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Formula 1

F1 Revisited: The inside story of Jordan’s final F1 win

by Jack Benyon
11 min read

During Formula 1’s coronavirus-forced hiatus, The Race will be revisiting great races from the past. For each grand prix we select, we will run a story on Friday setting the stage, a qualifying report on Saturday and a Sunday race analysis. These will not be repeats of old articles, but fresh retrospectives of these events

The 2003 season was not an easy one at Jordan. I rejoined the team as head of race and test engineering the season before, so wasn’t responsible for the car design itself and in the first two races of the season in Australia and Malaysia we had a tough time with a car that didn’t respond well to developments or set-up changes. And with the budget we had to develop it – which was basically zero – it was not a surprise that things started badly.

It was just a case of doing what we could with it at the circuit, and we were expecting it to be a similar story at Interlagos for the Brazillian Grand Prix. But there’s always a chance of weather helping you out in Brazil, so it’s one of those races you always think things could go your way.

For qualifying, we knew there was a good chance of rain for Sunday so went for a relatively low level – aiming to go to maybe lap 10 or 11. This was the first year where you qualified with your race-start fuel load in the car and there’s no magic – a lighter car goes faster.

We were the best of the Bridgestone runners outside of Ferrari on the grid as some of the others running the tyres seemed to struggle. We worked very closely with Bridgestone, but ultimately Ferrari was the priority and we got what was left over. Rob Smedley, Fisi’s engineer, had a good handle on getting the best out of them but the qualifying position was mainly down to the fuel load.

Sao Paolo, F1, So, Regen

Ahead of the race, the weather was just as bad as we expected. The regulations did not allow you to change the car after qualifying, but one story that isn’t widely known is that because of the change of conditions I asked Charlie Whiting if we could raise the front ride height on the basis that the conditions were wet and dangerous. He allowed the ride heights to be altered because of the standing water and issued a directive to that effect.

Ross Brawn went berserk as he claimed Ferrari had compromised its set-up for qualifying because the weather forecast was so bad. Charlie withdrew the directive, but I had my copy in my pocket so we had been given permission and had already made the change.

We had to focus on getting Fisi to buy into the strategy. We’d talked about it before but when it comes down to it, it’s never that easy.

We got started under the safety car because of the wet conditions, so Fisi was driving around in eighth place. We called him in after five laps, which he didn’t like the idea of, he wanted to have a go with the front guys. After a bit of arguing, with me making it very clear that he was going to come in, he eventually stopped on lap seven and dropped to the back.

That might have seemed like a strange move, giving up the position we’d gained with that great qualifying performance. But it was the key to the race victory.

Sao Paolo, F1, Sa, Gf

The night before, I had been giving some thought to ways we could get have a go at getting a good result, or if luck was with us, perhaps even a podium. One way was to aim for the point at the race where full points would be awarded and therefore a restart would probably not happen if there was a red flag for any reason. Stopping after six to eight laps would give us the fuel range to get past that point, if we did this and no one else did we could get Fisi as high up the order as possible before we would need a second stop.

So we had to focus on getting Fisi to buy into the strategy. We’d talked about it before but when it comes down to it, it’s never that easy. He was keen to stay out and have some fun racing at the front as he didn’t get that opportunity very often so wasn’t very happy about giving up eighth place before the race had even properly started. But after some firm discussions with him, he came in. On top of that, I also had Eddie Jordan asking me ‘are you sure?’. But although I knew what the idea was I had absolutely no idea what the outcome would be!

We did the same thing with Ralph Firman in the other car. So when the race finally got going at the start of lap nine, Fisi was 19th and Ralph 20th. With such a heavy fuel load and the difficult conditions, they hung around there although did make up places when Nick Heidfeld had an engine failure, then also by passing Justin Wilson’s Minardi.

Then we lost Ralph, who had a front-right lower wishbone failure when he hit the brakes for Turn 1 and spun. As luck would have it, he briefly passed Fisi on the inside and then wiped out Olivier Panis’s Toyota. So thanks, Ralph, that at least gave us an extra place.

Sao Paolo, F1, Ralph Fireman (gb, Jordan Ford)

But I was very concerned, as you always are when you see a failure like that and you have to dig deep because you have another driver out there potentially risking his life. We left Fisi out while we looked into it, but we had to do it very quickly. I got onto Andy Stevenson – who is still at Racing Point as sporting director but was then chief mechanic at Jordan – and asked him for the component mileages.

It turned out Firman’s wishbones were new for that weekend but Fisi’s had over 1000km on them. I suspected an assembly problem with the new ones and that therefore the higher-mileage ones on Fisi’s car had a very good chance of being OK. If not, we would have picked up a problem during our routine service testing after each event that they were used for.

I knew Fisi would have a go if he had the chance and we knew he had the speed.

On inspection later on, it did prove to be an assembly error on the one that failed, so it was the right move. I always think safety is essential and we would have pulled Fisi out if there was any risk of a repeat, but we were confident and there were no problems.

That put Fisi into 15th place as our one hope. A lot of the front-running cars pitted when the safety car came out for the first time because of Firman’s crash, which played into our hands – although it wasn’t until more pitted again later that Fisi jumped up the order. But I was surprised to see that most didn’t seem to be stopping long enough to take on the fuel required to get to the end, or even lap 54 which was when the FIA could wave the chequered flag and say enough was enough. Raikkonen did go longer and stopped under the second safety car, which was caused by several drivers – including Juan Pablo Montoya and Michael Schumacher crashing at Turn 3.

Sao Paolo, F1, So, Rennen, Michael Schumacher (d, Ferrari) Box

As drivers went out, particularly the frontrunners, I was counting them down. With each one, Rob and myself would have a quick glance at each other across the ‘pratt perch’ on the pitwall. The main thing was to remember that if people like Schumacher were flying off the road, we could do exactly the same so we couldn’t count our chickens before they hatched.

Rubens Barrichello then retired because he was out of fuel. But although I’d worked with him for five years – four at Jordan and one at Stewart – and had a lot of time for him, he was the enemy that day and I just saw it as another one down. Any help from this kind of thing was gratefully accepted.

So the race was coming to us. Thanks to others retiring and making pitstops, Giancarlo ended up running third behind Raikkonen and was pressuring him because the McLaren seemed to be struggling on its Michelin tyres. This was when things started to get fairly exciting because I knew Fisi would have a go if he had the chance and we knew he had the speed. He was always good in the wet, so I was confident he could get it to the chequered flag as long as the old bag of nails he was driving hung together.

Then it really came together. Coulthard came into the pits for fuel and tyres at the end of lap 52 so that put paid to him. Then Raikkonen made a mistake and went deep at the last corner and that let Fisi through to lead on lap 54.

Sao Paolo, F1, So, Rennen, Mw

Then Mark Webber had a huge crash in the very fast kink on the main straight at the end of the lap, Fernando Alonso then hit one of Webber’s wheels in what was a very nasty impact. Although I could see it was a huge crash, there was a lot going on so I didn’t pay too much attention. I was trying to work out if we should pit or stay out because it was right on the cusp of where we needed to be for them not the restart the race and award full points.

But in the end, after all the safety car interludes, it was likely they were getting a bit bored of the race going on and as we had just taken the lead I didn’t want to throw away that opportunity by planning for the full race distance so we decided to stay out.

But the next morning I went into work and went to see Eddie to go over it again. His phone rang and it was Bernie Ecclestone, whose first comment was “Jordan, you won that race yesterday”. He passed the phone over to me and I went through it with Bernie

Then the red flag came out and made the decision for us. As far as I was concerned, Fisi had won. I was being interviewed by ITV’s Louise Goodman but as we talked the monitor changed and put us second. So Louise said I must be disappointed, but I said I was pretty sure we had won! But even so, for us second was a lot better than we expected when he set off for Brazil!

As an aside, we also had Fisi’s car catching fire in parc ferme. One thing that the Cosworth engine was good at was using oil, especially at part-throttle, of which there was plenty of in wet conditions – and we had a separate tank so could pump oil into the main tank.

Sao Paolo, F1, So, Podium, Gf, Kr

Fisi was doing this when the safety car came out for Webber’s crash and when the red flag was then thrown he drove into the pits leaving the pump on. The heat from the exhaust system when the car was stationary melted the plastic pipe and it sprayed oil onto the hot exhaust.

Coming back to the timing, what had happened was that maybe half a minute after the red flag the screen reset showing him having completed lap 54 rather than 55 – the lap he had just finished when the race was stopped. The countback rule, which resets the final results to the end of the lap before the one the leader is on when the red flag is declared, then led to the result being called based on lap 53, on which Fisi was second behind Raikkonen.

On the flight home, I spoke with Eddie and went through everything that happened and the fact we had crossed the finish line to start lap 55 about three seconds before the red flag was thrown so it should have gone back to the end of lap 54. Despite that, we were still pretty happy with the end result.

But the next morning I went into work and went to see Eddie to go over it again. His phone rang and it was Bernie Ecclestone, whose first comment was “Jordan, you won that race yesterday”. He passed the phone over to me and I went through it with Bernie.

Sao Paolo, F1, So, Rennen, Gf, Ej

He said ‘leave it with me’ and 10 minutes later Charlie Whiting phoned to say that he had asked the timing people to take off the lap that the red flag was thrown on not realising it had been done automatically. He said it would need to go to a tribunal, but that on this basis the win would be coming our way.

Looking back, it was a lucky win but as the saying goes you don’t win the lottery unless you buy a ticket. We certainly bought a ticket that day and it was a real team effort. The mechanics did everything right, the strategy was right and Fisi drove like the true pro he was. And everyone else helped us by screwing up!

Sao Paolo, F1, So, Rennen, Fa, Crash

My dad had died just before the previous race, so it was a difficult time. I was lying in bed in Brazil the night before the race not being able to sleep and wondering how we might pull something out of the bag in the race. I did a few quick sums and realised that if the race started behind the safety car and we stayed out until lap six to eight then we could fill the car with fuel and, with a bit of wet and dry running, get to lap 54 at least. That was the crucial lap, which would allow the race to be stopped and not restarted.

Actually the post-race fuel drain showed that we could have got to about lap 60/61 so there was still a small window of opportunity if it had been needed.

I was sure in my mind that that was what was going to happen but it could only happen with my dad giving me a helping hand from above. He was another guy who, like me, loved to get one over the big boys.

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