From the pulpit

So, Formula 1's latest worst-kept secret has at last been 'revealed'. Yes, Midland Group has bought Jordan Grand Prix, which means that Alex Shnaider, the 36-year-old Russian-born multi-billionaire who founded Midland and still owns a 50 per cent shareholding in it, has become F1's latest, and wealthiest, team owner.

From the pulpit

I first met Shnaider on the evening of Thursday September 23 2004, in the enormous and sumptuous drawing room the US$5,000-a-night presidential suite of the five-star Jing Jiang Hotel in Shanghai's ritzy Mao Ming Nan Road (which, if anyone from Autosport's accounts department should happen to be reading, I should stress was Shnaider's accommodation for the Chinese Grand Prix, not mine).

Sorely tempted though I was, I couldn't mention my encounter to other journalists, for Shnaider had insisted that I sign a non-disclosure agreement under whose terms 'mum' would have to be the word until October 7 2004, which was the date on which my interview with him would be published in Autosport's sister magazine, F1 Racing. But when, early on that Thursday morning, my mobile phone began ringing fit to bust, I was surprised to find that many of the callers thought I'd been duped.

"Who is he, this Shnaider chappie?" they asked? "Are you sure he's for real?"; "Where did he get his money from?" Etcetera.

Yes, he is for real, I assured them; for I had met him, and they had not, and the one thing you learn about Shnaider as soon as you lay eyes on him is that, although his monosyllables are quietly enunciated, and although he is only 5'6", and although he is only 36, he is a formidably serious businessman who means formidably serious business.

He was born in St Petersburg (which was then known as Leningrad), but his father (an engineer) and his mother (a dentist) moved to Tel Aviv (Israel) in 1972 (when Alex was four). Ten years later, the family moved on to Toronto, shortly after which Alex became a naturalised Canadian citizen, which status he retains to this day.

After graduating from York University (Toronto) in 1992, with a BA in economics, Shnaider returned to (near) his roots, to Ukraine, where he began working for a trading company. Since the Soviet Union had broken up (in 1991), Ukrainian steel mills had lost the comfort blanket of guaranteed orders from Moscow and were struggling to survive; though he was only 24, the bilingual (English-Russian), ambitious and resourceful Shnaider was uniquely well placed to take advantage.

He and a friend, Eduard Shifrin, decided to try to find buyers for the newly surplus Ukrainian steel themselves - and the grateful Ukrainian steel men readily agreed to play ball. "They basically gave us the steel and said, 'Please sell it for us'," Shnaider remembers, "and we'd only have to pay for it when we sold it. We didn't have to pay any money up front."

So successful were Shnaider and Shifrin that they soon bought most of Ukraine's steel mills outright, after which they diversified into a hugely lucrative programme of buying and developing real estate in Moscow, launching shipping operations on the Black Sea, and buying up newly privatised utility companies in Armenia, first, and then, year after year, in the many other CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) territories that had once made up the Soviet Union. They were as opportunistic as they were aggressive. After the prime minister of Serbia, Zoran Djindjic, was assassinated in 2003, for example, they wasted no time in establishing a series of very lucrative businesses in that troubled state.

Today, Midland Group employs more than 50,000 people worldwide, and turns over nearly $3 billion per year. Now involved in industries as diverse as commodities trading, construction and agriculture, as well as its core activities of steel manufacturing, shipping and utilities, it operates in almost all of the emerging CIS states, in many eastern European countries, in Turkey, in China and in India; meanwhile, its marketing and admin operations are based in Canada, Switzerland and the UK. And Shifrin, Shnaider's old friend, owns the other half of Midland to this day.

Okay, enough background - but you get my drift. Suffice it to say that anyone who still regards the team formerly known as Jordan Grand Prix as an F1 minnow... had better think again.

So what will become of EJ himself? Personally, I think he still has a lot to offer. He remains a persuasive and charismatic salesman - and his gag-a-minute conversational manner, which pays dividends when he finds himself behind a microphone after formal dinners, conceals a still-savvy business brain. Nonetheless, it has become fashionable for F1 journalists to diss him, and even to cast doubt on his willingness to tell the truth. To which I say, "Big deal." Yes, there is sometimes a discrepancy between what he says and what he means, but so there is with all F1's big cheeses - from Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley down. And do you seriously think things are so very different in the smoke-filled rooms in which other globally successful sports are governed and run? Do you really suppose that the modus operandi is so much more transparent in football, in athletics, in boxing, for goodness' sake?

No, of course not. And so it is that Eddie Jordan should be remembered, and cherished, as a man who, against all odds, founded a brand-new F1 team 14 years ago. And - where such as Tom Walkinshaw (Arrows) and Alain Prost (Prost) and, yes, even Max Mosley (March) and Bernie Ecclestone (Brabham) allowed their equipes to wither and die - he kept that team afloat, through thick and thin.

That team has already won four grands prix and, under the ownership of Shnaider and the stewardship of the crew of hugely experienced racing men he has already assembled (Gianpaolo Dallara, Gary Anderson, Trevor Carlin, Colin Kolles and Christian Geistdoerfer, with more to come), it may well be troubling the scorers once again, perhaps even in a big way, for years to come.

So, three cheers for Alex Shnaider! And, yes, three more for Eddie Jordan!

Or, in his own inimitable words, "F*** the begrudgers!"

shares
comments
Jordan buy-out confirmed
Previous article

Jordan buy-out confirmed

Next article

Haug: new engine a challenge

Haug: new engine a challenge
Who were the fastest drivers in F1 2022? Plus

Who were the fastest drivers in F1 2022?

Who was the fastest driver in 2022? Everyone has an opinion, but what does the stopwatch say? Obviously, differing car performance has an effect on ultimate laptime – but it’s the relative speed of each car/driver package that’s fascinating and enlightening says ALEX KALINAUCKAS

Formula 1
Jan 30, 2023
Why F1's nearly man is refreshed and ready for his return Plus

Why F1's nearly man is refreshed and ready for his return

He has more starts without a podium than anyone else in Formula 1 world championship history, but Nico Hulkenberg is back for one more shot with Haas. After spending three years on the sidelines, the revitalised German is aiming to prove to his new team what the F1 grid has been missing

Formula 1
Jan 29, 2023
The potential-laden F1 car that Ferrari neglected Plus

The potential-laden F1 car that Ferrari neglected

The late Mauro Forghieri played a key role in Ferrari’s mid-1960s turnaround, says STUART CODLING, and his pretty, intricate 1512 was among the most evocative cars of the 1.5-litre era. But a victim of priorities as Formula 1 was deemed less lucrative than success in sportscars, its true potential was never seen in period

Formula 1
Jan 28, 2023
Why Vasseur relishes 'feeling the pressure' as Ferrari's F1 boss Plus

Why Vasseur relishes 'feeling the pressure' as Ferrari's F1 boss

OPINION: Fred Vasseur has spent only a few weeks as team principal for the Ferrari Formula 1 team, but is already intent on taking the Scuderia back to the very top. And despite it being arguably the most demanding job in motorsport, the Frenchman is relishing the challenge

Formula 1
Jan 27, 2023
The crucial tech changes F1 teams must adapt to in 2023 Plus

The crucial tech changes F1 teams must adapt to in 2023

Changes to the regulations for season two of Formula 1's ground-effects era aim to smooth out last year’s troubles and shut down loopholes. But what areas have been targeted, and what impact will this have?

Formula 1
Jan 26, 2023
Are these the 50 quickest drivers in F1 history? Plus

Are these the 50 quickest drivers in F1 history?

Who are the quickest drivers in Formula 1 history? LUKE SMITH asked a jury of experienced and international panel of experts and F1 insiders. Some of them have worked closely with F1’s fastest-ever drivers – so who better to vote on our all-time top 50? We’re talking all-out speed here rather than size of trophy cabinet, so the results may surprise you…

Formula 1
Jan 25, 2023
One easy way the FIA could instantly improve F1 Plus

One easy way the FIA could instantly improve F1

OPINION: During what is traditionally a very quiet time of year in the Formula 1 news cycle, FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has been generating headlines. He’s been commenting on massive topics in a championship that loves them, but also addressing necessary smaller changes too. Here we suggest a further refinement that would be a big boon to fans

Formula 1
Jan 24, 2023
How can McLaren keep hold of Norris? Plus

How can McLaren keep hold of Norris?

Lando Norris is no longer the young cheeky-chappy at McLaren; he’s now the established ace. And F1's big guns will come calling if the team can’t give him a competitive car. Here's what the team needs to do to retain its prize asset

Formula 1
Jan 24, 2023