Grapevine: Suspense Hovers over Irvine in Driver Market

Eddie Irvine, Jaguar and Toyota can still offer suspense and uncertainty in a Formula One Championship drained of life by Ferrari and Michael Schumacher.

Grapevine: Suspense Hovers over Irvine in Driver Market

Eddie Irvine, Jaguar and Toyota can still offer suspense and uncertainty in a Formula One Championship drained of life by Ferrari and Michael Schumacher.

Several teams left the weekend's U.S. Grand Prix with question marks hanging over their 2003 lineups and the answers may be provided before the season's final race in Japan on October 13. The future of Irvine, 37 next month and the oldest driver in Formula One, remains a major topic of conversation along with speculation about who will be partnering Frenchman Olivier Panis at Toyota.

The Northern Irishman has for months provoked a guessing game about his plans, but time is now pressing and Jaguar boss Niki Lauda said in Indianapolis last week that a decision would have to be made soon.

Irvine told Britain's Sun newspaper at the weekend he had three options: "At the moment, there are two teams that I could drive for next season, while the other option is retirement. I've said all along that unless I can drive for a team that's going to be competitive, I'll find something else to do with my life," said the former Ferrari driver.

Cryptic Clues

Eddie Jordan, whose team is seen as being one of Irvine's options, enlivened the guessing game with a cryptic contribution of his own. The Irish entrepreneur said he had had "a few chats" with Irvine but nothing more.

Asked whether that meant it looked like a case of either staying at Jaguar or retiring for Irvine, Jordan replied: "That's not what I said.

"Or Jaguar's not an option or Jordan's not an option," he told Reuters. "We play the game. You said to me he has three options. I said I disagree with you, he has two."

Australian Mark Webber, currently with Minardi, is strongly tipped to replace Irvine at Jaguar but other candidates have entered the frame. There has also been speculation that Pedro de la Rosa's job at Jaguar might be vulnerable, despite the Spaniard having a contract for next year.

Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia, the Williams test driver, impressed in a recent outing with Jaguar in Spain while his compatriot Helio Castroneves could also be an option. Castroneves has tested for Toyota and told the ESPN.com website that his Indy Racing League (IRL) team boss Roger Penske had been in contact with Jaguar.

"I didn't know anything about it until Roger told me he was talking to them (Jaguar) for me," he said. "I want to know what's going on and I don't have any offer yet, but if it's serious I'm going to go after this."

Young Gun

Another Brazilian, Cristiano da Matta, has been considered the front runner for the Toyota drive but team boss Ove Andersson suggested at the weekend that his ideal candidate would be a younger man. He said an announcement might be made at Suzuka although it was not certain.

"We tested Da Matta, we tested Helio Castroneves as well," he told Reuters. "I don't know, we will see. I would like to have a young gun to go with Olivier (Panis) and I think that would be a good mixture."

Andersson defined his ideal 'young gun' as someone aged around 21 or 22. Da Matta is 29, Castroneves 27. Pizzonia, 22, fits the bill, however, while compatriot Felipe Massa, who has lost his drive at Sauber for 2003, is only 21.

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