SENNA: IRVINE’S PUNCH UP IN JAPAN 93. WHAT REALLY HAPPENED.
Eddie Irvine made his debut for Jordan, finishing 6th (thereby scoring his first points) and then being punched by Ayrton Senna for unlapping himself during the race. Punched because Irvine unlapped him? That’s how it is written in wikipedia. I somehow remember it differently. And I was there, right there, inside the container where it all happened. And to be honest about it, it was all my fault. Let me tell you from the beginning. It is a bit long but bear with me. You need to know it all to understand what really happened.
It all started on the track, obviously, when Senna came up to rookie Irvine – 5th driver on the second seat at Jordan that year -, one lap ahead. The common procedure is for the back marker to let the leader through (if you are a lap ahead, you are bound to be quicker). No such thing from the Irish on his first race. Senna had to really overtake him, always a risky manoeuvre and more so on the tricky conditions of the track. It was on and off rain. In the video below, post race press conference, you can hear from Senna himself a calm explanation of what had happened in the race and, therefore, how hard it all was and how much was at stake.
Race finished, press conference out of the way, interviews in English, Italian and Portuguese done, I had sent my article to Brazil, my columns everywhere, engineering briefing was over. It is around 6pm and I am at the McLaren container – there was no motorhome in the overseas races those days – talking to Ayrton’s car engineer Giorgio Ascanelli. On the little TV, a re run of the race and the incident is being shown. Giorgio and I start talking and joking about how much of an inconsequent twat Irvine was. Ayrton walks in and gets in the banter. He was too happy about his win to let the incident spoil it. And then I missed a great opportunity to keep my mouth shut and said to Ayrton: “And you should have heard him (Irvine) telling the TV that if you were quicker than him you you should have overtaken him”.
I had hardly finished the phrase and Ayrton had turned around and was out of the door. Not his calm self, no banter. Giorgio and I looked at each other and follow in pursuit. Ayrton dashed by the containers until he got to Jordan’s. He barged in and we were right behind him. Irvine was sitting on a table talking to his engineer; nearby Rubens Barrichello and his agent Geraldo Rodrigues. I don’t remember word by work what was said but the following dialogue is pretty close:
Ayrton: “Why did you say you were quicker than me?”
Irvine: ” Well, I was, I passed you, din’t I”
Ayrton : “You passed me because I had problems overtaking Damon as well”
Irvine. “No matter, I was quicker and passed you”
Ayrton: “Quicker?? I was a lap ahead of you!” Voices are raising dramatically here. “I lost over 15 seconds! It could have destroyed all the work of a whole weekend, a hard race”
Irvine: “No difference. If you were quicker you should have overtaken me” Now, really cocky, and laughing
Ayrton: ” Punch” . He was too quick for any of us to hold him. But there was no second one, at least.
The blinds on the window had been left open and by then we had a small audience outside. We went back to the McLaren container and I had more work to do with the Press.
Between then and the Australian GP next, we spoke on the phone. ” Ayrton, they are talking about suspension or fines”
“Betise, you were there. He simply did not understand the seriousness of the situation. He was being irresponsible and cocky”
“Yes, I know, and I felt like punching him much earlier and more times. But you cannot do that. You have to apologise. Hitting somebody is unacceptable, Ayrton. And you know it”
Now, watch the Press Conference 10 days later, before the Australian GP