Features - Technical
AUGUST 7, 1996
BY PETER WRIGHT
Jordan Grand Prix set out to scale the heights of Formula 1 in 1990, quickly demonstrating that it possessed the expertise and resources to be on the mountain. Six years later the summit is in sight and preparations are being made for the final push to the top, while the world watches to see whether the climbers have the qualities and backup to succeed.
Success or failure in motor racing, as in mountaineering, is a function of human qualities, technical expertise, financial resources, organisation and luck. Among the team on the mountain, responsible for all technical aspects, is 45 year old Gary Anderson, Technical Director of Jordan Grand Prix since it's inception. His decisions and leadership qualities, combined with those of the Team Principal, Eddie Jordan, will determine the outcome of the expedition.
Background: Born and brought up in County Derry, Northen Ireland, Gary was enjoying anything that moved - the faster the better - even before leaving school at 15. "We used to build soapbox carts, and tow prams around behind motorbikes, it was all good fun!" Quickly graduating to help look after his cousin's racing Mini and brother-in-law's racing bikes, he was always involved with mechanical things, gaining the experience and skills he would need later, in the garage and paddock rather than the classroom.
"It was a hobby, not a job, but then I came to the UK in 1972 to work in a garage in Sevenoaks. The father of one of the guys there worked at Brands Hatch, and so I went along. There were these guys working on Formula 5000 cars, and somebody told me they were paid to do so! This was everything I had ever wanted, so I thought ÔWhy not?', and applied for a job at Brabhams. I got two letters back: one from Colin Seeley, who ran Brabhams then, saying ÔSorry, we haven't got any vacancies'; the other was from Bernie Ecclestone offering me a job. Motor racing is not much less confusing today!"
"Initially I worked on the production racecars, and then moved to the Formula 1 team. I worked pretty hard, and was greatly encouraged by Gordon Murray. Gordon was the biggest instigator of my trying to achieve something; he is a nice guy, very open minded. In those days you could get that sort of encouragement from someone like Gordon - it's pretty rare now.
"I look back and would have liked to have had a better education, but it wasn't possible as my family was not well off. As the years have passed I have picked up the experience I have needed. Nowadays there are a lot of bright young guys, with good educations, but no experience. If you can knit the two together you get the very best package."
Whilst at Brabham, Gary dramatically modified a BT38 into what was to become the first Anson, the SA1. Racing in F3 and Formula Libre, he won his first race and went pretty well until he started to come up against the really quick drivers. Thereafter he left the driving to others while concentrating on the car.
"It was the worst way to go racing. We built the car ourselves, as it was the cheapest way, not really knowing what we had got, and we spent a lot of time trying to get the money together. Good fun though. With Dick Parsons driving, and some Unipart sponsorship, we were pretty competitive against the works Marches."
The Unipart connection led Gary to join Maurice Nunn's Ensign team in 1979, following a spell as Chief Mechanic at McLaren. "I'd known Maurice for a long time and with Unipart, Regazzoni, Nigel Bennett and Ralf Bellamy the potential looked good. When it started, however, everything was late and I found that hard, as I am a pretty determined person and don't like deadlines slipping by. Getting the car built was difficult as the team was very, very small, and we never really caught up with ourselves. Then Clay (Regazzoni) had his accident at Long Beach, when the titanium brake pedal broke. That was a sad time for everyone; I went and cut him out of the car, and we could see what had happened - the pedal was in two pieces.
"Clay's accident and his injuries really hurt me - being involved with a tool that can go and kill people. So I decided to step back for a while. I started my own company - Anson - manufacturing components for Formula 1 cars. Formula 1 was growing dramatically then and teams weren't big enough to cope. We made skirts (until the Technical Regulations changed and they were banned) and other parts. Gradually the teams built themselves up to make these parts in house and the business declined. Instead we decided to have a go at building a Formula 3 car.
"Once again we never had proper funding, but over the years we won three Championships before we stopped in 1985. It was sad really, as the Ô85 cars were good. I was a bit naive in believing some people who promised to finance the whole thing so that I could get on with designing the cars, but it never happened."
Racing Ansons in the USA gave Gary the contacts to go Indycar racing with Galles Racing, working with Roberto Moreno, whom he rates very highly indeed. Faced with the decision of whether to set up home in the USA and become American, Gary decided to return to the UK. He joined Bromley Motorsports, a Formula 3000 team set up by Ron Salt, running a Ralt in 1987 and winning the Championship with Roberto Moreno, in a Reynard, in 1988 - the most satisfying year of his career to date.
1989 saw Gary in a proper drawing office environment at Reynard, working with qualified design engineers for the first time. The qualities he displayed and the respect he earned were such that two of these "proper" designers chose to follow Gary when Eddie Jordan invited him to help set up his Grand Prix team the following year.
I talked to Gary as he was starting the first holiday he had taken in six years. He had also just spent the British GP watching it on TV at home, in spite of being close enough to Silverstone to actually hear the cars. It became clear as we talked that Jordan was in the process of preparing itself for the final push towards its goal of winning the World Championship. While organisational changes were being put in place, and a stronger management structure built, Gary had taken the time off to think through his own role and to plan the technical strategy, away from the relentless, day-to-day demands of the Formula 1 racing season.
"The big thing as you get bigger, is that you have more people doing specific things. For instance, at the track there is a guy gathering all the data together, and when you want something you say to him ÔLook at such and such', and he goes away and comes back with an answer. It's more efficient and quicker than sitting down to do it oneself. To be honest it's a bit sad that it has gone this way as when you do look you find a lot of things that make you think, ÔIf only I had looked a bit earlier'.
"I'm not dictatorial, we all join in the design of the car. I'm a doer rather than a man manager, and I want to actually do things myself as I really enjoy it. When we first assemble a prototype gearbox I'm down there helping to build it. That way you learn the pitfalls of the build - how to do it quicker, better. I find it easier than doing it at a distance.
"After 25 years of doing every part of the job, from wielding a spanner to a pencil, I know how a small change can affect the time it takes to change ratios. On all the cars we have done at Jordan, it takes only 30-35 minutes to change the engine. That counts for a lot at a race, particularly when there is limited use of spare cars. It makes for more time spent checking everything over - though sometimes I suspect it also makes for more time in the bar at the end of the day!"
"When Jordan started, just three of us set about designing and building the first car from February to November in 1990. For a team that had nothing, no drawing office or factory, it shows what can be done with very little. The car was a reasonable little car - the Ford HB had good torque, and it was easy to drive. That first year was OK, we did what we knew how to do, but then we moved on. In Ô92 and Ô93 we adapted to working with an under-developed works engine - the Yamaha - and electronics.
"The HB spoiled us in Ô91 - it started, it went, it did everything. We based all our knowledge on that year, heat rejection etc. The Yamaha had a lot of power, at times, and was very unreliable, at times. You didn't know what you had got really. It was quite big, heavy and had a peaky power performance. It was all a big learning curve for us. If the sun came out we lost 2 seconds a lap, just because we lost 200 rpm through a corner and the engine fell into the hole in the torque curve. Stefena Modena summed it up perfectly one day when he said: ÔIt's like driving a sewing machine: it's going along and all buzzing around you, it feels good, but if someone put their finger on the nose it would stop! It has no weight, no muscle.'
"For Mexico, Yamaha built special engines, with such high compression that their engineers wouldn't allow us to start them in the workshop at sea-level. When we got to the race, everything went pretty well as normal - badly. On the warm-up lap for the race both engines failed - we started one driver in the spare car and the other just tried to see how far he could get.
"Back in the UK we went testing at Pembrey and took one of the engines in the spare car. We were told we couldn't use it but we took it as a spares' pool. After half a day we had failed the test car engine and rather than waste the rest of the day, we finally persuaded Yamaha to run the super high-compression engine. A day and a half later it was still running, it never missed a beat - it was a rocket as well! We never saw another one though....."
"In Ô93 and Ô94 we struggled a bit with electronics. We had a deal with Lucas for the engine and gearbox management systems. They are a company with tremendous expertise in electronics, but no Formula 1 experience and we never really knew what was going on. During both years we had an intermittent problem with the gearbox control, where it kept cutting out for no apparent reason. It got so bad we fitted a Reset button on the dash, so the drivers could start it all up again from scratch, whenever it cut out. It got so bad that we took the car to Rover's EMC cell and fired all sorts of radio frequencies at it, anything we could to make it stop. We spent a whole day there without it stopping once, and were just about to pack up when Andrew Green, our Race Engineer, hit the box with a roll of tank tape, probably out of frustration. It promptly stopped dead! We then discovered that one of the chips was mounted in a multi-pin socket - not soldered in at all. We never knew. It was a bit sad, but it was a good cheap deal."
The partnership with Peugeot has changed all that. Peugeot has the where withal, the facilities and the track record in other spheres of racing, to do the job. Renault's announced withdrawal from Formula 1 at the end of 1997 is a two edged sword for Jordan. The aspirants to the throne that Renault will vacate are already jostling for position. Jumping into the back of the best car for 1998 may not guarantee ascension; forging the right combination of chassis, engine and driver in 1997 may be a better approach. One thing Jordan knows for sure is that Peugeot have demonstrated their capabilities to the extent that virtually all teams, other than Ferrari and probably McLaren, are talking to them. Jordan has precious little time left to convince the ambitious French company that their best option is to stay with them after the end of next year.
"We, Jordan and Peugeot, have been going down two roads up to now. In future we have to form a relationship towards a common goal; we should have done that from the start. Now we are trying to do so and it will be very beneficial to both parties if we succeed. They are very genuine people; the engine is a very good package - good power, but could be more driveable. I don't know where it ranks overall as power numbers are completely mythical. Top speeds can be misleading too; we have always built efficient cars - that's what it's all about. I would gladly give up 20-25 bhp for more bottom end. They have done a very, very good job though, and can do even more. I think a more focused, unified relationship with Jordan will benefit Peugeot, and that's one thing we have to do."
"There are 7 of us in the Drawing Office, and 4 go to races. That doesn't leave enough to maintain the effort on development and new cars, and it's the same in other areas. We have to take on more people, and I know I am partly to blame as I tend to be cautious about taking on new people until I am absolutely sure they are right. We have expanded quite a bit during the last year and we haven't got the management structure to cope; the extra people are not productive as no-one really knows who manages what. We get through OK, but things come together at the last minute and you can't expand with a system like that. What we have got works, but it isn't big enough. Now we have to spend money for tomorrow, to put in place what's needed to make a bigger, more productive organisation work. That's Eddie's job and that's what he is doing at the moment.
"These are the two main things that are stopping Jordan from winning. Winning is something that is important to everyone in Formula 1, but there are not many winners; it's very hard. How you win is what matters. We need to take steady steps in the right direction. One win in 50 races is not good enough. When you qualify regularly in the top four, and can win with Damon Hill second and Schumacher third, then you are getting there. Once you start to win you must be strong enough to continue. The final ingredient needed is total team dedication to winning.
"The whole company, technical partners, sponsors and drivers have to be totally committed. This is where the top drivers - Senna, Prost, Mansell, Schumacher - make the difference. They pull the team together and motivate them with their own burning desire to win. If you went onto the grid, at two o'clock on a Sunday afternoon, and asked most of the drivers: ÔWhy are you here? What is the real reason for you being in the car?' very few of them could answer you.
"Rubens qualified second in Brazil, raced and passed Alesi and Schumacher - at least had a go. If he could do it then, lifted by the Brazilian crowd, why can't he do it more often? This year about 90% of the cars have an instability under braking, and yet neither of our drivers have spun because of it. I would have thought they should have done.....
"They don't seem to have the Ônothing else matters' type of hunger."
Gary has earned the reputation of being a very individual designer, not given to copying others unless he feels he really understands what they have done and that it is fundamentally right. He admits that he prefers a role where he can be directly involved in the creative process, and is not adverse to using his own hands to do so, whether it is designing, prototype build or race engineering. The later is the role he enjoys most and is frustrated by the need to step back and take on that of "Race Engineer Adviser" at race meetings.
Having experienced Clay Regazzoni's accident at Long Beach, first hand, he is totally committed to safety. Barrichello's crash at Imola in 1994 subjected him to the same strong feelings again.
"I put as much effort as is physically possible into the safety of the car. I never compromise safety in any way. If he didn't drive for us, he would drive for someone else - the guy's a racing driver after all. I can't ensure that an other car is as safe as ours, so I do the best I can."
The most successful teams in Formula 1 at the moment have strong engineering duos running them:- Patrick Head and Adrian Newey at Williams, and Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne at Benetton. One engineering supremo and one creative master. This combination of flair, experience, methodical engineering, long-termism and technical organisation capability, blended into a working relationship, seems to be what it takes to be successful in the current climate. Ferrari and McLaren do not have such dyads in place.
Jordan has reached the point where it becomes impossible for one man to take on both roles. At Williams and Benetton, the engineering and organisational responsibility is the senior position. Gary thrives in the creative role. Eddie Jordan must resolve this dilemma, providing Gary with the freedom and space to do what he excels at, whilst supporting him with in-depth engineering backup and management. Somehow he must not inhibit the obvious creative talent that has been developed over the last 25 years.
Gary's relaxation is taken at the helm of his narrow boat, cruising the canals. "I would like to design and build some, one day when there's time." It is the perfect environment for contemplative thought, both about his future and about Jordan's. Whether he can extend his reputation beyond "the designer who does the most with the least" to join those who have made it to the summit, will depend largely upon the decisions made within Jordan Grand Prix in the final months of 1996.
I hope he can, for Ireland's sake, as well as his own.