package can be satisfied and so most teams would hold discussions with sponsors, and of course their engine supplier, before taking a decision. In our case Benson and Hedges and Peugeot would be consulted on driver line-ups, but at the end of the day the final decision will always rest with Jordan Grand Prix.
"Similarly, I would talk with various members of the team before making a final decision. The commercial aspects I would discuss with our Commercial Manager and there are technical aspects which I would discuss with the race team management because it's important that the driver fits in with all those departments; Everybody has to be happy with the choice, At the end of the day though, the final decision rests with me. It's the question that gets asked most at this time of year. In fact, it's probably the most high-profile decision that ever gets taken because it's the driver that's at the sharp end. In reality though, it's almost the last decision to be made during the year. If you haven't got your technical package right it doesn't matter which driver you put in the car. You need to have a good technical package in place in order to attract the calibre of driver that you want".
So where does the search for the big fish begin - where should a team owner cast his net. "Everywhere!" says Jordan. "You'd start by looking at who is available from the current crop if Fl drivers, Outside that, the Japanese F3OOO series has produced some very good drivers recently, like Irvine, Frentzen and Salo. The difference between Japanese F3OOO and the European F3 and F3OOO championships, is that the Japanese series is almost run by the tyre companies and so the drivers get to use different specifications of tyre It's all one make in Europe and there seems to be something missing for the drivers as a result. In the old days you could take a guy straight from F3 and he could cope with all aspects of Formula One. In recent times it seems as though the ones who have done a year or two in Japan, where they've had had to learn tyre management, have found it easier to come into Formula One and be competitive,
"It's a lot more difficult to spot new talent now. When I was active in the junior categories I used to see a lot of racing, and the exceptional drivers tend to stand out, The problem now is that I don't get to see a lot of other racing. I read about it in magazines, people come and talk to me about it, but how often do you actually see an Fl team manager standing on the banking at an F3 race - you don't, At the end of the day there is no substitute for going to watch the races and see first-hand how the drivers perform. The problem is that Fl is so time consuming, there is just not the opportunity to do that anymore, It's almost luck now to find somebody new, or there is an obvious talent and you are fighting with your chequebook against the other teams.
But what, at the end of the day, would Jordan say is the most difficult aspect for a Formula One team owner looking to sign-up a new driver? "Agreeing on how much to pay him!".
-- Stephen M Baines
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