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Off the grid

Irvine set to quit F1 after Jordan rejection

Posted: Thursday January 23, 2003 11:46 AM

LONDON (Reuters) -- Eddie Irvine headed for probable retirement Thursday after the Jordan Formula One team confirmed that he would not drive for them this year.

"It's a sad day. I have decided not to drive in Formula One this year -- or at least the moment," Irvine told the Sun newspaper, with whom he used to write a regular column, from his home in Miami.

Eddie Jordan, who has the only vacancy in Formula One, expressed his regret that the 37-year-old Northern Irishman had run out of options while Ferrari's world champion Michael Schumacher was also saddened.

"It's a sad day for Formula One that Eddie can't continue," said Jordan. "He started his F1 career with Jordan and scored points on his debut.

"Since then, with Jordan, Ferrari especially and Jaguar, he has shown great style and lots of character. He's done well out of Formula One and Formula One has been richer for his colourful and intelligent presence."

Schumacher, Irvine's Ferrari teammate until the Ulsterman joined Jaguar in 2000, said it was "really a shame.

"When Eddie and I were together at Ferrari we got along very well and had a lot of fun, very likely because we are so different," he said during testing at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya.

"I think it is not only me who will miss him, there will be a piece of glamor disappearing from Formula One."

Glamor life

Irvine was one of Formula One's true characters, described by Renault boss Flavio Briatore on Thursday as "an old-fashioned driver" who liked to party but also took his profession very seriously.

His likely departure now, barring any surprise comebacks like Nigel Mansell's at McLaren after he had retired, will strip the sport of one of its more colourful and controversial voices at a time when it needs excitement and passion.

In public, and in contrast to the new breed of young drivers, Irvine lived the glamor life. He had the yacht, the fast cars and always a beautiful woman or two on his arm in nightclubs the world over.

Other drivers, often the target of his barbed and antagonistic comments, may miss his loud mouth rather less than his fans -- many of them Italians after he finished the surprise championship runner-up with Ferrari in 1999.

Irvine was the oldest driver on the grid last year and was released by Jaguar at the end of his contract in October.

Playing a guessing game for much of the year, he assured reporters after the season-ending Japanese Grand prix that he would be back but Jordan were his only hope and that seat depended on sponsorship.

"In July last year I made my mind up to drive for Jordan," he told the Sun.

"I had very strong feelings about returning to the team but due to the economic downturn, Jordan are forced to look for a driver who brings extra funds to the team whilst I can only bring speed, reliability and greater experience."

Huge cut

Irvine, who scored all of Jaguar's points last year including third place at Monza, started out with Jordan in 1993 at Suzuka and it was fitting that the Japanese circuit may also have seen his last race.

He came to blows with Brazilian Ayrton Senna in the pitlane after that memorable 1993 race, infuriating the world champion by cheekily unlapping himself.

Irvine had offered to take a huge cut in the six-million-pound salary Jaguar Racing paid him each year, but an agreement could not be reached.

"It's a shame because I really would have enjoyed the rule changes, specifically single-lap qualifying," Irvine said.

Now that Irvine has been ruled out, Brazilian Felipe Massa is considered a frontrunner for the drive.

Irvine, who won four races with Ferrari in 1999, still refused to rule out a return to the sport at some stage: "You never know what can happen," he said.

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