IRELAND'S Eddie Irvine roared into the lead of the world championship for the second time this year at Hockenheim yesterday just as rumours escalated that he will be offloaded by the Marlboro Ferrari team next season.IRELAND'S Eddie Irvine roared into the lead of the world championship for the second time this year at Hockenheim yesterday just as rumours escalated that he will be offloaded by the Marlboro Ferrari team next season.
The Conlig flyer made the most of team tactics and the problems of his rivals to vault to the head of the championship standings by eight points, while Rubens Barrichello and team-mate Mika Salo have elbowed past him in the queue to partner Michael Schumacher next year.
The German continues to convalesce from his broken leg and injured foot while Irvine makes hay in the sunshine, ably assisted by his new deputy Mika Salo, to whom he paid the biggest tribute afterwards.
``That trophy is for Mika. I wouldn't want to see it on my mantlepiece,'' said Irvine, who was gracious enough to acknowledge that for once he had benefited from Ferrari team orders.
``Really, the race came to us,'' Irvine said. ``We didn't really take the race from McLaren, they shot themselves in the foot.'' Hakkinen, who started from pole, had a long pit stop on lap 24 that dropped him from the lead to fourth place and he then blew his left rear tyre to crash out of the race on the 26th lap.
Salo's `Irvinesque' tactic in letting his No 1 past a few laps after his pit-stop and another catalogue of incidents for the McLaren Mercedes team conspired to give Irvine a win that he cheekily described as `boring'.
The rich irony of Irvine fighting for equal status at Ferrari next year while benefiting from team orders to win in Germany will not be lost on Ferrari team management who may already, if one rumour is to be believed, have opted for Brazilian Rubens Barrichello to partner Schumacher next year.
Salo, too, is doing a wonderful job as Irvine's `boy wonder', to quote the Ulsterman. If that makes Irvine Batman, then one wonders if the caped crusader will be dressed in Stewart Ford white or Jordan yellow next year?
``I haven't even thought about the championship,'' insisted Irvine afterwards to sceptical looks. With just six races left and McLaren continuing to hand victories on a plate to Ferrari, the chances are looking good for Eddie to go one better than John Watson's second place in 1982.
The second win in a week, the third in a fascinating F1 season and at last witnessed at first hand by his parents, Ed and Kathleen, who missed the earlier wins. Third time lucky for the Irvines and what price a hat-trick for junior in Budapest two weeks from now?