Eddie Irvine: Formula 1 is now embarrassing
Published 18/12/2013 | 11:30
Eddie Irvine is one of those blokes whose reputation precedes him. To some he'll always be the motormouth playboy forever stirring it up.
The man from Conlig in County Down has never shied away from that image.
The reason? He doesn't give a hoot what you or I think about him.
Great way to be.
Refreshing too in a world where everybody seems to care what everybody else thinks about them.
Irvine's one of Northern Ireland most famous sportsmen who raced with the best of them for a decade in the ruthless and unforgiving arena of Formula One, coming agonisingly close to World Championship glory.
Maybe it's because of the way he is perceived, but it's my view that in Northern Ireland Irvine has never got the credit he deserved for his achievements.
I ask him about this.
The 48-year-old's brutually honest answer: "I didn't do it for anyone else. I did it for myself. I wasn't expecting lots of praise for doing things for myself, so that has never bothered me."
We're sitting in the Eddie Irvine Sports Complex in Bangor ahead of the announcement of his recent purchase of the long-standing local business 'Race School Ireland'.
Eddie's dad, Edmund, is also here. We chat about namesake Martyn Irvine, the Newtownards World champion cyclist and the craic is good.
Eddie's relaxed. He spends most of his time in warmer climes like Miami these days, but still feels at home in our winter cold. Son and dad are at ease with one another.
I've been told in the past about how difficult Eddie can be. Not in my experience. He's charming company and fun. I like the guy.
And in terms of an interviewee, he's gold dust. Straight talking and searingly up front, Irvine shoots from the lip and if he annoys or angers others along the way, so be it.
Truth be told Formula One could do with someone like him today.
Earlier this month the sport's governing body FIA decided to award double points at the final race of the season from 2014 in an attempt to heighten interest in the World Championship, which has become a romp for Sebastian Vettel in recent years.
Irvine's view: "I think Formula One has lost its way. This latest rule of double points for the last race is insanity. That actually made me realise I am not going to watch another race until that rule gets kicked out. That is just embarrassing. It really is. They should be ashamed of themselves.
"I just think the people involved in these decisions have lost the plot. They have no understanding of reality and the people who are in there have been in too long. They have blown up the history of the sport by changing the points, changing the qualifying and now double points for the final race!"
In disbelief he starts laughing at the thought of it.
"It's ridiculous, I've never heard such a joke in all my life. Talk about tinsel town bulls***!"
One of racing's most compelling characters in the last 20 years, Irvine's first experience of the glitz and glamour of F1 came in 1993 with Eddie Jordan's team.
Controversy followed him around. He had run-ins with authority and other drivers, including the great Ayrton Senna.
Irvine got himself noticed on and off the track.
In 1996 he joined Ferrari in a dream move to partner Michael Schumacher. Very much the number two, it wasn't until 1999, with the German out of action due to a broken leg, that the Ulsterman came into his own. He won four races and took the Drivers Championship down to the last race of the year, eventually finishing as runner-up just behind Mika Hakkinen.
In 2000 he switched to Jaguar and a couple of years later he left F1 behind.
"It was a great time in my life and I had a blast, but I have as much fun now as I ever had and I'm more in control of my destiny than I was then," he says.
"Now that I'm involved in many businesses and I travel a lot you see how unimportant Formula One is, but when you are on the inside everybody thinks it is the most important thing in the world.
"You see that in every business... you meet actors and they think their movies are life-changing and you see footballers and they think their matches mean everything, but when you step outside that world you realise it's not that important."
Family is important to Eddie, in particular his daughter Zoe who attends Regent House in Newtownards, just as he did many years before.
"I get home quite a lot. My daughter is here, she goes to Regent House. Maria, her mum, has done a fantastic job and Zoe has turned out great," he says.
"She studies hard, knows what she has got to do and seems to have good staying power for the things she starts."
This is not a motormouth playboy talking, just a proud dad.
Irvine brings his experience home with new race school
By Steven Beacom
Formula One legend Eddie Irvine recently completed his purchase of motoring business Race School Ireland and added to a portfolio of sports venues owned by his company.
Eddie Irvine Sports was founded in 2003 and since it launched has come to acquire indoor go-karting, paintball, laser combat, six 3G football pitches, a Room2Race simulator centre and a snooker hall.
The racer can personally attest to the effect of Race School Ireland, having completed his own racing license with the company. Not long afterwards in 1987 he went on to win the F1600 Esso, RAC British Championships and the coveted Formula Ford Festival.
For years the driver has had a close business relationship with Race School Ireland, making the purchase more of a personal match.
In a statement Eddie Irvine Sports said: "This business amalgamation is evidence that we are continuing to rapidly push forward as Ireland's leading motor sports and corporate entertainment provider. This also allows the history of Eddie Irvine's career to be showcased in a real, educational and fitting environment, allowing every motor enthusiast the opportunity to be a racing driver for a day."
Race School Ireland has as its home the famous Kirkistown Circuit, a 1.53mile race track that is the only one certified by the Motor Sports Association in Ireland. It is located on the Ards Peninsula.
Irvine makes island dreams a reality
Have you ever fancied buying an island in the beautiful Bahamas?
Yeah, me too. We can dream. For Eddie Irvine, however, it's reality and now he is developing it into a stunning resort.
It's just one of many business ventures Conlig's most famous son is involved in.
Eddie revealed: "I'm developing an island in the Bahamas which I bought a few years ago. It is a virgin island and private island where they filmed Pirates of the Caribbean and the plan is to develop it into a beautiful resort. At the moment I have three houses on it... three octagons and probably another five to go. That will be about it. It's going to be very low impact."
He earned millions as a Formula One driver and has been earning even more since leaving the sport, having invested in various types of property – his love for cutting a deal began when he first left Northern Ireland to become a racing driver.
"I've always been interested in property. When I moved to England the first thing I did was buy a house," says Irvine.
"It's a good way of doing something that can make you money as opposed to costing you money.
"Leaving Formula One wasn't a problem for me because I had so many other interests. I build my houses in Miami and I love the houses that I build. The houses make money but I don't build them to try and make money ... I build them to make them look amazing.
"Hopefully people will come along and think the same way about the houses, buy them and give me a nice profit.
"I want to keep building. The recession was an opportunity for me to buy good properties at good prices which should be good going forward."
Irvine's business brain is clearly working. On the 2013 Sunday Times Rich List his fortune was said to be a staggering £83m making him the seventh richest sportsman in Britain.
Questions for Eddie
Steven Beacom: Sebastian Vettel is now a four-time World champion, but is he in the same league as fellow German and your old Ferrari team-mate Michael Schumacher, who won seven titles?
Eddie Irvine: Vettel's record is amazing, though he has kept the best car pretty much every year which Michael didn't have. The one thing about Michael was when he won his first two championships he felt 'this is boring, I'm going to go to Ferrari and re-build Ferrari' and that was very admirable. He struggled there for four years before he won another championship. Vettel just staying at Red Bull winning trophies is boring. I don't see what he's trying to prove. Okay, he's going to collect a lot of championships, but you know what, who cares?
SB: What's your thoughts on Lewis Hamilton?
EI: I think Lewis lost the plot a little bit because he went too showbiz. His entry into Formula One was fantastic and his talent was amazing. Then he wanted to be a movie star or a rapper or something else. People want their sports stars to be 100% committed to being sports stars. I think he is coming back from that now and it would be nice if he could challenge Vettel. Lewis and Fernando Alonso are the two guys capable of taking Vettel on if their cars are up to it. Unfortunately, they aren't at the moment.
SB: Who do you admire in sport?
EI: Not really anyone. All people in sport are doing it for themselves and good luck to them. I don't watch sport really because I have too much going on myself. I prefer watching the Discovery Channel. I do think, though, that sport is very important for kids because it shows them you have to work hard to be good at it and succeed.
SB: Do you keep in touch with anyone from Formula One?
EI: Not really. I pretty much do my own thing. I don't really keep in touch with anyone. Kimi Raikkonen rings me the odd time when he's drunk!