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JANUARY 5, 2001

Why are engineers leaving Jordan?

THE announcement that Jordan Grand Prix is to lose its chief designer Mark Smith to Benetton is the latest in a series of high-profile engineers who have left the Silverstone team. Smith has been a member of the design team since Jordan Grand Prix was established in 1990. Smith follows former Jordan technical director Mike Gascoyne and race engineer Dino Toso to Benetton, while Sam Michael left Jordan to go to a senior position at Williams.

There is little doubt that while there is often a "changing of the guard" at a team when a technical director departs, the departures at Jordan are an indication of other problems which the team is facing.

Jordan's original engineering team was built up by Gary Anderson in the course of the 1990s and consisted mainly of young engineers who were loyal to Anderson and learned from him. Anderson's role was redefined at the end of 1996 and the youngsters then began to depart with aerodynamicist Darren Davies departing to CART and his replacement Seamus Malarky soon disappearing to Sauber. They were followed by senior designer Andrew Green who moved to British American Racing. Anderson left the team in the middle of 1998 to join Jaguar after it became clear that Eddie Jordan was looking to Gascoyne for the future but Gascoyne's departure after just two years with the team left Jordan exposed. Attempts were made to hire arrows chief designer Egbahl Hamidy but at the moment that transfer is still on hold as Hamidy is locked into a contract at Arrows and Tom Walkinshaw is not famous for letting his men go easily. Hamidy says that he wants to join Jordan but at the moment he is not free to do so. Money will solve the problem but Walkinshaw is likely to demand a high price.

The underlying problem at Jordan appears to be that the team did not invest in a new factory early enough. The arrival of Benson & Hedges sponsorship in 1996 enabled the company to move from being a cottage industry to become a serious racing team. The Jordan factory was extended and important new machinery was acquired. The team's drawing office which started the 1996 season with a staff of eight ended the year with 20 engineers and the aerodynamic department doubled in size as Jordan bought the old march windtunnel in Brackley. But the engineers and management were soon complaining that more needed to be done to enable the team to compete at the highest level. It did not help matters that in 1997 the team made a profit of $7m on a turnover of $60m and then Eddie Jordan sold 40% of the team and raised $60m for himself. But there was no investment in a new factory, despite internal pressure for this to happen. The engineers felt frustrated that they could not achieve what they were capable of achieving because they did not have the equipment they needed to do the job properly.

It was not until August that Jordan applied for planning permission for a completely new factory to be built next to the existing facility. This means that the factory will not be built for a couple of years and it will be another year or so before the team gets a windtunnel to match those of the big teams.

Eddie Jordan has now realized the error of his ways but it is going to be a long rebuilding process and the advantage that the team hoped to have over rival Honda engine user British American Racing is by no means certain to be there. There are still some very good engineers at Jordan but faced with the wait for a new factory it may be that others will decide to depart as other offers come along. McLaren, Williams, Benetton, Arrows, BAR and Ferrari all have impressive facilities and windtunnels. Toyota is building a vast new F1 factory in Cologne and Jaguar is doing likewise at Silverstone. Prost has a new factory in Paris but still needs a good windtunnel while Sauber's original factory (built with Mercedes-Benz money) is still impressive even if the team is in desperate need of a windtunnel. Only poor Minardi has nothing much to commend it at the moment. Jordan may have achieved great things with limited resources in the past but it is not going to be so easy in the future.