There is no doubt that Michael Schumacher was a fierce teammate in F1, given he was one of the best. The seven-time champion in no time established himself as one of the key members at Ferrari and led their dominance in the early 2000s. However, according to his former boss Eddie Jordan, there was once a time before that when Schumacher gave his word to help his teammate Eddie Irvine win the 1999 championship.
Back in that season, the German driver suffered a massive accident that had ruled him out for six races. Since he was no longer in the mix to fight for the title as a result, he had vowed to help Irvine in the best possible way he could. However, according to Jordan, Schumacher failed to keep his word.
In an episode of the Formula for Success podcast, Jordan explained this fiasco. He said, “Michael [Schumacher] did come back after his accident and told everyone he was coming back to help Eddie Irvine win the championship. He did not do that”.
The Irishman added, “He did everything that he could [to prevent that] because he did not want Ferrari to win a championship with a driver other than him. That’s what I believe and that’s what Irvine believes.”
Back in that 1999 season, Schumacher got badly injured on lap 1 of the British GP. He broke his leg following his crash at the Stowe corner toward the end of Hangar straight while traveling at about 307 kph (191 mph). Following his accident, the German driver returned for the final two races in Malaysia and Japan.
However, Jordan assesses that Schumacher did not help Irvine at the season finale, where the Briton had a chance to beat Mika Hakkinen for the title. Irvine had a four-point lead over the Finnish driver heading into the season finale at Suzuka.
Schumacher qualified on pole at the Japanese GP, with Hakkinen beside him on P2. Meanwhile, Irvine struggled massively during qualifying as he was 1.5 seconds behind his teammate in P5.
Could Michael Schumacher have helped Eddie Irvine claim a Ferrari double in 1999?
Ferrari were in a title-winning position in both championships ahead of the finale at Suzuka. With Michael Schumacher on pole, he had a chance to influence the result and help the Prancing Horse break its 20-year jinx in the Drivers’ Championship.
However, when the race started, Mika Hakkinen got the lead and the German driver was not able to challenge the defending champion. The permutations for Irvine to take the title needed Hakkinen to not win.
This is because Irvine would lose even if he finished second. Eventually, with the Finnish driver out of reach for both Ferraris, Irvine lost the championship by just two points. He finished third but a minute and a half behind both Hakkinen and Schumacher.
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Despite Irvine’s inability to win the title, the Italian team yet won the Constructors’ Championship for the first time since 1983. However, as Eddie Jordan said, Schumacher could have done something to win the Japanese GP.
Had he won the race, with Hakkinen in P2, that would have been sufficient for Ferrari to take a championship double with Irvine winning the Drivers’ title. While Irvine did not win the Drivers’ Championship in 1999, Schumacher ensured that Ferrari fans did not have to wait too long.
From 2000 to 2004, Schumacher and Ferrari won both the Drivers’ and the Constructors’ Championships respectively in each of those seasons. Jordan also cited how the seven-time champion had good teammates during this time at Ferrari.
The likes of Irvine, Rubens Barichello, and Felipe Massa were all great wingmen. But they knew how the Italian outfit operated and how Schumacher was the lead driver. Thus, no matter how hard they tried, they yet failed to win the title.