Wednesday April 19th, 2000
By Alan Baldwin
Eddie Irvine refused to hype Jaguar's British Grand Prix debut on Wednesday, saying it would probably mean more to him to win at Monza in Italy than at Silverstone.
"I don't see winning the British Grand Prix is any more special than winning the Italian Grand Prix," the Northern Irishman declared at the launch of a new clothing range at Harrods department store.
"In some way, winning away from home might be more enjoyable," he said. "It's sort of like Manchester United winning at home - so what?"
Irvine finished second at Silverstone for Ferrari last season, when the race was run in bright sunshine in July.
This year it has been brought forward to Easter Sunday and, following recent cold and wet weather in England, many are predicting a damp weekend ahead.
Irvine, whose apartment in Milan is just a few kilometres from the Monza racetrack, said he aimed to "get in the helicopter, get to Oxford airport and get out of England as quick as possible" on Sunday afternoon.
"Maybe this year will change but I just don't feel it (Silverstone) is my home grand prix," he said. "I could say it was but it wouldn't be true.
"The weather will make a big difference to the event. There's more chance of it being cold and windy and horrible than in July," added the Briton, who spent much of his early career in Japan and ranks Suzuka as a favourite track.
Irvine Tips Hakkinen
Irvine failed to finish the first two races of the season but was seventh at the San Marino Grand Prix earlier this month and said he was pleased with Jaguar's progress in their debut season after taking over the Ford-owned Stewart team.
"We have a lot of problems in every department but it's great fun. The team's really positive and there's lots of things coming to make it better but it's going to take time.
"It'll be two or three years before we are really competing big time I would think but in the meantime we are always improving, which is great," he said.
Irvine said he was looking for a top five finish from the weekend, although fifth was the most he could reasonably expect if the race went according to form.
"Top five. We should be the best of the rest. Ferrari and McLaren are too far ahead of us really to beat them fair and square," he said.
Irvine, who said last week that McLaren's Mika Hakkinen had virtually no chance of retaining his title this season, did suggest Schumacher's run might be about to end with his Finnish rival enjoying a change of luck.
"I think if it's a dry race then Mika will win it," he said. "I think he's had quite a lot of bad luck up to now, he was quick enough to win in Brazil, he was quick enough to win in Imola but he had problems.
"If he doesn't have problems I think he can do it. But Michael's on a run and he's going to be a hard man to stop."
Schumacher had a big crash at Silverstone last year, breaking his leg and forcing him to sit out the next six races - a break that thrust Irvine from team number two to frontrunner in the title race.
The gravel traps at Silverstone were criticised afterwards for failing to slow Schumacher down sufficiently before he speared into the triple tyre walls and Irvine said a lot had been done since to make the track safer.
"But the thing is the cars are so damn quick that on a very short straight they are still up to 160," he warned. "So if you do have an accident you know it's going to hurt for sure."