Jordan and Irvine finish with impressive displays

 

Eddie Jordan and Eddie Irvine rounded off their best season in Formula One with commanding displays at yesterday's Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka.

Irvine chased the new World Champion Mika Hakkinen all the way to the flag while Damon Hill's fourth place brought Jordan into the top four of the 1998 Constructors World Championship - their highest placing ever.

When Hakkinen's title rival Michael Schumacher retired with a puncture it was left to Eddie Irvine to uphold Ferrari's honour. His second place makes his points tally this season - 47 - a record for an Irishman in Formula One.

Damon Hill's daring move on his new team-mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen on the last lap of the race moved Jordan Grand Prix into fourth place in the final standings of the 1998 Constructors World Championship and brought their points tally to 34. Jordan are the first team to break the McLaren-Ferrari-William's-Benetton monopoly which has held sway in Formula One since 1989.

Eddie Jordan is due to meet Honda today to discuss their future together, while Heinz Harald Frentzen and Damon Hill will start testing for the 1999 season at Silverstone tomorrow. But they took some time to reflect on the brilliant achievement of shading Benetton in the championship standings. "If you think that half way through the season, before we scored our first point at Silverstone (in July), we were 27 points behind Benetton, it is an amazing achievement," Jordan said.

Jordan have had a remarkable season during which Mugen Honda made great strides with their engine and Gary Anderson got his creation to work on improving Goodyear tyres - a baton which Mike Gascoyne has continued to run with successfully. "To finish in the top four is nearly more important than the win at Spa," said a delighted Jordan. "It's a result of the overall season's work and means a huge amount to the team and our many supporters."

Fourth place was won with a fighting performance from Damon Hill who started in eighth on the grid. Following the demise of Ralf Schumacher's engine Hill carried all Jordan's expectations on his shoulders.

He was in fifth - the nose of his B&H Jordan stuck under Frentzen's gearbox - as the pair set off on their last lap. "Coming into the chicane there was a small gap and I was able to get through," Hill said. "I am absolutely delighted with the season - everyone has moved forward - Mugen Honda, Goodyear and of course Jordan Grand Prix." Like his team owner, Hill is already preparing for 1999. "We can now look forward to next year as a top team."

During the race Hill halted Michael Schumacher's rapid climb from the back of the grid. He drove fairly but the German - penalised for stalling on the grid couldn't get past the wily Englishman. Hill could be forgiven if there was a bit of getting even for Schumacher driving him off the road in the 1994 finale at Adelaide. In this year's title battle, Hill was clearly in one corner. "I am delighted for Mika. He has been solid all year and has kept calm under attack. I said he would do it and he has."

Ralf Schumacher ended his two years at Jordan by retiring after 13 laps and he was on the pit wall when his brother coasted to a stop with a puncture ending his third title hopes. Ralf explained his problem: "During the two restarts the engine oil temperature went too high and it meant the engine would eventually fail."

After the race Ralf spoke to Eddie Jordan. "We had a long chat about the last two years. It was really quite emotional," said the William's bound driver.

Eddie Irvine's magnificent second place at Suzuka lifts his career points tally to 99 and makes him now the most successful driver in the history of Formula One never to have won a Grand Prix. Chris Amon's record was 83 points before he retired in 1975 and Martin Brundle raised the bar to 98 points before hanging up his helmet in 1996.

Irvine started at Suzuka - his favourite track - from fourth on the grid but Schumacher's demotion from pole to the back of the grid meant a major rethink before the start. "It changed everything. We had spent days doing all sorts of permutations and combinations except me at the front and Michael at the back."

Irvine used the gap on the grid well. "I had a great start. As the race settled down I could get close to Mika but then my tyres would go off a little and I would have take it easy to get them back."

Like Eddie Jordan, Irvine is also looking forward to 1999. "The best thing for me about the weekend was that the modifications we made to the seat really worked and I was able to drive and brake harder. It is a positive sign for next season as my back has hurt all year until this weekend."