Saturday August 18th, 2001
Eddie Irvine believes that reigning Formula One World Champion Michael Schumacher will retire from racing in 2004 with seven world crowns to his name. The Northern Irishman rates the German driver as the best of all time, saying he was "head and shoulders" above his closest rivals.
"I fear Michael will continue to dominate the Championship until his contract with Ferrari ends in 2004," Irvine wrote in a column for Saturday's Sun paper. "The chances are he will then retire with a total of seven world crowns to his name - two more than the great Juan Manuel Fangio managed in the 1950s - and a mass of other record-breaking achievements."
Jaguar driver Irvine, who was the German's teammate at Ferrari from 1996-1999, said the main obstacle in Schumacher's path was the question of whether his team would ever fall behind in tyre technology.
"The only thing that could possibly break his stranglehold on the sport is if Michelin produce tyres superior to the Bridgestones that Ferrari use. That is what we all must pray for. The daunting prospect for the future is I don't see anyone who is likely to knock him off his perch."
Schumacher, who is preparing for Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix, can clinch his fourth Championship with four races to spare if he triumphs at the Hungaroring. Victory in Hungary would be his seventh of the season and it would also equal French four times champion Alain Prost's record of 51 career wins.
For Irvine, though, the German is already the best Formula One driver of all time.
"Everyone has their own idea of who is the greatest Grand Prix driver of all time," Irvine said. "Older generations will point to Fangio, Jim Clark and Stirling Moss. Others will say it was Prost or Ayrton Senna.
"But, for me, Michael is head and shoulders above them all. You only have to look at his record to see he is the best. Senna may hold the record of 65 pole positions - 25 more than Michael - but he usually had the fastest car on the track.
"I was always a big fan of Ayrton but Michael has managed to eclipse him. I also feel that, had Ayrton not been killed at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994, he would have been forced to retire from racing because he would not have been able to cope with being upstaged by Schuey."
Published at 09:24:17 GMT