Irvine refuses to make issue of flag choice

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EDDIE IRVINE said last night he would not comment on the raising of the Irish tricolour over the podium after his dashing drive to third place in Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix.

"No comment - I don't really want to talk about it," he said in Milan last night. I think they've decided to alternate it but I don't want to say any more," said the normally talkative Ulsterman.

In Argentina the tricolour was flown, while the Union Jack did the honours at Imola. The reality of the flags position at Monaco is that the FIA provided a list of entrants to the Automobile Club the Monaco (ACO), complete with a photocopy of the coveted Grade A "Superlicence" that a driver needs to compete in F1.

The ACO used this to dictate the flags to be hoisted above the successful drivers. Eddie Irvine races with an RIAC licence issued from Dawson St, Dublin and hence the tricolour.

On the issue of flags, the most visible Irish tricolours were the crossed pair hanging from the balcony above St Devote. This it transpires is the office of Michael Smurfit, the honorary Irish consul to Monte Carlo.

Meanwhile Ferrari team chief Luca di Montezemolo made it clear yesterday that Michael Schumacher's victory and Irvine's third place in Monaco should not be another flash in the pan.

"We have to be very happy about such a wonderful result," the Ferrari president said. "But let's be clear about one thing all we did was our duty. We have to keep our feet on the ground. Our objective must be to win on a regular basis."

Ferrari are now top of the drivers' championship through Schumacher and also lead the constructors' championship by eight points over Williams.

Also last night, Eddie Jordan denied that a reported link up with Mercedes is on the cards. The German giant is reportedly unhappy with the performance of its current partner, McLaren. As things are evolving it now seems clear that Jordan has no interest in playing second fiddle to Prost with the Peugeot engine for 1998 and that he is looking strongly at a number of other options.

Prost though, believe they are going from strength to strength following their fourth place finish on Sunday and the latest news from their camp is that Damon Hill has been targeted by his former Williams team mate Alain, as a possible number one driver for the Frenchman's newly established F1 squad, when they switch to the new engines.

Prost, who won the last of his four world championships driving alongside Hill in 1993, aims to transform the former Ligier team, which he purchased three months ago, into a front line Fl operation capable of winning races.

"The fact that people in the paddock are talking in terms of Hill and Prost is very positive because it means that our team is gaining credibility," said the Frenchman.

"And those people are right. I will be keeping in touch with Damon, but I think it is a little bit too soon to come to any firm decision. I was always a fan of his since we drove together at Williams in 1993 and we worked very well together."

Such an opportunity could give fresh impetus to the 37 year old reigning champion's career after the first five races of 1997 driving an Arrows Yamaha have so far failed to yield a single championship point.

Hill's name has also been linked with Benetton and McLaren. The former might benefit from the Englishman's astute talents as a test and development driver to help lift them from their current performance trough, while the fact that McLaren have recruited former Williams chief designer Adrian Newey a longtime Hill fan has increased speculation that he might find a berth in the Mercedes powered cars.

Nevertheless, the McLaren team chief Ron Dennis gently put the brakes on such speculation. Whilst conceding that Hill was a proven winner, and therefore worthy of consideration. Dennis said: "It's all too easy to make decisions about driver changes on a spontaneous basis."

"Taking an objective view, I can't see any obvious reason to change our drivers. Both Mika (Hakkinen) and David (Coulthard) have the potential to get the job done. All we have to do is give them the best car."

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