Eddie Irvine has predicted a bleak start to the Formula One season for his embattled Jaguar team. The outspoken Irvine said the problems that plagued the team during testing were likely to hamper their chances of success at Sunday's season-opening Australian Grand Prix. Irvine, speaking to reporters in Sydney before heading to Melbourne for this weekend's opener, admitted: "It's going to make it very tough. There's a bit of trepidation."

Jaguar have been hampered by a series of problems in the build-up to the season. Technical driver Steve Nichols has been replaced by Italian Guenther Steiner and the front wing had to be redesigned to rectify an embarrassing aerodynamics problem. Irvine said the team had been working hard to get the cars in shape by the start of the first race but no-one was completely sure how things would go.

He continued: "We tried as much as we could before we got here. We were working back at the factory to do stuff and how long it takes to sort the other problems out, I don't know. It's impossible to say because the car has given us so many problems. We've really got to do a lot of things again, so it depends how successful that is before we can start to make a judgement."

Despite concerns about the disappointing performance of the new R3 Jaguar, Irvine said he was still looking forward to Sunday's race. Irvine won his first Grand Prix in Melbourne three years ago and went on to finish second in the drivers' championship that year. "It's a really great event, it's the best organised grand prix of the year and obviously 1999 was fantastic for me," Irvine added.

Filed by Shane Murray