Irish F1 Drivers – Has Ireland produced a good Formula One driver?

Alex Gassman

by Alex Gassman

Irish F1 drivers Eddie Irvine and Derek Daly

Formula One drivers from Ireland

In the history of Formula 1 there have only ever been 4 official Irish drivers who have started a Grand Prix:

  • Joe Kelly
  • Derek Daly
  • Tommy Byrne
  • Ralph Firman

Eddie Irvine - an Irishman?

You might notice one name missing from that list.

Eddie Irvine was from Northern Ireland and held a racing license he obtained from the Sporting Authority of the Republic of Ireland. But being from Northern Ireland meant he held a British Passport.

The FIA states that any driver competing in their officially sanctioned World Championships, of which Formula 1 is the biggest, must compete under their national flag, rather than the flag of the country where they obtained their license.

Eddie Irvine Ireland 1994

Image licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

That meant that during his career Irvine competed as a Brit, despite the FIA mistakenly putting his nationality as Irish on a number of entry lists. A couple of disorganised race directors also showed the Irish flag when he stood on the podium, only adding to the confusion.

However, during an interview in 1995 Eddie stated:

“But at the end of the day, I’m Irish…… if you’re from Ireland, North or South, you’re Irish.”

So as he’s a self-proclaimed Irishman, then I’m going to include him in this list.

Irish F1 driver stats

So including Eddie Irvine, here are some overall statistics from all of the Irish Formula 1 drivers combined:

Irish F1 Drivers
Number of F1 drivers 5
World championship titles 0
Grand Prix competed in 211
Race wins 4
Podiums 26
Pole positions 0
Fastest laps 1
Irish drivers on current F1 grid 0

No driver from Ireland has ever won the Formula One world championship.

The 3 best Irish Formula 1 drivers

From the list at the top of this page, Joe Kelly and Tommy Byrne only competed in 2 races each and neither scored any points. Their F1 stat sheets are pretty bare.

So I’m going to look at the three other Formula One drivers, all of whom have had varying degrees of success in the sport.

3 - Ralph Firman

  • Previous teams: Jordan
  • First season: 2003
  • Last season: 2003
  • World championships: 0
  • Wins: 0
  • Podiums: 0
  • Pole positions: 0
  • Number of GP starts: 0
  • DOB: 20th May 1975
  • Hometown: Norwich, England

Ralph Firman was born in England to an Irish mother. He had an Irish racing license and raced as an Irish citizen.

Before he joined the F1 grid he’d had success in a number of the junior categories, winning the British Formula 3 champiobship, Formula Nippon championship and the prestigious Macau Grand Prix (F3).

He was given his break in F1 in 2003 by fellow Irishman Eddie Jordan, owner of the Jordan racing team. In that season he competed in 14 Grand Prix with a best result of 8th place in Spain, scoring just 1 point over the year.

His contract wasn’t renewed the following season and that was the end of the Formula 1 pathway for Firman who went on to find success in the Japanese touring car championship Super GT. He was also a driver for Team Ireland in the A1 GP series.

2 - Derek Daly

  • Previous teams: Team Tissot Ensign, Candy Tyrrell, March Grand Prix, TAG Williams, Theodore Racing
  • First season: 1978
  • Last season: 1982
  • World championships: 0
  • Wins: 0
  • Podiums: 0
  • Pole positions: 0
  • Number of GP starts: 49
  • DOB: 11 March 1953
  • Hometown: Balinteeer, Dublin, Ireland

Image licensed under CC0 1.0  

Derek Daly won the 1977 British Formula 3 championship which propelled him in to the top tier of motor racing, where he drove for a number of different teams over his 5 year stint in F1.

He had three top-ten finishes in his first season and scored 1 championship point. His best season was undoubtedly his last in 1982 with TAG Williams, where he made 8 top-ten finishes and scored a total of 8 points.

He never made it on to the podium despite showing some impressive pace over the years.

1 - Eddie Irvine

  • Previous teams: Jordan, Ferrari, Jaguar
  • First season: 1993
  • Last season: 2002
  • World championships: 0
  • Wins: 4
  • Podiums: 12
  • Pole positions: 0
  • Number of GP starts: 146
  • DOB: 10 November 1965
  • Hometown: Newtownards, Northern Ireland

Eddie Irvine very nearly became the first (and only) Irishman to ever win a Formula 1 world title. He was just 2 points away.

He makes up the majority of the total statistics for drivers from Ireland. He’s by far and away the most successul Irish racing driver ever to have turned a wheel on the F1 grid.

His career at the top level of motorsport lasted a decade. In his first season with Jordan he showed great promise, scoring 10 points and finishing 12th overall. The next year he was snapped up by Ferrari who he raced with for 4 seasons.

Irvine’s best year came with Ferrari in 1999. He started with a win at the Albert Park Circuit in Australia, before taking another 3 wins that year. He went on to finish second in the championship, beaten to the title by just 2 points by Mika Häkkinen. 

That’s the closest he ever came to winning the title, and whilst he didn’t manage it that year he did beat other champions like Damon Hill and his Ferrari teammate Michael Schumacher in the process.

He then moved to Jaguar for three years. The car wasn’t up to speed and his results dropped off a cliff. His best result with them was 9th overall in 2002, and at the end of that season he called it a day.

The future: Alex Dunne

One of the most promising motorsport talents from Ireland is the youngster Alex Dunne. His junior racing profile is seriously respectable. He won the 2022 British F4 championship in commanding fashion and was runner up in the 2023 GB3 championship.

Alex looks like Ireland’s best hope of having a new F1 race driver in the near future.

Alex Gassman

I‘m Alex. I write F1 and motorsport travel guides based on my experience as racing driver and full-time motorsport nerd. I’ve traveled the world watching F1 and other racing series.

I started oversteer48 with the aim of helping other motorsport fans who are planning on watching some racing themselves.

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