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  Tuesday, 17 September, 2002, 02:19 GMT 03:19 UK
Irvine keeps future under wraps
Jaguar boss Nikki Lauda (left) and Eddie Irvine
Lauda (left) and Irvine face an uncertain future

It was as if Eddie Irvine had never left Ferrari.

The cheers cascaded down from the Monza grandstands as he completed a lap of honour after his best result for almost 15 months.

"I love Italy and Italy loves me," he said, relishing his appearance in front of an ecstatic crowd.

"Getting on the podium with Jaguar was better than any win."

A four-time winner for Ferrari, Irvine had only finished four races in 2002 leading up to the Italian Grand Prix.

And the idea of staying at Jaguar, with his contract up this year, looked as likely as an Alex Yoong victory speech.

Eddie Irvine lets loose the champagne
Irvine celebrates his podium finish at Monza

The obvious move was a reunion with Jordan - and a deal appeared close in Belgium.

Now, on the back of a podium in Italy, Irvine may not be so keen to slam the door on Jaguar.

Not that Irvine himself was giving away any clues.

"I know what I'm doing next year. I'm very confident but it's in my head," he declared mischievously.

But doesn't this result have a bearing?

"No."

Sixth place in Belgium and now third place in Italy, surely that is a sign of sustained progress?

"That wasn't difficult. We started with a bathtub in the first race and the only thing the same is the chassis. We've a new engine, new aero, new suspension."


This season, a Jaguar driver talking up his chances of points in 2002 has been as rare as Arrows racing in August
Jonathan Legard

But what about the lessons and hopes for the design of the new car, the R4?

"There's a different bunch of guys doing the work for next year. We shouldn't come out with a worse car than this year."

And what about more points in the remaining races in America and Japan this season?

"The car still isn't right but we are at a stage when we can get one or two more."

So casual was that statement you almost missed the significance.

This season, a Jaguar driver talking up his chances of points in 2002 has been as rare as Arrows racing in August.

But after months of upheaval, the green shoots of recovery look to be showing through at last.

Which leaves Irvine balancing Ford, faith and finance.

If Ford guarantee the Jaguar F1 programme this week, Irvine would have manufacturer backing, secure funding and the latest Cosworth engine, one of the strongest on the grid.

Eddie Irvine
Irvine may have to contemplate a pay cut

For 2003, Jordan will only have a development of this year's Cosworth power plant, currently used by Jaguar.

That could test Irvine's faith in Niki Lauda, defy the whisperers within Ford and F1, and have the key technicians in place to deliver a competitive car for 2003.

Faith, too, in his own powers to carry through the job that Irvine has always insisted was his final F1 mission - to help Jaguar move to the front of the grid.

But until last weekend's euphoria, Jaguar had earned a measly 17 points from a total of 48 races.

Over the same period of two and a half years, Jordan have taken 42 points.

Finance is what Irvine says he is least concerned about. But that is not how Jordan see things.

As yet, they have no firm sponsorship deals for 2003.

Hence Irvine's need to take a massive pay cut to stay in Formula One.


Irvine is not only the oldest driver on the block, he is also the smartest
Jonathan Legard

His initial demand for a retainer of $6m has been hugely scaled down.

So much so that Jaguar, seemingly set on pairing Mark Webber with Pedro De La Rosa, are now as interested as Jordan in discussing terms in the region of $2m.

Takuma Sato who has a contract for 2003, or Allan McNish, would be cheaper for Jordan, who fancy focusing on Giancarlo Fisichella for maximum effect.

But Irvine is not only the oldest driver on the block, he is also the smartest.

He does not want to stop. And third place on Sunday could be the kickstart to part two of his career at Jaguar Racing.

At last the team could be living up to its name.

In-depth guide to the 2002 Formula One season

Race statistics

On-track action

News from Monza

Analysis

Jonathan Legard

F1 2002
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