Edmund ’Eddie’ Irvine was one of those Formula 1 drivers who always were considered as the outsiders but once he almost became World champion.
He recorded 147 starts in Formula 1 between 1993 and 2002, scoring four wins and 26 podiums. His best season was 1999, when he finished second with Scuderia Ferrari, losing a title by just two points to McLaren's Mika Hakkinen.
He was born on November 10, 1965, in Newtownards, County Down, in Northern Ireland and grew up in the nearby village of Conlig. As a boy, he was interested in motorcycles but one year, when he attended the Formula 1 British Grand Prix with his family, he was infected with racing and soon started to compete in single-seaters.
Formula Ford debut
In 1983, with a big support of his father who also was a racing enthusiast, Irvine debuted in the world racing, competing in Formula Ford while in the following year at Brands Hatch, Eddie won his first race. The beginning was good but the real Irvine’s career started in 1987 when he signed a contract with Van Diemen team. He competed in the various Formula Ford classes and won titles in two of them, winning 15 out of 26 races he has entered. The culmination of a successful season was the triumph at Formula Ford Festival.
Video - Tribute to Eddie Irvine
Two years in International Formula 3000
The exceptional results earned him a ride in the British Formula 3 Championship in 1988. Driving in 18 races for West Surrey Racing, Irvine scored one victory and finished 5th in the final standings. In 1989, Eddie progressed to International Formula 3000 but he wasn’t so successful. He stayed in the series for another year and finished 3rd in 1990 Drivers’ championship, winning one of 11 races.
Racing in Japan and successful appearing in Le Mans 24h
In 1991 and 1992 Irvine went to Japan to race in the Japanese Formula 3000. During two years, he won one out of 22 races, but what was more interesting is that Eddie in 1992 debuted in 24 Hours of Le Mans. Driving for Toyota Team Tom’s alongside Roland Ratzenberger and Eje Elgh, he finished 9th overall and 2nd in C2 class.
Irvine stayed in the Japanese Formula 3000 in 1993 and finished as a vice-champion. The same year in Le Mans 24h, Irvine drove in C1 class and finished 4th overall while in the following season he was runner-up overall and 2st in the class, driving SARD Company’s Toyota alongside Mauro Martini and Jeff Krosnoff.
Unexpected debut in Formula 1 with Jordan
But, what was probably the most important, Irvine debuted in Formula 1 in 1993. He got the chance with Jordan team in the final two races of the season and surprised many when he took 6th place in the Japanese Grand Prix. His driving was noticed when Eddie managed to hold up Ayrton Senna for a number of laps. The angry Brazilian ace after the race walked to Jordan’s garage and punched Irvine in the face.
Eddie stayed with the team in 1994 but the start of the year wasn’t impressive. He was involved in the huge accident in the season’s opening Grand Prix in Brazil and was fined with a three-race ban and $10.000. After he served his suspension, Irvine returned in the Spanish Grand Prix finishing 6th but retired in the following five races. Later in the season, he finished 4th at Jerez and 5th at Suzuka. With 6 points on his account, Irvine took 16th place overall.
The season of 1995 was Eddie’s last with Jordan team and definitely the best one. For the first time in his F1 career, Irvine reached the podium, finishing 3rd in the Canadian Grand Prix. The Brit collected points in other three races that year and with a total of 10 points moved up to the 12th in the rankings. Before the end of the season, it was announced that Irvine signed a contract with Ferrari, starting from 1996.
Move to Ferrari
Eddie Irvine arrived in the most popular F1 team to be a support to Michael Schumacher and he always was in the shadow of German champion but never complained about that. However, the start in the new team was good as Irvine finished 3rd in the Australian Grand Prix. Later he scored points in Buenos Aires and at Imola, but the second half of the season was almost disastrous. Irvine failed to finish 9 out of 10 races and with just 11 points, he finished 10th in the standings.
The season of 1997 was much better. Irvine finished 2nd in the Argentinian Grand Prix, narrowly losing to Jacques Villeneuve. That result was followed by 3rd places at Imola and Monaco while later in the season Ferrari’s second fiddle scored another two 3rd place finishes, at Magny-Cours and Suzuka. At the end of the year, Irvine had 24 points what was enough for 7th place in the championship.
Irvine’s progress continued in 1998 when he finished 4th. He still couldn’t score a race win but almost regularly was among top 5. Eddie finished 2nd in three races that year while he was 3rd on five occasions. That was the year of Irvine’s full affirmation but the best was still to come in the following campaign.
Narrowly losing battle for F1 crown
In 1999, Irvine surprisingly became a title contender. Full of confidence, a lad from Northern Ireland opened the season with a win in Australia. Later he was 2nd in Monaco and British Grand Prix in which his teammate broke the leg in the crash. Irvine got a role of leading driver of the team and immediately showed what is he capable of.
He won the next two races in Austria and Germany and became the championship leader.Later he won the penultimate race of the season in Malaysia and had a chance to secure the title in the last race in Japan. Unfortunately, he finished 3rd in the race and lost championship battle with Mika Hakkinen by only two points. As a consolation, Irvine was the most deserving of the Ferrari’s Constructors’ championship title, first after 16 years.
Three seasons with Jaguar
Even after he established himself as an accomplished driver, Irvine was not offered a new contract with Ferrari and he decided to sign with a newly formed Jaguar team. But, a new team couldn’t match Irvine ambitions. Throughout whole season Irvine struggled a lot with a car which wasn’t competitive enough. He scored only in two races that year and with just 4 points finished 13th in the standings.
The following season was even worse. In 2001, Irvine retired from 11 of 17 races what was a big disappointment. The 3rd place in Monaco Grand Prix was the only thing to remember. Sadly, Irvine knew that he will struggle with a Jaguar and even wanted to leave the team but stayed loyal and finished 12th in the final standings.
The start of 2002 gave a glimmer of hope to Jaguar. Irvine finished 4th in Australian Grand Prix but after that the situation became worrisome. He managed to finish only two of the nex 12 races. Later in the season he took a point in Belgium and finished 3rd at Monza what was the last podium in his career. At the end of the season, a bit frustrated with the team’s inability to make a car more competitive, he rejected a new contract and decided to end his career.
Lifestyle is a priority
Now he had enough time to enjoy outside of racing. Irvine made his fortune in the real estate business, building posh houses all over the world and selling them for the dizzying sums. He became a multi-millionaire and in 2006 was considered as the fifth richest person in Northern Ireland. He is also the owner of Eddie Irvine Sports, the sports multi-purpose facility in Bangor.
Many were considering Irvine as the last playboy of Formula 1 but Eddie denied that stating his life is almost 90% work. Irvine is also remembered for his tendency to speak his mind what caused the troubles now and then but it all ended without consequences.
"I love money and I want money so that I can live the life I want to live. Lifestyle is a priority," once commented Irvine.