SEPTEMBER 14, 1998
Frentzen signs for Jordan
HEINZ-HARALD FRENTZEN surprised the Formula 1 world last week by signing for Jordan Grand Prix. The news came as a big surprise as Frentzen had been expected to sign a deal with Sauber. The Swiss team had said that it was not interested in signing up Frentzen but we understand that Peter Sauber changed his mind in the days after the Belgian GP and there were negotiations between Sauber's Fritz Kaiser and Frentzen's manager Ortwin Podlech. These broke down over the issue of Heinz-Harald's personal merchandising deals which are very profitable to him and which he is unwilling to give up. Frentzen had been talking to Williams about staying with the team at a much-reduced salary but it became clear that the team was not really interested. His opportunity at Jordan is understood to have come about thanks to Benson & Hedges desire to have a German driver in the second car. As soon as it was clear that Ralf Schumacher was going to be released by Jordan - in a deal brokered by F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone to stop Jordan and Schumacher from getting bogged down in the law courts - Frentzen was the only obvious candidate and an agreement was reached with Jordan rumored to be receiving several million dollars worth of compensation from the Schumacher camp. There were stories in Germany that this money was actually supplied by Ralf's brother Michael but these seem a little far-fetched.
Frentzen's move to Jordan was unexpected in that he was not rated very highly by important members of the team and his candidature was dismissed when they were asked in Spa about a possible deal. The fact that Eddie Jordan has overruled these opinions suggest that it was wiser to give Benson & Hedges a German rather than fight for another driver.
Although Williams still refuses to confirm that Schumacher will be joining Alex Zanardi at the team next year, there is no doubt that the deal is done and will be announced early next week, in the run-up to the Luxembourg GP at the Nurburgring. That will produce maximum coverage in Germany for Williams' future partner BMW.
This means that Williams' test driver Juan-Pablo Montoya is on the market for a drive with a rival team. If he is unable to get a seat, the Colombian rising star will stay at Williams as test driver.