Eddie Irvine: Max Verstappen is the ultimate Formula 1 talent but Hamilton is still the best
Eddie Irvine, a former Formula One driver from Northern Ireland, is most known for his time at Ferrari and his collaboration with Formula One legend Michael Schumacher. In a recent interview, he discussed the championship competition between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, as well as his experience working alongside Schumacher at Ferrari.
What are your initial thoughts on the 2021 F1 season?
So far, the 2021 season has been great. Verstappen is clearly the fastest driver right now, but Lewis Hamilton is probably still the best. It’s been amazing to see those two go at it. It’s going to be a fantastic season, in my opinion.
Max Verstappen and Red Bull are more competitive than they have been in years. What adjustments do you believe they’ve made since last year to help them achieve that goal?
Regarding Verstappen’s driving, he’s finally gotten his act together after six seasons. He’s always been lightning quick, and it’s clear that he’s by far the most dominant team leader on the grid. He’s had a slew of different second drivers in the squad, and none of them have come close to matching him. So it’s similar to the Michael Schumacher effect. While Lewis has frequently been out-qualified and surpassed by his teammates, you’d have to say Verstappen is the ultimate talent, even though Lewis is a polished professional with few flaws.
In 1999, you competed for the world championship. How would you characterize the pressures of a Formula One championship race?
The pressures of Formula One are enormous. You’ve got 500 or 600 people working at the plant, and you’re the one in charge of achieving the outcomes. So you’re under a lot of pressure, and you want to do well because, if you’re in the sport, you take it very seriously. You want to provide your best effort. A lot of it is out of your control at times, but you must always give your utmost. It was quite difficult in 1999 since it was my only opportunity at the World Championship, and we came close but couldn’t quite pull it off. The fact that it was my one shot added to the pressure – it wasn’t like I had been in a Williams for three years and had three years to win the championship. It was tense, but that’s what we get paid for.
In the 20 years since your own title push, how do you believe those pressures have changed?
It has gotten increasingly professional, as has every sport. But it doesn’t look to be as much fun as it once was, that’s for sure.
In the press briefings, we’ve already seen Hamilton and Verstappen spar. How difficult is it to avoid getting personal with your opponents?
I’ve never had a problem getting personal. For me, the professional and personal situations were intertwined. Everything is fair in love and war, and I consider Formula One as war, therefore I had no difficulty criticizing or saying anything that I thought would assist me. I was just concerned with myself and my team, and I didn’t care about anyone else.
You worked at Ferrari for four years alongside Michael Schumacher. What’s it feel like to be second best to a teammate?
In one aspect, being Schumacher’s teammate was incredible because I got to work with the man I still consider to be the best driver of all time. He completely overpowered his teammates. Of course, he got older and wasn’t nearly as swift, but it was wonderful to witness a person function at such a high level at the beginning. So it was an honor from that perspective. Obviously, when you’re up against someone like Michael Schumacher, you never look good. But, in a way, I was fortunate because, by the time I arrived, Schumacher was widely regarded as exceptional. The individuals Schumacher faced earlier in his career were discarded because no one realized how excellent Michael was at that moment.
How much did you learn from each other when racing alongside Schumacher?
It was difficult to learn from Michael since he was pure talent. He simply had an incredible aptitude to get the most out of a racing car. That was that.
During your F1 career, who was your favorite teammate?
I’d have to go with Michael since we had a great working connection. I never had any problems with him. Every weekend, he performed the best he could and I performed the best I could. If there was something I had to do for the team, I had to do it, and that’s it. It was quite straightforward.
How do de facto second drivers like Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez deal with their situation?
Their only responsibility is to perform to the best of their abilities. Bottas has defeated Hamilton more frequently in the past than he has recently. Perez is a newcomer in the battle versus Verstappen, but Verstappen has already demonstrated that the game is already finished. They’re both de facto No. 2s, but I don’t believe that’s a huge disadvantage against someone like Hamilton and Verstappen. Nobody in Formula One would go up against those two guys and frequently defeat them. Hamilton, as I said, is getting older, and his pace isn’t what it used to be, but he’s still a perfect professional. I believe everyone understands that anyone who competes against Verstappen will be defeated due to his sheer speed.
How effective is F1 in attracting new fans with coverage on Channel 4 and Netflix’s Drive To Survive?
Formula 1 did an excellent job with Drive to Survive, in my opinion. Everywhere I go, and I travel a lot in the United States, the Bahamas, and Europe, I get frequent people telling me now that they love Formula One and Netflix. That’s what happens when you bring in new owners who are passionate about marketing. They’ve done an incredible job of making the information appear as intriguing as possible. It has obviously gained followers. The owners have other difficulties to deal with, but in terms of marketing to a new audience, I give them a 10 out of 10.
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