APRIL 27, 2001

Irvine and Jaguar still upbeat

"I will be very disappointed if I do not stay on with Jaguar beyond the end of next year," he said. "If I do not stay on with them, it would mean that we would have failed as a team."

"I will be very disappointed if I do not stay on with Jaguar beyond the end of next year," he said. "If I do not stay on with them, it would mean that we would have failed as a team."

That is how Eddie Irvine looks forward across the next 18th months to the eve of his 37th birthday. Many people regard him as a man under pressure by many in the formula one pit lane. Some characterize him as a man who is taking life easy, enjoying the five million pounds a year salary delivered by his three year Jaguar contract, cruising towards a well-heeled retirement on his yacht in the Mediterranean.

If the 35-year old Ulsterman is under pressure, he certainly doesn't show it. This weekend, he goes into the Spanish grand prix at Barcelona with a new team-mate, Pedro de la Rosa, in the other car after a move by the Jaguar management widely interpreted as a deliberate strategy to force Irvine to get his skates on.

Irvine is totally nonplussed, brushing aside the notion that de la Rosa has been drafted in to make him raise his game. "I've always generated my own motivation," he said crisply. "I don't need the stimulus of a team-mate to push me along.

It's easy to believe him. Anybody who has survived four years as Michael Schumacher's team-mate at Ferrari knows all there is about sustained pressure from one's closest colleague on the starting grid.

"Eddie is still extremely committed," said Bobby Rahal, Jaguar racing's chief executive officer after a team strategy meeting at the Circuit de Catalunya yesterday. "Ultimately, if you've got to this level, you've got to be pretty confident in your abilities, given the right situation. If he was coasting, the passion that he showed in this meeting about doing the right job would not have been at all evident. "His frustration is that we aren't better than we are. He wants to compete. But if he was taking it easy, he wouldn't care. He would just show up, get in and drive, and not say anything. He's motivated alright."

Nearly two years since signing up, the deal with Jaguar hardly looks like a marriage made in heaven. Yet Irvine's extrovert ways seem to have been tempered.

He is not quite sulking in the motor home. However, earlier this year he received a warning shot across his bows from Rahal who let his driver know that he didn't believe vocal criticism was the best way of motivating the team's workforce. Irvine is sanguine about the arrival of de la Rosa, at 30 almost six years his junior, yet he genuinely feels it is a shame that the Jaguar team has lost the services of the Luciano Burti, the young Brazilian driver. Burti switched to the Prost team last week as part of the deal which led to de la Rosa's sudden elevation.

"It is a shame that we've lost Luciano," he said. "but I can understand why he thought that leaving was the right thing. I think he brought a lot to the team."

Rahal added; "The problem with Luciano was that his career was running to a different timetable to the team's. He is a new guy, obviously building his career and trying to learn all the circuits.

"Our priority is to improve the team's performance as quickly as possible, which is why having Pedro will be so helpful. Having two drivers pushing each other along will be very positive."

It is difficult accurately to judge just how much further progress can be expected from the Jaguar R2 over the balance of the season. Rahal has never shyed away from predicting that the 2001 season would be a year for consolidation in which "we hope the team will gain respectability."

Irvine is upbeat about the car's development prospects. "From what I have seen from the wind tunnel figures, these changes should certainly be an improvement," he said.

"Now we have to see if they make a difference on the stop watch. From what I know of interpreting these figures from my time at Ferrari, they should offer us an improvement."