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Thursday, October 28, 1999 Published at 11:38 GMT 12:38 UK

Irvine warns off McLaren duo

Irvine is hugely popular in Japan, where he raced for three years

Ferrari's Formula One title-hopeful Eddie Irvine says he is expecting his rivals to use dirty tricks in their bid to stop him winning the World Championship in Sunday's deciding Grand Prix.

Irvine says he will be on the look out for underhand tactics from McLaren's chasing duo, Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard.

The Northern Ireland ace has a four-point lead over 1998 champion Hakkinen after motor racing's ruling body, the FIA, decided to reverse its original decision to disqualify Ferrari from the Malaysian Grand Prix for breaching vehicle dimensions.

The decision has been criticised by cynics who say the FIA make up their rules as they go along, but it has created a most enthralling climax to the title in Japan on Sunday.

Ferrari announced that they have replaced the controversial deflector panels despite them being passed as legal. The team promised to do a "double or triple check" before the Japan race to ensure their cars were technically legal.

[ image: Irvine has never minced his words]
Irvine has never minced his words
If Hakkinen wins at Suzuka, the 31-year-old Finn will have his second consecutive world title. But if Hakkinen finishes second, Irvine only has to finish in the top four to seal the championship.

Irvine said the McLaren pair may "play games and push me back into Stewarts and Williams and Jordans" on the Suzuka circuit.

"It could cause problems and we have got to be very careful. We cannot afford to relax," said the 33-year-old Ulsterman, who has been taking it easy in Tokyo in the build-up to the race.

"I hope to get the result we want."

Irvine is also banking on his "hometown" advantage, stemming from his F3000 stint in Japan from 1991 to 1993.

"Suzuka is my favourite circuit," he said.

"It's like my home Grand Prix because I raced in Japan for three years and I had a lot of fun here and I have enjoyed coming back."

Irvine's fortunes are also crucial to Ferrari, who also lead McLaren 118-114 in the constructors' table and are bidding for their first title since South African Jody Scheckter brought the Italian team and himself championship glory 20 years ago.

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Formula 1 Contents

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