Rahal gives Irvine his vote of confidence

Jaguar Racing boss Bobby Rahal has hit back at recent criticism of his lead driver Eddie Irvine by saying the Ulsterman is as committed as ever and not afraid of hard work

Rahal gives Irvine his vote of confidence

Irvine has developed a reputation as the 'bad boy' in Formula 1 over recent years. Since moving to Jaguar last year, after finishing second to Mika Hakkinen in the 1999 title race, the 35 year old has been accused of not taking his role with the struggling team seriously enough.

The criticism culminated in comments from former grand prix driver and fellow Ulsterman John Watson, who said last week that the Jaguar number one was in 'cruise and collect' mode.

"Eddie is still extremely committed," Rahal told Autsport's sister title Autocar. "If you've got to this level, you've got to be pretty confident in your abilities, given the right situation. If he was coasting, his lack of passion would be obvious."

Irvine himself reacted to the criticism while testing at Valencia in Spain last week, and believes his testing workload is proof enough that the comments are misplaced.

"Well, the lazy bastard is in the middle of a four-day test at Valencia," a deadpan Irvine told British national paper The Daily Telegraph. "It's comical. Look how much testing I've done in the last two years - every winter, all winter, since I came to Jaguar."

Despite Rahal's comments in support of his star driver, rumours suggest that the Jaguar management are hoping Pedro de la Rosa, who was promoted into the team's second race seat in place of Luciano Burti before the Spanish Grand Prix, will put more pressure on Irvine.

"In 24 races, I have only been out-qualified by my team mate three times," said Irvine.

Irvine was consistently half a second faster than de la Rosa at Valencia last week and out-qualified the Spaniard by seven places for the Spanish Grand Prix.

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