JUNE 7, 1999
Irvine and Ferrari
THERE has been alot of talk in recent weeks about the future of Eddie Irvine at Ferrari. Michael Schumacher's number two has done a solid job this year - winning the Australian Grand Prix but otherwise supporting the German's efforts as he has done since he joined the team in 1996.
Irvine is unusual in that he agreed not to challenge Schumacher. In exchange he has been paid handsomely by Ferrari. It makes little sense for Ferrari to change that arrangement in the future as the two drivers can work together towards winning the team the F1 World Constructors' Championship. But it may be that Irvine now wants to go out on his own and try to win races again with another team.
The obvious choice would be Jordan Grand Prix - there being an Irish connection - and with Damon Hill's future with Jordan looking less than definite Irvine might be a good choice. Ferrari has been quietly looking at alternatives to Irvine and the current thinking in the paddock is that the man most likely to take the role would be Jean Alesi - now in the twilight of his career but still keen to win races for his old team. Whether or not Alesi could be controlled in the way that Irvine has allowed himself to be remains to be seen. The other name which has been mentioned has been Pedro Diniz, the Brazilian's Parmalat millions obviously looking rather attractive to Ferrari bosses as they try to figure out how to keep paying Michael Schumacher the money he demands.
While it makes sense for Irvine to launch on his own after four years of helping Schumacher, it is not clear that Jordan's sponsor Benson & Hedges is yet ready to get rid of Hill. Damon is still a household name around the world and, although he has struggled this year, he may still want to go on for another season. Hill is not expected to continue racing in 2001, having promised his wife that he would stop racing in the new millennium...
Alesi may dream of going back to Ferrari but there does not appear to be a deal at the moment as Jean and his brother Jose - who acts as his manager - have been busy talking to all the major teams in the course of the last few weeks.