Madiba fuels Irvine's long drive to F1

Tokyo - Ferrari's Eddie Irvine, determined to win his first Formula-One championship at the weekend, is looking to former South African presidentNelson Mandela for inspiration.

He has been reading Mandela's autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom", to stay focused between heavy promotional work for the Italian team whilenumber-one Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher was on holiday elsewhere.

"I think if you look at Nelson Mandela it makes the Formula-One championship seem pretty insignificant," the 33-year-old Ulsterman said ahead of the season-ending Japanese Grand Prix.

"I am at page 645 and he is still in prison," he laughed. "I will finish it tomorrow or maybe tonight," he said in an interview, pointing to the thick paperback which he had almost finished in several days.

The speed doesn't matter in this exercise. "I don't want to read it so fast because it is nice to read three chapters very carefully and put it down."

Irvine said he didn't feel pressure as he leads McLaren ace Mika Hakkinen by four points after Ferrari won an appeal last Friday against itsdisqualification from the Malaysian Grand Prix on October 17.

"I have many things to think about, just not driving around in circles in a Formula-One car," he said.

But he said it was still impossible to relax due to the demands of public relations work for his team and sponsors.

After a weekend of partying at an club here, Irvine spent the past two days appearing before fans and journalists at meetings organised by sponsors.

"I've doubled the workload ... because Michael doesn't do PR work somuch," he said.

McLaren boss Ron Dennis has pardoned Hakkinen from promotional activitiesso that the 31-year-old Flying Finn can concentrate on Sunday's title decider.

Irvine, who has built up his lead while double champion Schumacher nursed an injury for three months until the Malaysian event, said he hadn'ttalked to the German since the race.

He said it would be fantastic if Schumacher, now out of title contention, does the same thing as he did in Malaysia. Schumacher helped Irvine win the race while blocking Hakkinen's path.

He was aware that if Hakkinen, the defending F1 champion, finished no better than second, he had only to finish in the top four to sew up theworld driver's title.

"All I aim to do is win the championship," he said. "It is fantastic to win the race as well. But there is too much at stake in the championship to worry about winning the race."

Irvine has steadily improved his performance at Suzuka since his sixth-place finish in his F1 debut in 1993. He was second behind Hakkinen last year.

But he said it would be alright to finish second or third this year as long as he secures the world title at Suzuka, the place he regularlyraced from 1991-1993 in the Japanese F-3000 tour before his F1 debut there.

"It's fantastic. The circle is complete," said Irvine, who will move to the new Jaguar team next year after four years with Ferrari. - Sapa-AFP

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