Friday November 30th, 2001
Eddie Irvine is past his sell-by date while Mika Hakkinen could struggle to return to Formula One - if Ferrari boss Jean Todt's views on age and inactivity are correct.
"I think it can take just one year's rest to make an eventual return difficult," Friday's Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper quoted the World Champions' sporting director as telling Parma university students. "I also think that once you are past 35 or 36 years old it is hard to stay very competitive."
Todt was answering a question about whether a driver such as Niki Lauda, Austria's former champion who now runs the Jaguar team, could still win in a modern Formula One car. But his reply could equally apply to current drivers such as Finland's former champion Hakkinen, who is taking a year's sabbatical from McLaren and will be 34 when and if he returns in 2003.
Irvine, now at Jaguar after four years at Ferrari, is 36 and will be the oldest driver in Formula One next season following the retirement in 2001 of 37-year-old Frenchman Jean Alesi. Michael Schumacher, Ferrari's four times World Champion will be 33 in January and has signed to stay at the team until the end of 2004.
Todt suggested that Ferrari might one day be interested in Italians Giancarlo Fisichella and Jarno Trulli and said Formula One's plans to rid itself of tobacco sponsorship by 2007 would hit hard. Ferrari have been sponsored by Philip Morris brand Marlboro for 20 years.
"It will not be easy to find a replacement even if the road to follow is probably that of telephones and satellite technology," he said. Telecoms giant Vodafone will be sponsoring the team from next season as a major backer.
Published at 14:10:55 GMT