The ever-outspoken and opinionated Eddie Irvine is turning 46 today!
A character both on and off the track, Eddie’s career with Jordan, Ferrari and Jaguar spanned ten years, peaking with four wins during the 1999 season, in which he finished runner-up to Mika Häkkinen.
After several years in the Japanese racing scene, Eddie’s F1 debut came at Suzuka, where he was signed for the final two races of the 1993 season with the team owned by fellow Irishman, Eddie Jordan.
His knowledge of the Suzuka circuit certainly helped, and Eddie netted a points’ finish on debut, although that in itself was controversial. After cheekily unlapping himself from Ayrton Senna mid-race, Irvine then rammed Derek Warwick out of sixth place on the final lap to snatch the point. The Ulsterman later famously earned himself a smack in the mouth from Ayrton for his apparent disrespect of the Brazilian master.
That same brand of insouciance saw Irvine hit with a three-race ban early in the 1994 season for triggering a four-car pile-up at the Brazilian Grand Prix. But he returned a slightly more mellow character and steadily improved in his first full-time year in the sport, peaking with fourth at Jerez.
He remained with Jordan for 1995, and steadily began to outperform team-mate Rubens Barrichello, particularly in qualifying. A fine third place at Canada was insufficient reward, but it was something of a shock announcement when it was confirmed he’d join Michael Schumacher at Ferrari for the 1996 season.
Readily accepting his role as number-two while the team was structured around Michael, Irvine’s next three seasons were very much spent in the German’s shadow, and he was rarely able to deliver anywhere near the same level of performance when Schumacher was hit by misfortune.
But he did improve each year, and claimed a shock win at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in 1999. By now, he was seriously beginning to threaten Schumacher’s mantle, and when the German crashed out of the British Grand Prix and broke his leg, Irvine was thrust into the role of team leader and the team’s sole hope of claiming the championship.
He won again at Austria and was gifted the win at Hockenheim to challenge Häkkinen for the title. When Schumacher returned and gave Irvine another win at Malaysia, Eddie went into the final race just two points adrift of Häkkinen.
At the end, an indifferent race at Suzuka saw Eddie fall short of a fairytale championship, but he’d join Jaguar on a lucrative multi-million-dollar deal that would see him become the Ford Motor Group’s highest-paid employee.
Sadly his three years in British Racing Green yielded little reward, and Eddie appeared largely indifferent and unwilling to extract any more from three poor chassis’ as he felt necessary. After the 2002 season, he was unwanted by all teams, and he set off to earn yet more money in the property and stock markets.
[Images via The Cahier Archive]