Grapevine: EJ Aims to Follow Firman from Pram to Points

Eddie Jordan has had a keen eye for precocious talent ever since he handed a young Michael Schumacher his Formula One debut more than a decade ago in Belgium.

Grapevine: EJ Aims to Follow Firman from Pram to Points

Eddie Jordan has had a keen eye for precocious talent ever since he handed a young Michael Schumacher his Formula One debut more than a decade ago in Belgium.

But Grand Prix hopeful Ralph Firman is the only driver whose first encounter with the Irish entrepreneur was as a baby gurgling in a pram.

"I've known him for a long time," team boss Jordan said today as his new driver, now 27, was presented to the media after signing a three-year deal.

Jordan recalled how he used to buy cars from Firman's father, Ralph senior who founded the successful Van Diemen firm that makes chassis for junior series such as Formula Ford, long before he became a name in Formula One.

"I'd go to see Angie Firman (Ralph's Irish mother) because she was the Irish link and you always thought you might get a bit of a better deal from Angie than Ralph because he was just far too tough.

"And there was always this little baby stuck in the corner in a pram. It's ridiculous now to think that this was the guy sitting beside me now who's six feet one and a bit tall and making me feel like a complete dwarf.

"But it's exciting because it's yet another generation," added Jordan, who has also given Formula One debuts to the likes of Eddie Irvine, Rubens Barrichello and Ralf Schumacher.

Senna Connection

Drivers are often described as having racing in their blood but Firman, who will make his Formula One debut in Australia next month, goes further than that. As a young boy, he had Ayrton Senna hanging around his house as a lodger while the future World Champion forged his early career in Britain.

"I don't remember him so much when I was very young and he was racing for my parents in Formula Ford but I remember him when he came and lived with us for six months when he was doing Lotus," he said of the late Brazilian. "He was buying and doing up houses and sorting himself out and he came to live with us."

Ralph senior had been a Lotus mechanic to Brazil's former champion Emerson Fittipaldi in the early 1970s and a host of young drivers racing Van Diemens regularly stayed with the Firman family.

Apart from standing in the freezing cold watching the end of year Formula Ford festival at Brands Hatch, Firman's love affair with motorsport did not start until he began karting as a 10-year-old and realised he was a natural.

He won the British Formula Three title and was Autosport young driver of the year before spending six years in Japan chasing the Formula Nippon title and struggling with poor funding. Firman, whose main aim for the season is to score points, secured the title last year and that raised his name recognition.

But although he visited the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka last October as a guest of Jordan, it was another chance meeting with the team boss - this time on an idyllic Caribbean beach last Christmas - that led to his big break.

"I bumped into Eddie actually in a sunglass store," said Firman of the holiday in St. Barts. "We got chatting, had dinner and I got on really well with him. Obviously it was the right set of circumstances for the team and everyone to employ me but I think it helps a lot winning the Formula Nippon championship last year."

Jordan, who denied that Firman had paid for his drive but recognised that he had helped with the team's sponsorship position, took up the story:

"We've always bumped into each other," he said. "Then I met him over Christmas, we always take our family holidays at Christmas time, and we bumped into him. It was between the two of us over a drink that we said 'Look, let's get serious about this.'

"And we did get serious about it and the culmination of that is meeting here today."

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