Better late than never, eh? In an attempt to shift discussion on this site away from the various Lotus teams for once, let’s finally get around to something I originally planned to do about a year ago – the second of my Livery Histories posts, this time focusing on one of the most colourful and livery-orientated teams of the 1990s: Jordan Grand Prix.
The Jordan team brought a lot of excitement and character to F1 in the ’90s – and although perhaps their greatest legacy was the introduction of a startling array of driver talent to the sport (including a certain Schumacher M.), they’ll also be remembered by many for their assortment of memorable liveries, most notably the Benson & Hedges-themed cars of the late ’90s and early 2000s. But when they first arrived in the sport in 1991, the car looked very different…
1991 – 7-Up
Of course, this car needs no introduction – long-time readers of the site will already know that it’s my favourite Grand Prix livery of all time, so you can read my thoughts on it in a bit more detail in that link. A magnificent car, the J191 marked Jordan’s arrival into the sport with a bang, and instantly gave the team a distinctive and memorable visual identity. Which makes it all the more baffling that it only lasted for a single year…
1992-1994 – Sasol
The arrival of South African oil giant Sasol quickly put the kibosh on Jordan’s predominantly green livery, and their corporate blue instead dominated the car as of the 1992 season. Overall, it’s an interesting mix of colours, but it’s a little too dominated by the desire to keep a variety of sponsors happy – you’ve got the blue of Sasol, a red section that appears to accomodate Philips Car Stereos (but could just be there to add a dash of variety), and the cream/white sidepods of Barclay (a tobacco company who seemed to specialise in slapping that particular colour scheme on the side of cars no matter what the rest of the paint job looked like). I suspect the turquoise pattern is the remaining shred of Jordan-esque individuality, and it works nicely with the blue – but I don’t think the red offsets it all particularly well, and I reckon the car could do without it.
The livery was tweaked slightly for Jordan’s horrendous 1993 season, and already you can see evidence of the car being dominated by an increasing number of smaller sponsors, making for an overall rather cluttered experience. The major change is that red was made a more significant part of the scheme, stretching down the nose cone – but by this point the colour scheme was already starting to look a little tired. The ugly lines of the bulky ’93 car – as opposed to the sleeker ’91/’92 efforts – didn’t help matters, of course.
Barclay were gone for 1994, but the overall scheme remained. The sidepods were now white rather than cream – a significant improvement – and were enhanced by bringing the turquoise down onto them in a sweeping pattern. Otherwise, though, the car continued to be cluttered with a variety of logos – although a good addition was the use of green for the “Visit Ireland” banner (which also, amusingly, was changed to read “Ireland 1 Italy 0” after the football team’s World Cup success). A less pleasing change came partway through the season when the top of the airbox was changed from white-on-red to yellow-on-black to fit a new sponsor – symptomatic of early ’90s slapdash “throw the sponsors on” design.
1995 – Total
Although Sasol’s association with the team ended at the end of 1994, the multi-coloured scheme remained with new sponsor Total in 1995 – albeit with changed proportions. Red returned to the airbox, but was limited there – with white replacing it as the dominant colour along the nose. A darker shade of turquoise was also now in greater quantity, more equal to the original blue. And there was a new addition, in the shape of a yellow patch at the top of the nose. Unfortunately, this striped concoction made for an even less distinctive identity for the team, and it was clear a change was needed…
1996 – Benson & Hedges I
… which is exactly what the team got a year later. What’s interesting is that there were apparently plans to mix new title sponsor Benson & Hedges with the existing red of Total and the turquoise that had become the car’s main feature the previous year – this leaked artwork shows off the bizarre combination, and I honestly can’t figure out whether it would have looked great or terrible if applied to the real car. As it was, though, B&H ended up taking over the car entirely – first in a yellowy-gold shade, and then after the first handful of races, a switch to a full-on gold design. Although gold had shown up on F1 cars in the ’70s and ’80s, this was its first appearance in some time – and it set the team apart from the rest quite spectacularly. In a more television-dominated era, however, it was perhaps too dark a shade to really work effectively, particularly in terms of picking out sponsor names from the bodywork.
1997 – Benson & Hedges II (The Snake)
If there’s a particularly interesting aspect of Jordan’s livery history, it’s that they’re perhaps the only team to stick with a particular sponsor for a significant period of time – and yet, rather than settling on a single livery based around that sponsor, changing to a distinct design every year. After the gold experiment of ’96, the team ushered in a new era in 1997 with this dramatic design – kicking off a number of trends in the process. First was the choice of yellow, which would now become the team’s colour for the rest of its existence. Secondly was the use of a variety of ways of getting around using the B&H name at tobacco-banned races – in this instance, using “Bitten & Hisses” instead. And that brings us to the third standout feature of this car – the snake. Nothing quite like it had ever been seen on an F1 car before, and although it was only around for one season, it made this livery one of the most memorable of its era (indeed, I know a few readers were surprised that it didn’t make it into my Top 25 – and in retrospect, perhaps it should have!) On the whole, the snake aside, it’s a simple yet effective car – the primary colours of yellow, black and red work well together – and it’s easy to see why the team fell so easily into having this as their defining colour scheme for years to come.
1998-2000 – Benson & Hedges III (The Hornet)
After the huge success of the ’97 “snake” car, things got a bit more complicated the following year. MasterCard were now onboard as a major sponsor (following the collapse of the Lola project in ’97) and although initially this meant a smart blue contrasting airbox design (replacing the red of Total, who had moved on as fuel sponsor with the end of the team’s Peugeot deal) at launch and for the first couple of races, this was soon changed to the red and orange seen at left. It was at this point that the car started to become a little cluttered again, however – orange, although a colour that worked for both MasterCard and Repsol, threw out the balance that the ’97 car had had, and the new “hornet” design that replaced the snake was perhaps a little too busy around the nose area.
Things took a much more promising turn in 1999 for a team newly-confident after Hill had scored their maiden victory at Spa and they prepared to consolidate their place as the #3 team. The nose was dramatically improved, removing all the black background from the tip and instead featuring a lovely, swooping plain yellow – complete with that old favourite of mine, large race numbers. The airbox area was simplified, too – no more contrasting cover, instead simply pure yellow from top to bottom (at least until later in the season, when the black background of Zepter came along to mess things up), although the branding of the team name on the engine cover is intriguing, since this is way before the time when sponsorship deals would become difficult to come by. Overall, though, this was a much smarter, tidier and classier (love the detail of the gold headrest) car than the previous year’s, and is probably my favourite Jordan besides the ’91 effort.
The hornet proved popular enough to last a third year, with almost exactly the same nose design adorning the really rather oddly angular 2000 car. Indeed, despite fitting very different chassis lines, the 2000 livery was almost identical to the previous year’s – albeit with a slightly brighter shade of yellow, continuing the trend of shifting away year-on-year from the more orangey shade of the ’97 car. The major changes came with the sponsors, as Benson & Hedges’ typeface changed to a more “futuristic”, blocky font; and Deutsche Post came onboard in a great example of a new major sponsor conveniently fitting in with an existing colour scheme.
2001 – Benson & Hedges IV (The Shark)
2000 had been a disappointing season for Jordan, however, and in 2001 the team’s identity was given an overhaul yet again – the hornet was dropped, and replaced by a shark. This meant farewell to the jagged black lines over the sidepods and engine cover, replaced with a swooping “fin” design instead. The car also took on its brightest, most fluorescent shade yet. It really wasn’t a particularly successful effort, however – all of a sudden the sponsor logos had begun to look cluttered (the re-sized Deutsche Post logos throw out the balance somewhat, and moving MasterCard to the sidepod was a mistake), and for the first time the B&H “animal” themed designs started to feel tired, rather than exciting (even down to the tobacco-substitution text, “Bitten Heroes”). But change was around the corner…
2002 – DHL
Although B&H continued to sponsor the team in 2002, they were no longer Jordan’s primary sponsor – that honour instead fell to Deutsche Post’s express mail division, DHL. As such, a much more plain and sparse car features no nose animal, and B&H logos only on its nose, and front and rear wings. The side of the car is given over to a big red DHL logo on the sidepod – which actually works quite well – and a text-free Deustche Post mark on the engine cover. It’s quite a smart car, but all of a sudden Jordan went from being a team at the front of the grid with sponsors falling over one-another to get on the car, to looking like an outfit in serious trouble.
2003-2004 – Jordan Ford
But if the car looked sparse in 2002, it was nothing compared to the 2003 car. A team that had once had glitzy, high-profile launches in the late ’90s now rolled out their car at Silverstone in an almost entirely plain yellow colour scheme. For the first time in their history, Jordan didn’t have a title sponsor. This was largely due to the collapse of a planned deal with Vodafone – but even so, it was somewhat shocking that there was no-one in the wings waiting to take their place, with DHL/Deutsche Post having scarpered as well. Benson & Hedges were still around – and in the absence of anyone else, restored to a black patch on the sidepod – but with anti-tobacco regs gaining steam, they didn’t have the enthusiasm to put themselves back up as title sponsors. A couple of logos drifted on and off the car over the course of the year (most notably plugging a Chinese TV channel and the upcoming Shanghai F1 circuit), but by now Jordan (despite Fisichella’s shock win in Brazil) looked like real back-of-the-grid merchants.
Interestingly, the EJ13 did once make an appearance in a different colour scheme that might have been a new way forward for the team’s livery had things worked out differently. Blue had already been introduced to the car in 2003 courtesy of the Ford logo on the airbox, but when Ralph Firman turned up to drive the car in an exhibition at the Macau GP that year, it featured extensive branding from cigarette companie Sobranie – and the blue background used actually worked really well, giving character to an otherwise plain and uninspired car. Sobranie would later sponsor the team in their last season, but the colour scheme wasn’t used that time – a shame, as it was quite distinctive.
For 2004, meanwhile, Jordan’s sponsorless run continued. B&H were still there in spirit, and Trust were added to the car – with black making a comeback as a dominant sidepod colour again – but the team were reduced to making race-by-race deals for the coveted engine cover spot, while the sidepod was usually given over either to the team’s name, or – at the start of the year – the message “Lazarus”, which wasn’t even a sponsor, but rather a message from Eddie Jordan that the team was making a comeback “from the dead”. Sadly, this would prove to be far from the case.
2005 – Jordan Toyota
With Ford pulling out of F1 (yet again), Jordan were only saved by a late customer engine deal with Toyota – but by the time the 2005 season began, a major change had occurred as the team was no longer owned by Eddie. Having sold up to the Midland group, it was too late to change the team’s name for 2005 – so this would be the last year they would run as Jordan, and in the famous yellow colour scheme (despite the fact that Benson & Hedges had finally ended their decade-long association with the team, replaced instead by Sobranie). Having the main colours again be yellow, black and red harked slightly back to the ’97 car – but the pattern used for the red-on-black Tata-inspired sections didn’t feel quite right, and nor did having the drivers’ first names in large orange-red letters on the sidepods.
It was a sad end to Jordan’s colourful history, and having had some of the most memorable and inspired liveries of the ’90s, it was a shame to see them pretty much going through the motions – each year sticking with yellow simply because they’d used it the year before – in their final seasons. The teams that would follow would subsequently go through their own identity crises – Midland running in a dull grey/white/red livery, before selling up after a year to Spyker; the team then ran in orange before the sale to Force India, who had a terrible design for their first couple of seasons before finally settling on a strong, distinctive livery for 2009 onwards – but none have yet come close to capturing the imagination in the way that EJ’s boys did.