MECHANIC: When Edwards led F1 underdogs to victory
Sunday 10th May, 2020 - 3:00pm
Nowadays most will know Tim Edwards for his Supercars exploits, but there was a time when he was challenging for championships in Formula 1 with Jordan.
Edwards was mostly interested in motorbikes growing up in Melbourne, but never followed in the footsteps of his father as a racer. The pit lane was where he wanted to be.
As a teenager, Edwards took up a mechanics apprenticeship at the local Ford dealer, Melford Motors, in Elizabeth Street.
While studying he met Rob Crawford, another well-known name in Supercars as the former Holden Racing Team manager, who in 1988 moved to the United Kingdom.
Not long after that, Edwards’ phone rang for a catch up with Crawford that ultimately kick started his career.
“He just rang me for a bit of a yack,” Edwards told Speedcafe.com.
“I made one of those passing comments that’s lived with me forever and that was, ‘Well, if you hear of any jobs going let me know.’
“I’d just finished my apprenticeship at that stage. He rang me the next day.
‘The Australian guy he worked for, Alan Docking, ran Formula 3 teams and Le Mans every year back in the ‘80s.
“He said, ‘Doco’s after someone,’ and so he put Doco on the phone and my job interview consisted of, ‘I hear you’re coming over, old son, I’ll see you when you get here.’
“That was my job interview over and done with. Only about a week later I’d managed to pack up a house, pack up my life, and I moved to the UK.
“That was May 1988. And I said to mum, ‘I’ll be back in six months,’ and I came home at the end of 2004.”
It was hardly a humble beginning. Edwards’ first professional gig in motor racing at just 21 years old was the biggest race in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, around the height of Group C.
At the time, Docking ran the factory-backed Mazdaspeed program. Edwards arrived in the UK a few weeks before the race driving the team’s trucks and working on the Mazda 767B as a mechanic.
“We had four trucks that we took over there,” he said.
“I got tasked with driving one of them. I had never driven a truck in my life apart from getting my truck license in Australia.
“Next thing, I’m driving an international right hand drive through France obviously on the wrong side of the road for me, sitting on the wrong side of the truck, to Le Mans. So it was certainly in at the deep end of everything.
“It was fantastic though. It was a very strong period for the category back then.”
It was a ‘surreal’ experience but set Edwards up for a spell in the World Sportscar Championship with Mazda in 1989.
Alongside that, he worked in the British Formula 3 Championship with Docking, their driver a young Mika Salo.
Come 1990, Edwards nearly joined Eddie Jordan Racing, which was running in the Formula 1 feeder International Formula 3000 Championship.
“Our factory was opposite theirs, literally, our two roller doors were opposite, Doco’s and Jordan’s,” he explained.
“Eddie and Doco had a bit of a falling out for Eddie trying to poach his staff. I ended up staying at Doco’s for a little bit longer.”
Edwards eventually left Docking in 1989, but not for Jordan. Instead, he had a short spell with Richard Lloyd Racing, which ran a Porsche 962C GTi.
The team raced in the World Sportscar Championship and the All Japan Sports Prototype Championship with J.J. Lehto, Manuel Reuter and James Weaver driving at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1990.
It was short-lived, however, and Edwards joined Jordan Grand Prix shortly before the 1991 season in the sub-assembly department.
“They were after mechanics at the time,” Edwards explained.
“Jordan had gone from being a Formula 3000 team into a Formula 1 team.
“I already knew Eddie. Even when Jordan started in Formula 1, they were still based out of a tiny little factory at Silverstone, just one of the little units.
“Essentially we were all around a little cluster. There’s a whole group of race teams all based at Silverstone. Even Richard Lloyd was based at Silverstone as well.
“Every day you’d all go for lunch at the Club S. There was nowhere else to eat apart from the Club S at Silverstone.
“So you’re just mingling with all of those people every day. That’s sort of how I ended up working for Jordan.”
Edwards’ described the first year with Jordan as ‘simply amazing’ in a season that exceeded expectations and will be remembered for the fleeting but perhaps career-defining one-race appearance by Michael Schumacher.
“We were a tiny team,” said Edwards.
“I think when we went to the first race of the season… I think it was 44 of us working in a team. That’s how small our team was.
“The whole car was designed by three people. I’m talking, everything, all designed by three people, which was Gary Anderson, Mark Smith, and Andrew Green.
“You’re all just there as a tiny little group getting involved in everything. Because we were a tiny little team. It was fantastic.”
It was a turbulent first season that saw Andrea de Cesaris drive the #33 Jordan 191 while the #32 was primarily driven by Bertrand Gachot.
During that year Gachot spent two months in jail for spraying mace on a London cab driver. That opened the door for Schumacher to make his Formula 1 debut in the Belgian Grand Prix.
Schumacher’s debut gave the team its first taste of what was possible.
At the end of the year the team had 13 points to its credit, on seven occasions finishing inside the top-six points scoring positions.
The ‘92 and ‘93 seasons were a much tougher time. Between Stefano Modena and Maurício Gugelmin the team scored one point in ‘92. A turbulent ‘93 saw six drivers go through the team, in that instance, the team scored three points.
In ‘94, Edwards was promoted to number one mechanic on Rubens Barrichello’s car, who brought the team its first podium at the Pacific Grand Prix,
After a tough start in the early ‘90s, the mid-to-late ‘90s brought success. The team was consistently inside the top five for the Constructors’ Championship.
By 1997, Edwards was the chief mechanic at the team.
“What happened in ’92 and ’93, all of a sudden they’d highlighted the fact that you can’t do this with such a small group of people,” said Edwards.
“The team went through some growing pains then. We started to find our feet by the mid ’90s, but we were still a bit cash strapped.
“Benson & Hedges came on board and then we got Deutsche Post and MasterCard and we had a rise in competitiveness in the late ‘90s. It was directly in line with the rise in income.
“All of a sudden we had some money and we could actually employ some more people and do a better job.
“Conversely, we then got into the early 2000s and the money started to dry up, so did the results.”
The late ‘90s were a period that Edwards recalled fondly. Ultimately, his greatest success was the Belgian Grand Prix in 1998 when Damon Hill led Ralf Schumacher in a one-two finish.
“The late ‘90s, we really had a bit of a purple patch,” Edwards said.
“We were very competitive and we won races.
“No doubt one of the most memorable ones is obviously when we got our first win with Damon at Spa and Ralf got second. To get your first win in Formula 1 is a pretty special moment.
“It was a crazy race. I think there was actually even a documentary made. They were doing a documentary on the team at the same time.
“It was a very special time when you’re a tiny team and you’re punching above your weight when you’re beating the likes of Ferrari and McLaren and all those teams.”
Schumacher left in 1999 and was replaced by Heinz-Harald Frentzen. That year the team recorded its best finish of third in the Constructors’ Championship.
“The following year with Frentzen driving the car, when we were genuinely racing for the Championship and actually winning races in the dry, no luck involved or anything, that was pretty rewarding as well,” Edwards recalled.
“I could talk for hours about my time in Formula 1 and the highs and lows, and working six days straight without sleep and things like that.
“There were a lot of tough times in it as well. But I don’t regret any of it.”
From 1991 to the end of 2004 he stayed with the team, moving through the ranks to team manager in 2001.
Eventually, the results tapered off as the sponsorship dried up.
By the start of 2005, the team was taken over by the Midland Group to form Midland F1 Racing.
Ultimately, he decided the demands of Formula 1 would have too great an impact on his family life. With a wife and two young children, Edwards returned to Australia.
Edwards worked as part of the Commonwealth Games as a special advisor, but it wasn’t long before he found himself back in motorsport courtesy of Prodrive Racing founder David Richards.
“When our second son was born in ‘03 I didn’t want to be one of these parents that has kids but doesn’t really spend any time with them,” Edwards said.
“Trudie (Edward’s wide) sort of said, ‘Well, the only way this is going to work is if you get out of motor racing’.
“We made the decision to move back to Australia. Ron Walker helped me out and got me working at the Commonwealth Games and so I was out of motor sport and back in Australia.
“That was going swimmingly for about two and a half months before David Richards tracked me down.
“I knew him from Formula 1, and made that statement in a phone call, ‘We need to have breakfast tomorrow morning’,” recalled Edwards.
“You pretty much know what someone wants to talk to you about when they ring you up and say, ‘We need to have breakfast tomorrow.’
“He convinced me to step in to run his business.
“So yeah, getting out of motorsport didn’t quite work, but interestingly when I came home and said to Trudi, ‘I’m having breakfast with DR tomorrow morning,’ she guessed as well what he wanted to have breakfast about.
“Her response at the time was, ‘Thank f***, you’ve been a miserable bastard not working in motorsport’,” Edwards laughed.
Edwards has been in the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship ever since 2005, guiding the team now known as Tickford Racing through to championship success and two Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 wins.