OCTOBER 21, 1996
Jordan searches for a star
THESE are crucial weeks for Eddie Jordan as he tries to find a way of attracting an established F1 star driver to his team. Jordan has already signed up Ralf Schumacher but, having missed out on signing a deal with World Champion Damon╩Hill, needs an experienced topline driver to keep his partners Peugeot and Benson & Hedges happy.
The Jordan team is entering into its third year of a three-year contract with Peugeot and to date the results have been very disappointing given that the Peugeot V10 is clearly a very powerful engine. With Williams and Benetton looking for engines in 1998, Jordan is going to have to do well in 1997 if he wants to have any chance of holding on to the Peugeot deal.
The team needs to produce a good chassis next year to make up for the lack of results this season and also needs a driver who can exploit such a car.
Since Hill signed for Arrows, Jordan has been trying to convince Benetton to sell him Jean Alesi's contract. Benetton boss Flavio Briatore has proved in the past that he will sell anything if the price is right and he knows that if Alesi does go he still has Gerhard Berger to lead the team. He also has young Giancarlo Fisichella available to jump into Alesi's seat. Jean's gaffe in Suzuka - where he crashed out by himself on the first lap when Benetton needed him to score points to help it finish second in the Constructors' Championship - will not have helped him but the deal seems unlikely at the moment.
There are rumored to have been quiet attempts by Jordan to see if Mika Salo can be prised out of his contract with Tyrrell and there have been negotiations with Jos Verstappen, who is looking for a drive having been dumped by Arrows.
Verstappen is fast but he makes mistakes. Jordan reckons that a driver can be cured of that and is keen to sign the Dutchman, but all negotiations to date failed to make any progress because Verstappen's management was asking for ludicrous amounts of money. Jos, incidentally, could have signed for Arrows in July but his management demanded too much money from Tom Walkinshaw and so he was left out in the cold. In recent days, however, Jos has begun doing his own negotiating and his chances of getting the Jordan drive have increased considerably.
Verstappen is not yet sufficiently big a star to guarantee satisfaction from Peugeot and Benson & Hedges, and the only man who is available and might fit the bill is former World Champion Nigel Mansell. Such a deal would be opposed by several members of the Jordan team - Mansell is not known as a driver who is easy to work with - but Eddie Jordan must be considering the possibility.
Last week Mansell said that he does not consider himself to be retired, despite the fact that he is now 42 years old. Although American single-seater racers go on into their late 40s, in F1 in recent years 40 has been the accepted retirement age. The last major Grand Prix racer to go beyond that age was Jacques Laffite who was 42 when he crashed at Brands╩Hatch in 1986. Before that Mario Andretti did a couple of races back in 1982 for Ferrari at the age of 42. Of the other big stars of recent years Carlos Reutemann, Alan Jones and Rene Arnoux all left F1 at 40; Nelson Piquet and Riccardo Patrese were edged out at 39 and Keke Rosberg and Alain Prost retired at 38.
"Motor racing still very much burns in my heart," Mansell said last week. "My time is not up."
Whether Jordan and Mansell can come to some agreement remains to be seen.
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