"I've gotta see Irvine's face!" one observer gloated in the moment of his defeat, but anyone who wished to see the inherent insouciance wiped off Irvine's countenance was to be sadly disappointed. The grin when he congratulated Hakkinen was as genuine as any of his outspoken comments. He'd given it his best shot, and it hadn't been enough. No big deal.
"I always said," he reiterated, "that if we didn't win the championship it would be because we weren't fast enough. And when it came to it, for whatever reason, we weren't. But hey, life goes on, doesn't it?"
Indeed, it does. Perhaps, in his heart of hearts, Irvine knew that he had only an insider's chance after all, that only misfortune for both Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher had propelled him into championship contention. But Irvine had done what he always has done, what he did the day he finished sixth on his debut in this very race six years ago: he took his main chance and made the best of it.
So where does he go now? Onwards, for sure, and maybe upwards, for he is not the sort to be cowed by defeat. When he first came into Formula One in 1993 he was doing very nicely racing F3000 cars in Japan, and he played hardball with Eddie Jordan, who wanted him for 1994.
By December he should be sufficiently free of Ferrari to start testing for the Jaguar team which will be born out of the Stewart-Ford team. And there he will prosper, for a lot of Ford bucks will change bank accounts to ensure that he is happy and feels wanted. He will make the most of that opportunity. After all, this is the man who, when asked how to cope as team-mate to Schumacher, the man with the reputation for destroying psyches, simply replied: "Be clever, nothing more. Clever and unemotional."
Earlier this year he said of his life: "I'm having a blast. I'm leading the World Championship. The worse way out, I shouldn't finish worse than second, which is another step forward. Every year I've gone dunk, dunk, dunk. I've won four races. Should I be worrying?"
His rational for F1 survival is equally simple. "You've got to be the boss. You need to be on the ball, finger on the pulse, making telephone calls. To find out what's going on. I'll play hardball, but I'd never really argue over something like $250,000.
"So far in my career," he says, "I don't think I've ever made a wrong decision." With Jaguar he should have a car capable of winning by the end of 2000, maybe before. Should the world worry about Eddie? Probably not.Reuse content