Padhraig Coyle salutes NI's formula one hero
There was a time when a driver’s seat with a Formula One motor racing team was seen as a guarantee of fame and riches to come.
But by the time 27-year-old Eddie Irvine joined Eddie Jordan’s team in 1993, the Bangor man was already a millionaire, following three seasons in Japan’s Formula 3000 series and endurance racing for Toyota at the Le Mans 24 hour race in 1992 and 1993.
The ten years it took Irvine to arrive on the F1 scene was an apprenticeship well spent.
His early years were occupied driving Formula Fords, culminating in a first place finish at the 1987 Brands Hatch Formula Ford Festival.
The following year Irvine had graduated to the British F3 Championship, where he steered a Ralt-Alfa Romeo for the West Surrey Racing team into fifth place.
Irvine’s involvement with Jordan began in 1989 with the F3000 Championship. His third place in the series, including a victory at the difficult Hockenheim course, was further evidence that he had the temperament for the big time.
After several years in Japan, Irvine returned to Jordan, who confirmed his full-time contract for the 1994 season.
In his F1 debut, Irvine started seventh on the grid and a sixth place finish gave him a world championship point. A post race punch-up with the late Ayrton Senna added to his public profile.
Irvine scored points in three races and finished sixteenth in the Drivers Championship. In 1995, his twelfth place finish in the championship included his first podium finish in Canada.
The lure of Ferrari drew Irvine to Italy the following season, where he was number two driver to Michael Schumacher.
By 1998, Irvine was nearing peak form with second place finishes in France, Italy and Japan, ending the season fourth overall in the drivers standings.
Irvine’s best season was saved for 1999. He scored the first of four Grand Prix victories in the opening race in Melbourne in March.
He took the chequered flag again in Austria, Germany and Malaysia to reach within two points of the world title won by Mika Hakkinen.
Unhappy at having to drive to team orders, Irvine took the opportunity to be number one driver for the reformed Jaguar Racing team in 2000.
The car was unable to compete against the continuing Ferrari dominance, but Irvine did score four points.
Irvine was dropped by Jaguar in November 2002 and Jordan-Ford in January 2003. He quit the sport soon after.