By virtue of being born in Northern Ireland, a constituent country of the United Kingdom, Irvine was a British citizen throughout his career. He also held a racing licence issued by the National Sporting Authority of the Republic of Ireland. (Drivers are not compelled to obtain their licence from their home country.) The FIA's International Sporting Regulations state that drivers competing in FIA World Championships shall compete under the nationality of their passport, rather than that of the National Sporting Authority that issued their racing licence, as is the case in other racing series. This situation created some confusion as to Irvine's nationality when he appeared at podium ceremonies in the Formula One World Championship. At his third podium, a second place for Ferrari at the 1997 Argentine Grand Prix, an Irish Tricolour was mistakenly flown by the race organisers. This led to his family receiving threatening phone calls. Irvine then requested that at subsequent races, a politically neutral shamrock flag be flown, and the non-sectarian Londonderry Air be played to mark a victory.
Eddie Irvine was born in Newtownards, County Down in Northern Ireland, to Edmund Sr. and Kathleen and spent his childhood in the small village of Conlig. Irvine was influenced by his parents, who were also involved in motor racing. His father, Edmund Sr, and his sister, Sonia (now a physiotherapist), worked with him during his career.
He completed studies in high school Regent House Grammar School, without ever excelling particularly in the results.
Irvine's first taste of motorsport came when his family spent their holidays attending the British Grand Prix. His father also raced in single-seater cars for fun. Irvine originally expressed interest in motorcycles but his father thought them too dangerous. Irvine worked unpaid in his father's scrapyard, in return for which his father funded his racing hobby.
Eddie Irvine's racing career began in Formula Ford, where from 1983 to 1986 he scored several podium finishes. His big break came in 1987 when he signed for the works Van Diemen team and won both RAC and Esso FF1600 championships with a respectable 19 wins out of 36 races, including the prestigious Formula Ford Festival.
His performances in Formula Ford led to a signing in the front running WSR Formula Three team. During the season, it was clear that the Alfa Romeo Engine in Irvine's car did not have a chance of competing with the Toyota and VW powered cars. He finished the year fifth in the standings, without a win, but with 8 podium positions.
After a good showing in the 1988 Macau Grand Prix, where he put his WSR Ralt car on pole position and won the first leg, Irvine signed for the Pacific team for the 1989 International Formula 3000 Championship. In a complicated season for a rookie team, Irvine finished the final standings in ninth place, ahead of his highly rated team mate JJ Lehto, who was already in F1 by mid-season. At the end of the year, Irvine returned to the Macau Grand Prix with his former team (WSR) in one of its Ralt F3 Cars.
For 1990 Irvine signed with Eddie Jordan for a second attempt at the F3000 Championship, this time winning the German round, and finishing the year third in the standings ahead of his team mates, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Emanuele Naspetti. Again at the end of the season, Irvine stepped back to Formula Three to participate in the 1990 Macau and Fuji rounds, finishing on the podium in both events.
With no opportunities in F1 in sight, Irvine headed for Japan, to compete in the Japanese Formula 3000 Championship. He finished seventh in the standings in 1991, eighth in 1992, and runner-up in 1993, just as he debuted with Jordan Grand Prix at that year's Formula One Japanese Grand Prix.
In the early stages of his F1 career, Irvine was known as a fierce competitor. He finished 6th and secured a point on his debut Formula One race with Jordan in 1993 at Suzuka. At the first race of 1994, Irvine was involved in a four-car pile up and received a one-race ban which was increased to three for appealing the decision. During the Friday Qualifying in Portugal, Irvine clipped the Williams of Damon Hill which ended his qualifying campaign. The Ulsterman received a warning that another similar incident would see his Super License revoked.
Irvine continued with Jordan until 1995, where he was well matched with his younger, though more experienced team-mate, Rubens Barrichello. His lack of reliability as well as a tendency to get involved in accidents in 1994 meant that the final championship standings did not mirror his speed. Irvine recorded his first podium finish in F1 with a third place (behind Barrichello in 2nd) at the memorable Canadian Grand Prix. Irvine retired from the Hungarian Grand Prix with a mechanical problems with 7 laps remaining. Irvine's affinity for apparently reckless driving began to dissipate when he moved to the Ferrari team. F1 sports commentators even changed his nickname from "Irv the swerve" to "Steady Eddie" and "Fast Eddie". As the Formula One world became more technical and the driver personalities less distinctive, his non-conformist approach was generally appreciated.
On 27 September 1995, Irvine signed for Ferrari for 1996 to partner Michael Schumacher. Between 1996 and 1997, Irvine played a clear second driver in the team to Schumacher. In 1996 Schumacher had 59 points and 3 wins, against Irvine's 11 points and no wins. In 1997, Irvine had an improvement over the previous year. At the Argentine Grand Prix, Irvine scored a then-career best second after a strong challenge to Jacques Villeneuve who was suffering from a stomach ailment. Not counting Schumacher's disqualification from the world championship, the German had 78 points and 5 wins, against Irvine's 24 points and, again, no wins. In both years, Irvine showed comparison with Schumacher was inevitable.
In 1998, Irvine's fitness level was in question as he had suffered from back pain. His seat was adjusted to help combat this problem. Possibly stemming from this, a journalist suggested he was unfit. In stark contrast with the journalist's allegation however, three days prior to the publication of the article, Irvine had recorded one of the highest levels of fitness of an F1 driver. Mid-way through the season, Irvine re-signed for the Scuderia for 1999.
1999 saw Irvine's career reach a peak. On 15 September, Irvine was announced as one of the drivers for the Jaguar team with a three-year contract worth £15 million. He was to be parterned by Johnny Herbert for 2000. The deal came about when Stewart Grand Prix offered Irvine a large offer and respentives from Ford met secretly at the British Grand Prix to discuss the terms. In the title showdown at Japan, a finish in front of Mika Häkkinen would guarantee Irvine the title. In the race, Irvine struggled for pace and finished third behind Häkkinen and runner-up Schumacher, handing the championship to the Finn.
Irvine's move to Jaguar secured him the role as the team's lead driver. He did not compete in the Austrian Grand Prix due to abdominal pains. He returned at the German Grand Prix where he finished 10th. The team learned much from Irvine's experience with Ferrari, but ultimately the Jaguar package was unreliable and uncompetitive. Driving a car much slower than most others, and dogged by the reliability problems, he still managed to get podium results at Monaco and Monza. There were initial concerns of Irvine's future at Jaguar but the team clarified that he would remain for the entire season.
For 2002, Irvine declared his fitness level was higher than his rival competitors when he performed a fitness examination which was higher than many drivers.
Friction in the Jaguar camp and his vocal frustration at the lack of positive development of the car resulted in his contract not being renewed. Irvine was offered a cut in his £6 million salary but an agreement could not be reached. He was considered for a return to Jordan for the 2003 season but, owing to that team's financial problems, he was left without a drive. He was also linked with Minardi. He announced his retirement from Formula One racing that year.
Irvine played himself in the 2004 comedy The Prince and Me, which starred Julia Stiles.
On 9 January 2014 Irvine was found guilty of "mutual injury" following a brawl in a Milan nightclub and sentenced to six months in prison.
He is now executive producer of a film being produced about Paddy Mayne.