Editor’s Note: This article is posted in collaboration with Betway, an outside sponsorship client. The opinions and information contained within do not necessarily represent Frontstretch and its staff.
54-year-old Eddie Irvine has seen it all in Formula One, piling up four wins and 26 podium finishes during a career that spanned over a decade. A one-time Ferrari teammate of seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, he’s run side-by-side with arguably the most successful F1 driver in history.
That is… until he saw Lewis Hamilton take to the track. In a wide-ranging interview, Northern Ireland’s former racing star explains how Formula One’s newest five-time champion has eclipsed Schumacher prior to the sport’s 2019 season finale in Abu Dhabi.
“Hamilton’s probably the best racer that’s ever been,” Irvine said. “As a racer, one-on-one with another guy, I think he’s the best. Much better than Michael [Schumacher] was, much better than [Ayrton] Senna. He very seldom gets involved in accidents, Hamilton, because he’s so focused on driving his car to get ahead. He’s probably the cleanest driver we’ve had in a long, long time.”
Of course, Irvine, whose career ended in 2002, believes accidents are much harder to come by nowadays because of an explosion of technology inside the race car. It’s a cleaner, safer form of racing but Irvine openly wonders if it’s actually better?
“I think when you make a mistake, you should pay a price,” he says. “You should at least lose a place and not be able to rejoin. The whole point of racing for me was to push it to the limit, and not to make a mistake. The guys you see today, they make mistakes, they just come back on the circuit.
“Back in the day, in the ‘50s, you got killed. Now, you don’t even lose a place. There’s no price for making mistakes.”
Of course, reducing the number of deaths on the racetrack is a good thing, right? Formula 1 hasn’t suffered any fatalities in a major Grand Prix since Jules Bianchi wrecked in the Japanese Grand Prix back in October 2014. But have those technological breakthroughs created an unintended consequence of making racing too easy?
“The electronics in Formula One, I think it’s gone too far,” Irvine explains. “Now, you press a button and you just overtake. Before, the pressure was on at every point in the weekend.
“It’s cheapened the sport. It hasn’t attracted new fans and it’s lost old fans.”
Over in the United States, just the TV audience alone would challenge Irvine’s assertion. 17 of 20 races have seen an increase in Nielsen ratings this season; viewership is up 22% over 2018. But Irvine has always been the type of personality that beats to his own drummer. His love of speed and desire to preserve the difficulty of driving come from his hard-working career ambitions, a climb that ended with a decade-long career at the top levels of motorsport.
Listen to Irvine’s memories of being Schumacher’s teammate, hear what Formula 1 needs to do to fix what he feels are the current challenges in the sport, and discover the one driver he feels could challenge Hamilton in 2020. It’s one of the sport’s most unique personalities at his finest.