In the final part of this feature, Mark reflects on the aftermath of Spa ’91 and what it might have meant for Jordan Grand Prix had Michael stayed with the team.
“Post Spa, the things that were on our mind first and foremost were the strenuous efforts to try and get Bertrand out of prison.” Mark recalls. “Bertrand brought sponsorship to the team and it was important to Eddie that we kept that sponsorship – the best way to keep that sponsorship coming was to get Bertrand back in the car. The other thing after that weekend was that we realised if we couldn’t get Bertrand back in the car, the thing we would want to do was to continue with Michael.”
As Mark explains, no one expected the fall-out that followed and the timing of Michael’s exit caught them by surprise.
“I remember feeling quite shocked when I realised back at base that there was a question mark over Michael not being in the car for Monza. I assumed that Bertrand would either be released from prison and we would have him back, or Michael would be in the car. I remember speaking to Eddie when he told me ‘there’s a problem’ and I was really quite surprised.
“Of course, we were gobsmacked then to realise that he was heading towards Benetton, and that Benetton were trying to nick him from under Jordan’s nose, but that’s exactly what happened.”
After the disappointment of Andrea de Cesaris’ engine failure at Spa, the team’s attention had already switch to the next race; due to be held at Monza in Italy.
“The mood in the factory straight after the race was that Michael had done a great job, and we were excited to see what he could do in a full race. Going to Monza in low downforce configuration, we felt the car would probably be fantastic going around the Parabolica and through the chicanes because of that mechanical grip and the diffuser we had. There was a lot of excitement about the potential of the car at Monza.”
The team’s excitement at the prospect of seeing Schumacher drive at Monza was shortlived. Within the space of a few days, Benetton had swooped and stolen Schumacher from under their nose. Mark admits that he often wonders what would have happened had he stayed with the team.
“I think if Michael had finished the season with us, he still would have gone to a top team. I suspect the chance of going to an even better team than Benetton might have come his way because I do believe over the course of that season he would have scored some pretty outstanding results.”
Despite Andrea de Cesaris having almost won the Belgian Grand Prix, Jordan’s season kind of petered out after that weekend and the team failed to score another point all season. Mark explains the effect that the dispute with Benetton and eventual parting of ways with Michael had on Eddie and team.
“I think the parting of ways in 1991 really hurt Eddie, and it hurt the team.” says Mark. “We were less than euphoric at having lesser drivers offered to us like Roberto Moreno – and the reality is that the whole thing went from looking very promising after we got back from Spa to becoming a real piecemeal end to the year.”
“I’m not saying they had a difficult relationship but that period was certainly a bit of a downer on their relationship. There was also another downer of sorts when Ralf drove for us in 1998 because he was upset about the team orders in Spa when Damon won the race. Michael wasn’t happy about that and he came to see Eddie about it. There were a few words spoken, and Michael felt that Ralf had been compromised by the team. Quite frankly, Eddie was right to say it was none of Michael Schumacher’s business!”
In more recent times, Michael and Eddie have enjoyed a much closer relationship as Mark explains.
“I think with the passage of time they managed to achieve a much better rapport, and I can vouch for the fact that Michael presented Eddie with a very personal gift some many, many years later in the mid-2000s.” Mark adds, “I know that had a huge impact on Eddie because it made him realise that Michael had never forgotten where he started from in Formula One.”