Jaguar technical director hails Irvine

STEVE NICHOLS, the Jaguar Racing technical director, has supported the team's controversial driver Eddie Irvine and labelled the British driver as one of the best on the grid this season.

Irvine has come under fire in recent weeks as the team have stuttered in a slow start to this season, but Nichols has said Irvine is the man to drive Jaguar to a higher echelon in the sport.

"I don't think there is anyone else out there I would rather have," said Nichols who is hoping to improve the currently flagging fortunes of the British team.

"I don't think, after Schumacher, that there are a lot of guys around who are better than Eddie in terms of ability to contribute to the team and to develop the car and do all the sort of things you need in a driver," continued the American.

Irvine has criticized the team for their performance, and did so again after qualifying in Malaysia, complaining the team had not improved their car when all others had.

Team chief Bobby Rahal had to reprimand the driver for derogatory comments about the team's new R2 car before the season began, saying his remarks created a negative vibe, but Nichols believes the criticism is both useful and fair.

"He criticizes a lot," said Nichols. "But that is because we need it and it is not to be negative but to point out things that need to improve.

"He knows what the score is, you know, what is good and bad, where we need to be, he has been in a Ferrari and they are a very good team and he can tell us the way it is there and the way it should be here," Nichols added.

"I think he is a good guy really and he is a lot better in the team than the image he gives outside suggests."

Irvine's position in the team has been in doubt ever since Spaniard and Jaguar test-driver Pedro de la Rosa was announced to have secured a drive with the team for 2002.

But the commendations from Nichols show that the Ulsterman is still in favor at the team, and will give him a boost as he races for his Jaguar future.

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