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…
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. The team, their J191 car, and a certain driver named Michael Schumacher all arrived in the sport with a bang in 1991, and they did so with an incredibly beautiful and striking livery. Having tested a simple black-liveried car, Jordan turned heads when they arrived for the first race with a 7up title sponsorship deal and a gorgeous green and blue colour scheme.
The livery came about because Eddie Jordan essentially gave 7up a much cheaper deal than title sponsorship would normally have been worth – which was fantastic in terms of getting the team noticed, but did also unfortunately mean that the livery was destined to only last for a single year. There was no way Jordan would allow the same reduced rate for a second season – to do so would effectively bankrupt the team – and 7up were unwilling to up their fee either. So one season is all we got.
The livery appeared in a few different configurations over the course of the season, with Fujifilm, TicTac and Denim occupying the sidepod space at different times – and 7up subbing out for Pepsi in Japan. But even though the latter version, with blue airbox panels, didn’t work quite so well, nothing can really detract from how much of a masterpiece this car was.
The next set of liveries that Jordan ran may not have been as instantly iconic as the 7up design, but the arrival of South African oil giant Sasol did give the team a stable and harmonious title sponsor partnership for three years – and furthermore, in the first season of their arrangement, the livery was actually another really strong one. The corporate blue of Sasol blends well with the turquoise splashes, and a third accent colour of red (seemingly there to accomodate the branding of Philips Car Stereos) gives the team a distinctive identity, one that filtered through to their team uniforms, too.
If there’s a part that doesn’t really work so well, it’s the off-white used on the sidepods to accomodate tobacco brand Barclay. With their brown-lettered logo to boot, something just feels a bit off about that section, and it would surely have been better in a pure white. It’s worth noting, incidentally, that Barclay signed up with the team prior to Sasol – so there was a point at which we might have had a green and white Jordan for ’92 instead.
The 1993 car made red a more integral part of the colour scheme by extending all the way down the nose, while adding a triangular turquoise section to the nose tip. While still fundamentally the same colours, however, there’s something slightly less aesthetically pleasing about this scheme – perhaps it’s the bulkier lines of the car that just don’t suit the livery as well as the tighter 1992 version had.
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 saw the end of Jordan’s association with Sasol, as a new engine deal with Peugeot began, and with it came the stipulation for heavy branding from fuel partner Total. The team actually had two cracks at producing a livery in 1995, with the first not proving hugely successful – blending a darker blue than before with stripes of yellow, red and white, it was a bit of an unholy mess that didn’t really have a clear identity one way or the other.
After the two opening flyaway races of the season, the team revised their livery from San Marino onwards, and it was an improvement – but still lacking in a clear central ethos. Turquoise was brought back to be the most predominant colour, with the stripes a bit more evenly proportioned. It’s not an ugly car, but there are a few too many colours at play at once, and far too many competing logos.
What the team needed was a brand new identity, something memorable, distinctive and iconic…
… which is exactly what they got a year later. Although not without a couple of false starts. When the team signed up Benson & Hedges as a new title sponsor, it seems that the initial plans were to merge the cigarette company’s classic gold with the existing turquoise and red of the 1995 car, which… well, if this design is anything to go by, we would have remembered it, but perhaps not for the right reasons.
As it was, though, B&H ended up taking over the car entirely – although they still didn’t quite get it right with their initial appearances. Worried that the classic B&H gold would make it difficult for sponsor logos to be visible on TV, the team initially painted the car in a mustard yellow colour that was disappointingly neither one thing nor the other.
After having the opportunity to see the car on track and on TV, however, the team’s graphic designer Ian Hutchinson was able to refine the colour scheme into something closer to the gold of a B&H packet without compromising on the ability to read logos.
Ultimately this version of the livery would only last for (less than) a single season, but it was a memorable and effective scheme.
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. 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.
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 their corporate red and orange. 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, 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.
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…
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.
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.
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 (with B&H being replaced for some races 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.