May 10, 2001 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Sure, it was 1999 and he was driving for Ferrari, but at this point Irvine needs any positive memories he can find.
The Irishman moved to Jaguar last year after his ' 99 career year, when he won four races as Michael Schumacher’s teammate. Since then, however, Irvine has been an ‘also-ran’ in Formula One.
He had eight Top 10 finishes and a season-high fourth place finish at Monaco in 2000. His four championship points put him more than 100 behind champion Schumacher and was 70 less than his 1999 total, when he finished second in the championship standings.
He hasn't scored a point this season and Irvine is unsure what to expect anymore.
All he knows is that Austria is next.
“I'm looking forward to Austria, not least because I missed this race last year as I had to be flown back to London for tests after suffering with abdominal pains,” he said. “It's difficult to say what sort of result we can expect, but I do know that the four days of testing I did last week in Valencia were very positive. We managed to generate good mileage, most of them productive. So far this year, like most of the teams, we have concentrated on tire and engine development.”
While Irvine is one of the more outspoken critics of new driver aids like traction control, he admits he hopes it will level the playing field and make the Jaguar R2 much more competitive.
"Coming to Austria this early in the year, there is a good chance of bad weather and that will mean a more representative test of all the new electronic aids on the car that we used in Barcelona for the first time,” Irvine said. "Although we didn't have an easy time in Barcelona two weeks ago, one thing I was pleased about was that, while other teams seemed to have problems, we had a trouble-free time with our traction and launch control and all the other electronics developed by Cosworth and Pi Electronics.”
As if Irvine’s 2001 season wasn’t hard enough to get through, teammate Luciano Burti left for Prost and Jaguar was forced to promote test driver Pedro de la Rosa to full time status. And to top that, Jaguar test driver Thomas Scheckter was fired last week after he was convicted of soliciting a prostitute and the team hinted it may not hire a replacement.
With his team in a state of flux, his frustrations are mounting and members of the media have taken to refer to Irvine as everything from lazy and selfish to unmotivated and overrated.
Now that, he said, really hurts.
"Well, this lazy (guy) is in the middle of a four-day test at Valencia,” he said last week. “It's comical. Look at how much testing I've done in the last two years. I have tested every winter, all winter, ever since I came to Jaguar. Compare that to Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen or Jacques Villeneuve. I've done more tests than any other team leader. In 24 races I have only been out qualified by a teammate three times and once was, in all truth, because of traffic."
Sounding like he is trying to convince himself more than anybody else, Irvine said the team is slowly but surely making progress.
This year we know our car is not quick enough, and there is no magic wand to make it go quicker,” he said. “There are massive problems with it and we have got to work our (butts) off to make this car more a test-bed for next year's car. The important thing is to chip away, chip away and go forward in stages.”
But can a return to Austria help make Irvine the four-race winning man he was in 1999?
"The fact I won here in 1999 means nothing,” he said. “F-1 doesn't stand still and what happened two years ago has no impact on this weekend's race."
So much for the good news.