After the new season sped into life in Melbourne, Formula One personality Eddie Jordan tells Sam Price what he thinks the future holds for the sport under new owners Liberty Media
Dubai World Cup is renowned for pulling in a host of high-profile guests from the world of sport and beyond, and the 2017 edition was no exception, with Eddie Jordan one of the distinguished names in attendance. Staged on the same weekend as the opening Grand Prix of the season in Melbourne, it may have surprised some to see him in Dubai, but Jordan – a frequent visitor to the UAE over the course of a hugely successful career in motor sport – was glad he made the trip, and impressed by what he witnessed.
“The thing that struck me about Dubai World Cup, right from the moment we arrived, was that behind the scenes, it was exactly how you’d expect something slick, professional and tight to be run,” he told Vision Sport.
“The hospitality was amazing, and it was rounded off by one of the greatest closing ceremonies I’ve ever seen, whether that’s football World Cups, the Olympics, or Grand Prix’s. It was spectacular.”
Jordan is well-placed to comment on the organisation and fanfare of major sporting events, having been at the vanguard of Formula One for nearly 30 years, a period in which the sport has undergone major expansion to become the multi-billion dollar industry it is now, with races in 20 different countries over the course of a season.
After starting out as a driver himself, Jordan eventually set up his own team in Formula Three – a junior racing category seen as a stepping stone towards stardom – where he gained a reputation for discovering and bringing through young drivers. Future world champions Ayrton Senna, Eddie Irvine and Damon Hill were among those who were given an opportunity by Jordan, and their success inspired him to make the step up to Formula One in 1991, when his Jordan Grand Prix team handed a debut to Michael Schumacher, widely regarded as the greatest driver in the history of the sport.
“There were so many amazing young drivers,” he reflects. “That’s the thing that made me most proud about what Jordan did.
“And we were able to embrace not just the drivers, but also young, very talented race engineers, and you see them now at teams like Ferrari, McLaren, Williams and Force India – they’re all littered with ex-Jordan people. That’s what gives me the biggest thrill of all.”
The Irishman was known for ruffling the feathers of the more established constructors during his time on the Formula One circuit – a 14-year period which saw his team register four victories and 19 podium finishes – but also for clashing with the sport’s authoritarian chief executive Bernie Ecclestone.
A visionary who transformed Formula One from a minority pursuit into a lucrative global enterprise largely through the sale of broadcast rights, Ecclestone’s 40-year tenure was brought to an end in 2016 when the sport was sold in an US$8bn deal to Liberty Media. The American group took control ahead of the new season against a backdrop of declining television viewing figures, but Jordan believes the change in leadership can provide the sport with a timely boost.
“It had to change,” he says. “An 86-year-old man with that level of experience is brilliant, but his understanding and his take on what the modern era of sport requires is very different to what the person at homes needs to see.
He adds: “Liberty Media know what’s going on in the sports and media business, and Chase Carey is a wonderful CEO. They will go in a different direction – and probably a positive direction, because it will be more digital, more aware, and more focused on getting the message out there.”
Indeed, the new owners have promised to sell the sport as never before, using their expertise in promotion, digital rights and social media to take Formula One to new audiences across multiple platforms, while also bringing the drivers out of their cars and to the people, capitalising on their rich marketing potential.
The new era got off to an encouraging start in Australia, with nearly 300,000 fans attending the opening Grand Prix to see a revitalised Sebastian Vettel pull off a stunning victory for Ferrari, suggesting that the recent period of Mercedes dominance may be coming to an end under new, faster car regulations. Jordan is certainly excited.
“We could be in for a big surprise,” says the 69-year-old, who remains heavily involved in Formula One as a presenter of the sport’s British television coverage. “If you look at the statistics, the person who wins the first race [very often] goes on to win the World Championship. If that’s the indication, then Ferrari – and us [the viewers] – should have a very enjoyable season.”
With the Chinese Grand Prix up next, the Formula One campaign will twist and turn across the globe before reaching the UAE for November’s season-ending finale in Abu Dhabi – a circuit which Jordan believes has grown to become one of the most impressive on the calendar.
“I think Abu Dhabi has emerged as a real challenge to the hierarchy of Formula One’s best races,” he says. “Driving through a hotel is new and spectacular, the layout is good and it’s a perfect venue for the last race of the season.
“And the fact that it’s at night time with the lights adds a little bit of mystery to the whole thing.”
By the time the tyres screech and the engines growl for that climactic race, the potentially exciting direction of the sport under new leadership will also be more clearly illuminated.
The Chinese Grand Prix takes place in Shanghai on 9 April, followed by 18 more races culminating with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on 26 November