Eddie Irvine races a McLaren! But Senna is not amused…
The 1993 season may have been Ayrton Senna’s last as a member of the McLaren team, but it yielded some of his very best victories in the Ford-engined MP4-8 at Donington Park, Monaco and Suzuka – where the brilliant Brazilian was embroiled in controversy for the fourth Japanese Grand Prix in succession. But on this occasion the trouble spilled over long after the chequered flag had fallen.
Having won the race in magnificent style, Ayrton stormed down to the Jordan team’s garage to complain that their new driver Eddie Irvine, who had finished a fine sixth on his debut F1 outing, had messed him around as the Brazilian came up to lap him. Even worse, in Ayrton’s admittedly pumped-up view, he thought it was absolutely outrageous that the new boy had displayed the temerity of actually re-passing him during the height of their jousting. Senna was well stoked up, but Irvine was another genuine F1 tough nut and quickly made it clear that he was not interested in what the triple world champion might have to say.
There followed a typical Senna outburst. “What the **** do you think you were doing?” he asked Irvine. The Ulsterman just shrugged. “I was racing,” he replied. “You were racing?” snapped back Senna, eyes agleam. “Do you know the rule that you’re supposed to let the leaders come by when you’re a backmarker?”
“If you were going fast enough, it was no problem,” countered Irvine, absolutely refusing to back down.
Ayrton was now getting even angrier, moving closer to Irvine in a menacing manner. “I overtook you and you went off three times in front of me, at the same place, like a ******* idiot, where there was oil. You took a very big risk to put me out of the race…” The debate went on and on in the same vein, but eventually Senna lost his patience and took a swipe at Irvine, hitting the Jordan driver on the side of the head and sending him to the floor. That effectively marked the end of the debate, but Senna could count himself lucky that he did not face any sanctions for his behaviour. Most drivers would have received a harsh punishment, and it said much for his status that he escaped without penalty.
Ayrton had won the race by 11.4sec from Alain Prost’s Williams, with new boy Mika Hakkinen taking over the second McLaren seat from Michael Andretti to post a fine third place on only his second outing for the team. In fact, the McLaren management had run out of patience with the accident-prone Andretti who had only been allowed to stay behind the wheel of the MP4-8 for the Italian GP at Monza a few weeks earlier because of what his name meant in front of an Italian crowd. And he made it to the rostrum, but too late.
For most aspiring stars, third place at Monza would have seemed the crucial flicker of light at the end of the tunnel. Sadly for Michael Andretti, it was, so to speak, the lights of an oncoming train. He had gambled for high stakes and lost.
As far as Eddie Irvine was concerned, Suzuka in 1993 was the closest he ever came to a McLaren cockpit. By 1996 he would have joined Ferrari as Michael Schumacher’s team-mate and, in that position, would be cast in the role of one of McLaren’s prime rivals for the next few years until he was replaced in that prestigious job by Rubens Barrichello at the start of 2000.
In 1999, Irvine came close to winning the world championship – his title bid unquestionably aided by the fact that Michael Schumacher had broken a leg in a first lap crash during the British GP at Silverstone – but was pipped to the crown by two points by Mika Hakkinen who, in glorious fashion, repeated his title triumph of the year before.