Herbert: Irvine would not be 'worthy' champion

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The Independent Online

Eddie Irvine lacks the character worthy of a world champion, according to Johnny Herbert.

Eddie Irvine lacks the character worthy of a world champion, according to Johnny Herbert.

But Herbert, who will partner the Ulsterman at Jaguar Racing next season, reckons Irvine can see off Mika Hakkinen and claim the most unexpected of drivers' crowns.

Irvine leads Hakkinen by four points going into their winner-takes-all Suzuka showdown in Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix.

The 33-year-old's brash image has not always endeared him to his fellow drivers or other team owners ever since former champion Ayrton Senna punched him on his debut in 1993.

Irvine has constantly criticised Hakkinen and his McLaren team-mate David Coulthard this season and even had a pop at his fellow Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher.

Former world champion Damon Hill was famously labelled a "sad old man" last year by Irvine whose shoot-from-the lip style has split Formula One into 'love him' or 'hate him' camps.

"There have always been some drivers who everyone has said were they worthy of the title or not," said Herbert, one of the most popular figures in the paddock.

"In some ways Eddie will be worthy of the title, but in some ways maybe not. With his character - probably not."

Irvine's former team chief Eddie Jordan admitted: "Eddie has his own ways and is not everybody's cup of tea. But he would be very good for the sport. He would be a sensational champion.

"I have fallen in love with him easily and out of love with him easily. The time span is usually 18 months, but you are only champion for 12 months so that would be okay."

But Herbert is in no doubt that Irvine - who regained his points advantage after Ferrari last weekend successfully won their appeal against disqualification from the Malaysian Grand Prix - can triumph.

"Eddie can do it - he won in Malaysia so there is no reason why he cannot do it in Japan," said the Stewart Ford driver who will line-up alongside Irvine in the renamed team in 2000.

"I was surprised in Malaysia because it was the first time he had been ahead of Mika all year, but it is the right time to be ahead and if he can do it in Japan then that's good for him.

"If Eddie wins the number one of world champion that would be great - then I can thrash him when he comes to Jaguar.

"He has been there at the right time, got the points when he needed to and he could win it that way. But it is not over yet.

"It's a bit unlucky for Mika because he has had a few chances this year and has had a tyre failure and a few other failures but at the end of the day you have got to be consistent and pick up the points.

"That is what Eddie has done while Mika has had the problems - that's the way it goes.

"My money was on Mika before Malaysia but now I am not so sure. I am sure the McLaren will be quicker in Japan and they should win, but who knows now."