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Sunday, October 31, 1999 Published at 10:48 GMT


Top cat Eddie

Eddie's ready to strip away his Ferrari uniform

Eddie Irvine may have been tipped to steal the world title from under Mika Hakinnen's nose, but at Suzuka on Sunday, it proved one step too far for the outgoing Ferrari driver.

Irvine fell behind the Finn from the very start and failed to match Hakkinen for speed in the ensuing 52 laps.

A controversial victory at the Malaysian Grand Prix, when both Irvine and team-mate Michael Schumacher were resinstated to the race after initially being expelled, set up a thrilling climax to the season.


[ image: Irvine: The Formula One playboy]
Irvine: The Formula One playboy
The Ferrari pair had secured a brilliant one-two at Sepang, only to have their efforts ruled out when the cars were found to have broken regulations over the size of their barge boards.

Hakinnen's victory at Suzuka is undoubtedly a bitter blow for Irvine - a man who first became known for his erratic driving style.

Jaguar's new no 1 driver has never really been "Steady Eddie" and became known more as "Irve the Swerve".

Irvine was born in Newtownards, Northern Ireland, in November 1965, the son of a scrap dealer.

British Formula Ford champion in 1987, he moved into Formula Three and Formula 3000 with Pacific Racing in 1989.

Eddie Jordan's Formula 3000 team was his home for the 1990 and he gave the Irishman's team a win at Hockenheim.

He then finished the season third in the championship, and well clear of Damon Hill and Heinz-Harald Frentzen.

Then it was off to Japan for the driver, who raced sportscars and Formula 3000, taking runner-up in that country's championship in 1993.

Eddie makes his mark

That same year, Jordan gave him a Formula One debut at the Japanese Suzuka circuit, where he certainly made people sit up and notice.

Lapped by Senna, Irvine had the temerity to overtake the great Brazilian again and finished the race in fifth place.

A furious Senna complained that Irvine had blocked him, and threw a punch at him after the race.


[ image: Jordan gave Eddie his debut]
Jordan gave Eddie his debut
But Irvine was unrepentant, a clear sign to the rest of the paddock that Eddie was not to be pushed around.

The following year saw Jordan give him a full season in F1, but the season began disastrously as Irvine was suspended for one race after a four-car pile-up in Brazil.

Worse still, the ban was later extended to three races, before Irvine bounced back to regularly outpace his team mate Rubens Barrichello, the man who changes drives with Irvine for 2000.

By 1996 Ferrari considered the Irishman good enough to be back-up to new signing Michael Schumacher.

But it was a frustrating first season for the whole team and it was not until 1997 that Irvine began to post results - a second and four third places in support of the German.

He also developed a taste for the good life.

His yacht, a string of girlfriends and collection of fast cars did everything for his image as the Ferrari playboy.

But this year Irvine has become more serious, even if he is still prepared to say what he thinks.

His first win came at this season's opener, the Australian Grand Prix, after Schumacher was out of contention.

Irvine also won in Austria, Germany and Malaysia this year, and the German's broken leg at Silverstone and Mika Hakkinen's bad fortune handed him an unexpected chance of the title.

Ironically that success ensured that Irvine could not contemplate remaining at Ferrari, where he would likely remain at number two even if he had won the title.

The chance to be Jaguar's top cat for 2000 and drive for the legendary team chairman Jackie Stewart proved too good to resist.



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In this section

Toyota set to join F1

Irvine's $2m miss

Hakkinen crowned F1 champion

Finn toasts team success

1999 Championship standings

Ferrari dream in tatters

F1's emotional champion

Dreams shattered in Irvine's home village

Grand Prix's favourite son

Mika's glory: Japanese GP in pictures

Top cat Eddie

The best man won

Damon Hill: An F1 career in pictures

Silverstone to stage F1 Easter parade