Edmund Irvine Jr, by all motorsport fans known as Eddie. It is precisely he who today, 10 November 2021, turns off 56 candles with the awareness of having been one of the most influential characters in Formula 1 of the second half of the 90s, close to the world title in 1999 in Ferrari after having spent the previous seasons in the shadow of Michael Schumacher. A unique personality, sometimes over the top, since his debut in the top flight, but not enough to support the qualities of a driver who deserved more than the results actually obtained.
A story that began on November 10, 1965 in Newtownards, a city located east ofnorthern Ireland. Initially oriented to motorcycle racing, he switched to four wheels at the pressure of his parents, starting a career that met its first joy in 1987, the year in which Irvine graduated champion in Formula Ford. After moving to British Formula 3000, the Northern Irishman approached for the first time a team that would then give him his first great joys: Jordan. Despite an unsuccessful period between the 80s and 90s, Irvine became the protagonist of an excellent season in 1993, engaged in the Japanese Formula 3000. The positive performance convinced Eddie Jordan, who recently appeared in Formula 1, to bet everything on the young Northern Irishman, welcoming him into the team for the last two rounds of the championship.
Its debut, which took place in 1993 Japanese Grand Prix, went down in history for two reasons: from a sporting point of view, Irvine immediately won 6th place, obtaining points in the opening match. However, the event is still remembered today for what happened between him and Ayrton Senna immediately after the checkered flag: the Brazilian from McLaren did not accept the rookie’s maneuver, who split from the one who then won the race. Angered by what had happened, Senna went to Irvine to discuss the incident, but the meeting between the two quickly escalated. The Northern Irishman, in fact, replied to the three-time world champion with a sentence that infuriated Magic: “I don’t care who you are”. Immediately after those words, Senna reacted badly, throwing a fist to the young rookie. Regardless of the boxing match, Eddie Jordan decided to renew his confidence in his new protégé by offering him a three-year contract.
However, at the start of the 1994 season, in Brazil, Irvine was the protagonist of another episode, this time on the track: engaged in a dubbing, he did not notice the contemporary thrust of Jos Verstappen behind him, pushing the Dutch Benetton on the grass and making him lose control. The result was a spectacular and risky carom that knocked out four riders, with the Race Direction holding Irvine as responsible for the incident, disqualifying him for three games. On his return, despite many retirements, he touched the podium at the European GP, managing to enter the top only the following year. Specifically, this happened at the end of the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix, when he concluded al 3rd place behind his team-mate, Rubens Barrichello, and Jean Alesi, in turn author of the first and only victory in his career.
The French, at the time the pilot of the Ferrari, was not reconfirmed since Cavallino ahead of the season 1996, with the Maranello house that hired the reigning champion Michael Schumacher. Finding itself looking for a new driver after the departure of Gerhard Berger, the Red team focused on Irvine for the role of teammate of the German. However, despite a 3rd place at the debut in Australia, the car presented various reliability problems, such as to force the Northern Irishman to retire several times, without relishing the joy of the podium again. Years later, he was able to let off steam on the F310, defining it as one of the worst cars of his career. The situation improved on the occasion of the next championship, immediately characterized by an accident between him and Jacques Villeneuve’s Williams, with the Canadian heavily criticizing the Ferrari man’s maneuver. Over the course of the season, he captured a total of five podiums, earning the 2nd place in Argentina. Further improvements were highlighted in 1998, with a total of eight podiums, but without the joy and satisfaction of victory.
This happened, however, in the opening round of the season 1999. On the same track as the first podium in Ferrari, Irvine finally got on the highest step of the podium, making the most of McLaren’s double retirement. The turning point of that world championship, however, took place at Silverstone: during the first lap of the British GPSchumacher struck violently against the barriers, fracturing his right tibia and fibula. Unable to continue the championship, the season seemed to be heading towards the second world champion of Mika Hakkinen, with the Finn who, on the other hand, had to deal with Irvine himself. The Northern Irishman, later joined by Mika Salo, did well three wins in the second half of the world championship, in a period also characterized by the clamorous error during his pit stop by his mechanics during the European GP, who forgot the right rear tire to be mounted on the car.
In an exciting duel with Hakkinen, valid for the conquest of the drivers’ title, the challenge was resolved in favor of the McLaren standard bearer, but the performances of the Northern Irishman, combined with those of the returning Schumacher, earned Ferrari the victory of the constructors title, the first since 1983. Despite this success, the future of the vice-world champion was no longer foreseen in Maranello. The Modenese house, for the 2000, in fact, chose the Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, with Irvine who made an agreement with the rookie team Jaguar.
Despite the high budget of the team, the former Ferrari driver was unable to obtain significant results, except for the third place conquered in the Italian Grand Prix 2o02, a country in which Irvine continued to reside until the end of his career. This happened precisely at the end of the 2002 World Cup, the year in which his return to Jordan failed for the following season. In ten years spent in Formula 1, in which he became famous for numerous flirts, TV commercials and discussions with other drivers, Irvine obtained the title of world vice-champion in 1999, conquering 4 wins in the Circus, 26 podiums and a quick ride, for a total of 191 points.
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