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Irv's rocky entry to the F1 world



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Eddie Irvine


Onyx-Cosworth ORE-1


Paul Ricard


December 1989


What? Ayrton Senna driving an Onyx? No, not quite. In the year Eddie Irvine promoted to F3000 after losing a season-long battle in British F3 to JJ Lehto - he received his first interest from several F1 teams. The Onyx squad run by Mike Earle and Joe Chamberlain had had a promising debut season culminating in Stefan Johansson's terrific third place at Estoril. By that time Eddie's F3 rival and Pacific F3000 team mate Lehto had replaced Bertrand Gachot as the number-two driver at Onyx and things started to rumble at Onyx' top management level, Earle and Chamberlain falling out with their prime backer, the eccentric Belgian millionaire, Jean-Pierre van Rossem.

The founders' struggle with van Rossem was a lost cause from the start, Earle and Chamberlain abandoning the team in December 1989 - just after Eddie Irvine's Ricard test. And so Eddie's chances to become a Formula 1 driver for 1990 evaporated, as the Pacific team he drove for in F3000 happened to be under the ownership of one Mr M Earle… Lehto, also having driven for Pacific in 1989, already had a 1990 contract under his contract so didn't have to worry about his 1990 seat. In fact, JJ would sit out the entire embarrassment that the Onyx - later Monteverdi - effort for 1990 would be.

Instead, Irvine signed to drive one of Eddie Jordan's F3000 Reynards for 1990, teaming up with Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Emanuele Naspetti and Vincenzo Sospiri - and generally outpacing them and outscoring them with ease. Now you see why Irv the Swerve regards himself as the second-best driver to Schumacher? There have been days that HHF was regarded as Michael's equal, and if Eddie managed to decisively beat Heinz-Harald in a similar car - well, there you have it!

In a season that belonged to the all-conquering DAMS Lola team Eddie claimed third position in the final standings, taking the Hockenheim round in the process, and everyone was expecting him to move up. It didn't happen. Instead, with no money to bring to an F1 or top F3000 team he decided that he might as well ask some for his services, moving his lot to Japan, signing for the Cerumo team to race in the then well-funded Japanese F3000 series. The only consolation was that Frentzen, instead of being the latest addition to that newly discovered flavour in Grand Prix racing called Germany, followed him to the Far East the following year, after another dreadful season of F3000.

By 1993 Irvine was in the thick of the Japanese action, slugging it out for the F3000 championship with local stars Kazuyoshi Hoshino, Toshio Suzuki, Masahiko Kageyama and Takuya Kurosawa, and gai-jins Ross Cheever, Jeff Krosnoff, Mauro Martini, Marco Apicella, Andrew Gilbert-Scott, Roland Ratzenberger, Thomas Danielsson, Paolo Carcasci, Mika Salo and an again underperforming Heinz-Harald Frentzen, in one of the most competitive and hard fought single-seater seasons ever.

After the final round, the Million Card Cup race at Suzuka, Eddie had 33 points, Hoshino was on 32, with Cheever on 31. But then the JAF's dreaded lesser-results deduction rule came into play, costing Eddie deerly. Instead of being declared the deserving 1993 Japanese F3000 champion he had to watch race winner Hoshino being heralded the new champ. The veteran had more retirements but two wins while Eddie's consistency and a single win in the fourth round at Suzuka meant that he had to deduct the one point he earned for taking sixth in round 8, the Fuji Inter race. Now they were both level on 32 points, with the pendulum swinging towards Kazuyoshi by virtue of his two wins. Although crowned World Champion for the fourth time, Alain Prost will have commisurated with Irvine that 14th November of 1993…

Still, Eddie had made a lasting impression on F1 team bosses, who thought Irvine was a suitable candidate for solving some of the end-of-term cash-flow problems that the lesser F1 teams were suffering from at the end of 1993 and '94. And so before missing out on the Japanese F3000 title the Ulsterman made his F1 debut at the same track in October. He had track knowledge, local funding arranged by Cerumo and at the same time the attraction of being, well, British, but Irish enough for Eddie Jordan to repay his namesake for Irvine's third place in the 1990 International F3000 championship. As with nearly all ex-EJR/Jordan drivers, they always come back for a second time - from Heinz-Harald to Hill, from Jean to Giancarlo. Irvine was no exception.

Soon Irvine and his orange-and-green helmet would become a familiar sight on the Grand Prix tracks - not least because of his spectacular first few races. The Senna helmet was a thing of the past and Eddie was his own man. So Mr Edward Irvine used to be a Senna fan? Well, yes, he was, although it's hard to believe after having read this particular heated conversation at Suzuka in 1993, the scene of Irvine's debut with Jordan… This is a transcript from ayrton-senna.com:

The scene: Eddie Irvine is sitting alone on a table in the Jordan cabin. Jordan's commercial manager, Rubens Barrichello and several other people, mostly team members, are also present. Suzuka was Irvine's first ever F1 race and everyone is watching a re-run of the Senna-Hill-Irvine incident.

Suddenly the door opens and in walks Ayrton Senna accompanied by Norman Howell, director of communications for McLaren and Giorgio Ascanelli, Senna's engineer.
Senna is looking for Irvine, but either he doesn't see him or he doesn't recognise him. Eddie Irvine raises his hand and Senna walks over to him...

Irvine : Here!
Senna : What the **** do you think you were doing?
Irvine : I was racing!
Senna : You were racing? Do you know the rule that you're supposed to let the leaders come by when you're a back marker?
Irvine : If you were going fast enough, it was no problem.
Senna : I overtook you! And you went three times off the road in front of me, at the same place, like ****ing idiot, where there was oil. And you were throwing stones and all things in front of me for three laps. When I took you, you realised I was ahead of you. And when I came up behind Hill, because he was on slicks and in difficulties, you should have stayed behind me. You took a very big risk to put me out of the race.
Irvine : Where did I put you in any danger?
Senna : You didn't put me in any danger?
Irvine : Did I touch you? Did I touch you once?
Senna : No, but you were that much from touching me, and I happened to be the ****ing leader. I HAPPENED TO BE THE ****ING LEADER!
Irvine : A miss is as good as a mile.
Senna : I tell you something. If you don't behave properly in the next event, you can just rethink what you do. I can guarantee you that.
Irvine : The stewards said "No problem. Nothing was wrong."
Senna : Yeah? You wait till Australia. You wait till Australia, when the stewards will talk to you. Then you tell me if they tell you this.
Irvine : Hey, I'm out there to do the best for me.
Senna : This is not correct. You want to do well. I understand, because I've been there I understand. But it's very unprofessional. If you are a back marker, because you happen to be lapped ...
Irvine : But I would have followed you if you'd overtaken Hill!
Senna : You should let the leader go by ...
Irvine : I understand that fully!
Senna : ... and not come by and do the things you did. You nearly hit Hill in front of me three times, because I saw, and I could of collected you and him as a result, and that's not the way to do that.
Irvine : But I'm racing! I'm racing! You just happened to ...
Senna : You're not racing! You're driving like a ****ing idiot. You're not a racing driver, you're a ****ing idiot!
Irvine : You talk, you talk. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Senna : I was in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Irvine : Yes. I was battling with Hill.
Senna : Really? Really? Just tell me one thing. Who is supposed to have the call? You, or the leader of the race who comes through to lap you?
Irvine : The leader of the race.
Senna : So what have you done?
Irvine : You, you were too slow, and I had to overtake you to try to get at Hill.
Senna : Really? How did I lap you if I was too slow?
Irvine : Rain. Because on slicks you were quicker than me, on wets you weren't.
Senna : Really? Really? How did I come and overtake you on wets?
Irvine : Huh?
Senna : How come I overtook you on wets?
Irvine : I can't remember that. I don't actually remember the race.
Senna : Exactly. Because you are not competent enough to remember. That's how it goes you know.
Irvine : Fair enough. Fair enough. That's what you think.
Senna : You be careful guy.
Irvine : I will. I'll watch out for you.
Senna : You're gonna have problems not with me only, but with lots of other guys, also the FIA.
Irvine : Yeah?
Senna : You bet.
Irvine : Yeah? Good.
Senna : Yeah? It's good to know that.
Irvine : See you out there.
Senna : It's good to know that.
Irvine : See you out there ...
Appearing to turn away Senna then turns back and hits Irvine with his left hand. The blow lands on the right side of Irvine's head. Irvine loses his balance and falls off the table. Senna is still shouting as he is hustled towards the door.
Irvine yells "Insurance claim there!"
Senna (leaving) retorts "You got to learn to respect where you're going wrong!"

Did you ever think that conversation was that funny? "Insurance claim there!" That one falls in the same category as Kevin Kline shouting "Disappointment!" in the epic A fish called Wanda… All in all, Eddie's sense of humour seems to have been lost on Ayrton at that moment. Now where was Gerhard?