Motor Racing: Eddie Irvine - Home drivers on the home straight

While Damon Hill has been the centre of local attention in the build-up to the British Grand Prix, Sunday's race at Silverstone will also be important for three other home drivers. Derick Allsop talked to them; `I want to put myself in title contention'

THE INSOUCIANT demeanour and the unguarded comments were always bound to make the hackles rise in the more stuffy corners of Formula One, but Eddie Irvine is unrepentant.

In fact, he contends the irreverent image is winning him more admirers than enemies - more than his team-mate, Michael Schumacher, he suggests with mischievous relish - and helping him produce the best season of his life.

The 33-year-old Ferrari driver registered his maiden victory on the opening day of the championship and, going into Sunday's British Grand Prix at Silverstone, he is third in the title standings behind the McLaren-Mercedes' defending champion, Mika Hakkinen, and Schumacher.

However, results alone do not convey the impact of the man from Northern Ireland, who was hired as Schumacher's No 2 but has contributed the bonus of a dashing driving style and complimentary colourful lifestyle.

"My image has never been a hindrance at all," Irvine said. "A lot of people actually like my image. The sponsors do. I'm more popular than Michael in Italy, and that's hacking them off. The fans tell me they buy Michael Schumacher caps but love me."

Damon Hill's imminent abdication as the UK's favourite driver leaves a vacancy and Irvine is currently the best placed of the home contingent to fill it. He will not be applying. "I don't like being a hero," he said. "I just like getting on and doing my own thing and people not bothering me. That's not what sponsors want and not what you should do in this job, not if you're a star. You're supposed to accept all that. But I don't like it.

"I love walking into restaurants and getting a table, I love walking into nightclubs and not paying, I love pulling the most beautiful girls because of my job. But I hate people bothering me for autographs when I'm talking to someone and all that sort of thing. Italy's the worst place. I get really hassled there. I walk down the street and every two minutes someone shouts: `Eddie, Eddie'. I think it's an invasion of your privacy.

"In Dublin [where he lives] they're a bit cooler. It would be seen as uncool. England is halfway between the two. People come up to me in pubs, or knock on the window, that sort of thing. I've been surprised. It's getting on the podium regularly, getting your face known.

"But I'm having more fun this year than I've ever had away from the circuit, and I'm getting better results than I've ever had on the circuit, so the two must go hand in hand.

"OK, you can't be out there partying every night of the week, not the week before a race, but the week after a race I have fun. If you're not having fun, you've got to feel bad about yourself and you're not going to perform well. You've seen that with Damon."

Despite Irvine's argument to the contrary, it does appear his reputation might have eliminated him from any short list of candidates Ron Dennis is compiling at McLaren, the only team capable of beating Ferrari in normal circumstances. Dennis did not take kindly to Irvine's claim he would do a better job than David Coulthard.

Irvine said: "At the end of the day Ron wants somebody to beat Michael so he'd be happy with Billy Connolly in the car if he could do the job. Ron is a different guy away from the circuit.

"I do think I would be a better proposition for him than Coulthard. He's having a bit of a tough time and his stock is going down. What's the big deal in that? No ground-breaking stuff there. DC and Mika Hakkinen may think they are better than me. Fine. I have no problem with that.

"I am what I am, and if that stops me going some place then OK. I don't want to live a lie. I don't want to be asked a question and say: `Sorry, I can't answer that'. I'm not much different from Jacques Villeneuve. He pretty much says what he wants, does what he wants. It's the only way to be."

On the track, Irvine is answering most of the questions. The biggest, however, concerns his future and whether he will continue to be subservient to Schumacher or be his own man elsewhere. He has been linked with Jordan- Mugen and Stewart-Ford, who would probably be prepared to almost double his pounds 2.5 million a year retainer.

"At the moment I would say I'm seen in the top four drivers in the world - along with Michael, Mika and Jacques. That's the way I see it. This is what I wanted to achieve. I deliberately stayed at Ferrari for a fourth year because I wanted to get a win, I wanted to run at the front. Now I've got a big decision to make. There's no point going somewhere just for the money. I could have done that already. Don't get me wrong, I like money, but I want to get myself in a position to win the world championship in the next two or three years.

"It has to be what's best for Eddie Irvine. Always was. I haven't stayed at Ferrari because I wanted to help Michael Schumacher win the world championship. I'm here because of me. And Michael's not at Ferrari because he likes Ferrari. He's here because it's the best place for him. Look after No 1."

Significantly, Irvine no longer eulogises about his team-mate. He acknowledges Schumacher is the best, but not infallible. Irvine said: "He's always made mistakes, always gone off, but 99 times out of a hundred he gets away with it. I don't know if I'm getting to him in the head but I'm definitely getting closer to him on the circuit.

"For sure, though, you always learn from Michael, especially on a circuit like Silverstone, the way he pushes through the fast corners. You know it's there to be done so you have to put your heart in your mouth and go for it." Even if Irvine is fast enough to overtake Schumacher he accepts he's not allowed to, so all he can hope for is second best. Unless...

"You never know, it could be first. Michael might slip on a banana skin tomorrow. You don't wish bad luck on anyone, but I'm out there for me. If he has a problem, I have to take advantage."

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn