How Ireland's Jordan Team Made F1 History With Their First Race Win

By Eoin Harrington

On Sunday August 30th 1998, 11 weeks after Michael Jordan won his final NBA title, an entirely different Jordan would have their first triumph, in ever so slightly different circumstances across the Atlantic Ocean.

The Irish Jordan Grand Prix team were set up by Dublin businessman and ex-racing driver Eddie Jordan in 1990, with the intention to join Formula 1 in 1991. They would do so and, in doing so, become Ireland's first - and to date only - F1 team.

Jordan came with an effervescent spirit, and their devil-may-care attitude spread as far as allowing media into hitherto inaccessible areas, to their brazen and bold livery choices. The whole time, Eddie Jordan (known by many in F1 spheres as 'EJ') was the head honcho, leading the Irish spirit which defined the team's 15-year stay at the pinnacle of motorsport.

It was not just the image and commercial side of the team which gained a trailblazing reputation - during Jordan's first few years in the sport, the team would gain a reputation for giving young drivers their first shot in the sport.

Among those given their first F1 race seat by Jordan were Northern Ireland's Eddie Irvine, Brazil's Rubens Barrichello, and a spritely young German by the name of Michael Schumacher, in the team's typically trailblazing livery inspired by sponsor 7Up.

By 1998, Irvine and Schumacher (now a two-time world champion) were with Ferrari, while Barrichello had moved on to Stewart.

Schumacher's brother Ralf was paired with 1996 world champion Damon Hill at Jordan, who had solidified their place as one of the leading midfield teams on the grid, with an aim to push on further.


Jordan had come close to winning a race in their first years in F1. Rubens Barrichello had started on pole at Spa in 1994, and had run in the top three at Donington until his car failed at the 1993 European Grand Prix.

Perhaps the closest they had come was the 1997 German Grand Prix, where Giancarlo Fisichella led for a portion of the race and seemed to be in contention for the race win before a puncture pulled him into the pits.

The 1998 Formula 1 season ultimately proved to be the birth of the greatest ever period of success for Jordan - and, therefore, Ireland - in Formula 1.


To mark the 25th anniversary of Jordan's legendary victory at that season's Belgian Grand Prix, spoke to Mark Gallagher - a veteran of the team of nearly a decade by 1998 - to get the inside track of just how Jordan managed to claim that first ever race win at Spa.

READ HERE: Will We Ever See Another Irish Formula 1 Team?

How Jordan won the 1998 Belgian GP - by those who made it happen

Mark Gallagher, who had been there from the very beginning in 1990 and had taken a role on the management board at Jordan by the 1998 season, told us that the Irish identity was something which set Jordan apart from their competitors on the grid, and the friendliness which came with their Irishness was essential to the team's identity:


It would be quite amusing to sit in a management meeting at Jordan because you have Gary Anderson from Coleraine, you have Eddie from Dublin, you had Richard O'Driscoll our CFO who was a Cork man, and you had John ‘Boy’ Walton from Dublin in the team. John was tragically lost to us at the age of only 47.

We used to sometimes joke we had a bunch of Irish guys with 250 English people working for them...we took Eddie's personality and Irishness and made that part our brand...Jordan was a welcoming, friendly team.

It also gave us a very interesting position within Formula One overall, because not many teams have a national identity. Everyone thinks of Ferrari as being this quintessentially Italian team - Jordan was seen as being this quintessentially Irish team, with a lot of things akin with that. We would have quite a bit of fun with it.

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Bar two seasons of teething at the outset of their time in Formula 1, results had been remarkably consistent for Jordan in the early years of their time in the sport. Coming into 1998, they made the headline signing of '96 champion Damon Hill to bring some well-needed experience into the team.

Gallagher told us that Briton Hill had been brought into the team for his "maturity and his knowledge as a world champion of what you need to do in order to win."

Hill's teammate was Ralf Schumacher - perhaps lost somewhat in the shadow of his then twice world champion brother Michael, but himself a fiercely quick and talented racer.

The early season in 1998 had seen Jordan struggle but, after the departure of Gary Anderson mid-season, Mike Gascoyne coordinated a change in focus of the car design. Gascoyne spoke to this week, and says that he prioritised improving the balance of the car at high-speed - something which would prove crucial at Spa. Results picked up fast, and Jordan began to score points regularly from the start of the summer run of European races, with Hill finishing P4 in both Germany and Hungary.

When the drivers arrived at Spa for round 13 of the world championship, Hill was P9 in the world championship, two points ahead of his teammate Schumacher in P10.

It was Hill qualifying lap in Belgium to secure P3 on the grid, however, that Mark Gallagher thinks sums up just how good the Englishman was, and how vital it was that Jordan had signed him for 1998:

To my mind, the focus of that weekend needs to start with how well the team did in qualifying, and particularly Damon Hill.

I remember thinking at the time, 'this is a special moment,' sitting in the garage watching him set his sector times at the same time as Michael [Schumacher]. They were separated by maybe 300-400 metres.

Michael's in the Ferrari...I remember after sector two, Damon was down on Michael. We were anticipating maybe P4 or P5. And then, in that final sector...Damon made up a ton of time on Michael and beat him by several tenths of a second over that last sector.

If anyone ever wants to say to me, 'Damon's not as good as Michael,' or, 'the Jordan's not as good as the Ferrari' - there's an example of same lap, same day, same conditions, and Damon did a better job.

I was a big Michael Schumacher fan, but appreciated the job that Damon did - there's Damon bringing the benefit of that experience and focus that he had from winning the world championship.

Hill lined up P3 at Spa, with teammate Ralf Schumacher in P8 and brother Michael just behind Hill in fourth.

What those with limited knowledge of F1 might not know about Spa-Francorchamps is that it is the longest track on the season's calendar, and is situated at the heart of Belgium's Ardennes Forest. This not only makes it a magnificent sight to behold of majestic, sweeping, high-speed track through a point of immense natural beauty - it also means that the track is often inundated with rain.

That was the case in 1998, and the rain was pouring down heavily as the race got underway.

Hill made a poor start from P4, dropping back to P7 into turn one, as Jacques Villeneuve and the two Ferraris made lightning starts behind him.

Northern Irishman Irvine would go toe-to-toe with David Coulthard into turn one, pushing the Scot wide onto a drain cover, spinning Coulthard's McLaren. The rest, as they say...

READ HERE: Balls Remembers: Jordan's Last Ever F1 Race Win

13 of the 22 drivers who started the race were caught up in the worst first-lap pileup in modern F1 history, as Coulthard's out-of-control McLaren careered across the circuit and caused mayhem behind.


Look closely in the above clip, however, and you'll notice the two Jordans slipping through without picking up any damage whatsoever. Jordan were one of only two teams not to sustain any damage in the pandemonium - something both Gallagher and technical director Mike Gascoyne told us brought great relief.

The race would take almost an hour to restart, with four drivers (including Barrichello and Max Verstappen's father Jos) unable to take the restart as a result of the initial pileup.

Gallagher believes that the calm of the race suspension in the Jordan garage aided Damon Hill, and it certainly showed, as he made a sensational start to jump into the lead.

Despite his remarkable start, and Michael Schumacher being caught up in an incident with championship rival Mika Hakkinen at the restart, the Ferrari would claim the lead on lap nine and, by the time he came to lap David Coulthard in the McLaren (enduring a torrid afternoon) on lap 25, he was over 40 seconds clear of Hill in second place.

It's remarkable that a 13-car pileup mightn't even be the second most noteworthy incident of Spa 1998, as what happened next has gone down in F1 infamy.

READ HERE: QUIZ: Can You Name All Of The Jordan F1 Drivers?

If you thought Sunday's Dutch Grand Prix was wet, the above clip should give an insight into just how treacherous the conditions were at Spa in '98, and Schumacher (comma M) was completely unsighted as he collided heavily with the back of Coulthard's McLaren, forcing both cars to retire from the race.

The drama did not end there, as a livid Schumacher jumped out of his car and stormed to the McLaren garage, accusing Coulthard of trying to kill him as he was restrained by mechanics of his own team and the Scot's.

Amid all the chaos, Hill had taken the lead. Mark Gallagher said that the team were calm in the face of what looked like their best ever shot at a race win - and, yet again, attributes much of that calmness to the presence of Damon Hill:

When Michael hit trouble and then Damon took the lead, there was no kind of 'oh my goodness, what are we going to do now?' For Damon, it was entirely natural to be leading a Grand Prix. That was something he was familiar with.

For the team on the pitwall...for sure, there was a moment of excitement - but you have to bear in mind, by '98 the team had finished second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, we'd had double podiums - we'd done everything except win a Grand Prix. There was a slight feeling of, 'we're going to crack it sooner rather than later.'

A safety car was brought out to marshal the mere six drivers remaining in the race after the unprecedented carnage.

When the race restarted, there was more drama for Jordan to deal with, as Ralf Schumacher moved into second, and displayed more impressive pace than Hill in the lead (by almost three seconds a lap), threatening to overtake for the lead. Hill communicated with Jordan on the team radio to politely "suggest" that they employ team orders to prevent them risking both first and second should the drivers collide while racing for the lead - a suggestion heeded by Eddie Jordan and his team.

Schumacher reluctantly obliged, and the two cars held station, but Gallagher said that it added an unexpected spanner in the works:

That led to the tense moment where we had to deploy team orders - and quite correctly, because we needed to protect that result.

It was a very common sense decision. The reality is, when you look at it from Ralf's perspective - and Michael Schumacher made his views clear on what happened, he was furious that the team deployed team orders...that was easy for Michael to say, because he's not running the team, and hasn't been through nine years of putting everything on the line. That is what Eddie had done to build that team up to where it was.

I remember thinking when Damon came on the radio, thinking 'that's just him being sensible. He's not only leading the race, he's trying to lead the team to victory.'

Schumacher did ultimately hold firm in second place - though the rift with the team may have contributed to his departure to Williams for the 1999 season.

By the time the cars began their 44th and final lap, it was still Damon Hill leading Ralf Schumacher. Mark Gallagher reveals to us, however, that he had missed a huge chunk of the race, as he couldn't handle the stress of their impending victory:

With about 20 minutes of the race remaining, we were leading and I just couldn't cope with it. I was in the garage and I literally couldn't cope with the tension.

To me, because I didn't have a technical job during the race, and all the sponsors were there - incredibly, we had the chief executives of all our major sponsors there for that race.

I looked at the lap times, and worked out how many laps were left and multiplied them, and realised that I needed to go for a walk for 15 minutes. That's what I did, I went for a walk, I didn't watch the last 15 minutes of the race until the very final lap.

I timed it perfectly, I went for a walk, kept an eye on my watch, could hear the cars going past, and by the time I got back to the garage, it was the last lap and we were still running 1-2.

Hill crossed the line to win for the 22nd and final time in Formula One as a driver - and Jordan were Grand Prix winners for the very first time. The scenes of elation in the Jordan garage epitomised a truly special moment - which couldn't even be spoiled by the race organisers' failure to play the Irish national anthem on the podium.

F1 regulations dictate that the anthem of both the winning driver and winning team shall be played on the podium post-race.

Though Jordan were registered as an Irish team, their team owner was Irish, and many of their managing staff were Irish, the team's HQ was at Silverstone in England and, thus, the bigwigs at Spa in 1998 misinterpreted this as meaning that they were registered as a British team.

This meant that, once 'God Save the Queen' was played, 'Amhrán na bhFiann' was skipped altogether - leading to something of a fallout between Eddie Jordan and the FIA.

In fairness, there are less politically insensitive mistakes to make.

The journey to Spa 1998 had been a long and emotional one, and Mark Gallagher comments that he was bitterly disappointed that crucial players such as Gary Anderson were no longer with the team to celebrate on that fateful day in Belgium.

It was an emotional day, and Eddie Jordan could be seen dancing down the pitlane in celebration. Gallagher tells us that he knew just how much the victory would mean, after all that Jordan had done to bring his team to the top:

It was in Monza in 1990 that I literally handed out A4 press releases to the media announcing that Jordan Grand Prix was going to compete in Formula 1 in 1991. That was our first press release about the team. A month and a half later, we had the first car rolling with John Watson test driving it...then we had that first season in F1, which was an incredible thing.

I'd been there right at the beginning, and knew just how much - or at least I thought I knew just how much Eddie had been through. I don't think anyone really knows how much Eddie and Marie Jordan had been through to create that team.

As a family, they were well off by anyone's standards. By the time we came into F1, Eddie had been running a very successful driver management programme and a very successful racing team. He had a nice house in Oxford, he had a nice house in Spain, he had a good life.

He put all of that on the line to do Formula 1. Here we are, eight years later, and we're on the cusp of winning a Grand Prix. I knew what that would mean to the team.

Will there ever be another privateer team who will take a debut win in that fashion?

With most of F1's biggest teams now associated with a major car brand or corporation (in reality, it is only Haas and Williams on the current grid who do not come into this category anymore), it's hard to see it.

What Gallagher points out to us is that it is most certainly hard to see anyone taking their first F1 win in quite the same manner as Jordan did at Spa in '98 - with a 1-2 finish, especially in a race where world champions aplenty fell foul of the atrocious conditions.

Simply put, the Jordan team ran an immaculate race from start to finish, on a day when almost all around them fell. A special moment in time for Irish sport.

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