Atlas F1 Barrichello's Blunder?

  by Paul Murray, Ireland

By signing for Ferrari, and as teammate to Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello has taken the biggest gamble of his Formula One career.

Rubens Barrichello has some Ferrari funWhen negotiations commenced between Barrichello and Ferrari, Jackie Stewart advised the Brazilian to steer clear of the Prancing Horse and its number one driver Michael Schumacher. However, the lure of Maranello proved too tempting to resist and Barrichello becomes the first Brazilian to drive for the legendary Italian team.

By joining Ferrari, Barrichello has obviously failed to take into consideration a number of ominous factors. The main one is the reality that at present, Ferrari is Michael Schumacher. Effectively, the team and its structures are centred around the German and for good reason.

Since joining in 1996, Schumacher has effectively turned Ferrari's fortunes around. The team responds to Schumacher's requests, suggestions and demands when it comes to the development of its grand prix cars. Until somebody quicker and more astute appears, this is unlikely to change, as Eddie Irvine found out to his cost as teammate to Schumacher from 1996 to 1999. Within this lies something significant.

In 1995 as Barrichello's teammate at Jordan, Irvine gained the mental-edge over the Brazilian who lost his way. Then Irvine went to Ferrari, while Barrichello remained at Jordan for '96, often being outpaced by veteran teammate Martin Brundle. The Jordan adventure ended badly for Barrichello, and he began a three-year spell at Stewart in 1997. It is interesting that when asked about Barrichello's future at Ferrari, Irvine laconically replied: "God help him."

Comparing Barrichello to Schumacher, the latter has obviously achieved more success. Granted Barrichello has possibly not always had top-flight equipment at his disposal, but in terms of their early careers, Schumacher always showed greater promise in inferior cars. Three-times world champion Nelson Piquet gives his fellow countryman "no chance" against Schumacher, partly due to Barrichello's lack of experience of the top teams. Aside from this contention, Schumacher knows how to win whereas Barrichello is in a different situation.

With no wins, two pole positions and one hundred and thirteen race-starts to his credit up to Japan 1999, Barrichello runs the risk of becoming of the greatest drivers never to have won a grand prix. In addition, he currently has the dubious distinction of being one of the few drivers to have claimed pole position but who never went on to win a grand prix. Only Andrea de Cesaris (208) and Jean-Pierre Jarier (134), have more race-starts to their credit, each having claimed pole position without ever winning a single race.

A closer look at Barrichello reveals an affable character, but not belonging to the ultimately-aggressive brigade of grand prix racers. His style is smooth, particularly in the wet, but when involved in wheel-to-wheel racing his acquiescent nature is displayed. One gets the impression that sometimes he would rather yield a place to a competitor than risk banging wheels - not like the Sennas, Schumachers or Mansells of this world. His depiction in some quarters as the next Senna seems therefore inappropriate.

Aside from having the mammoth task of trying to defeat Schumacher, Barrichello has joined the team with the largest following in the world, often coupled with a fraught atmosphere. In the Italian press, every move made by the Brazilian will be observed, recorded and analysed. He will need to remain cool and collected in face of potential intrusions into his personal life by sections of the media.

Despite having shown well in pre-season testing, it is the racing proper, which counts and particularly racing at close, quarters. Schumacher and Barrichello have "met" on-track many times, a notable example being during the latter stages of the 1997 Austrian Grand Prix, when Barrichello fell off the road trying to fend off a fast-rising Schumacher, {ultimately en route to sixth place having received a ten second stop-and-go penalty for overtaking under yellow flags.} If the Brazilian is to have any chance of dealing with Schumacher, he will need to refrain from incidents like this.

If he fails to perform, Barrichello could end up playing a support -role to Schumacher, should the latter be in contention for the championship. While Ferrari have insisted that team-orders will not be imposed initially at least, it will mean little unless Barrichello can gain the upper hand at an early stage. If not, he will go the same way as Eddie Irvine, playing the role of a new-age coolie to Schumacher.

If Barrichello is not seen to be pulling his wait in terms of the constructors' championship, he could receive an early P45. There are few ex-Ferrari drivers who have managed to prosper following their time at Maranello. Alain Prost, Niki Lauda and Nigel Mansell being notable exceptions. Against that, many former Ferrari drivers have seen their careers take a downward spiral. Examples include, Rene Arnoux, Michele Alboreto and Ivan Capelli. For these and many others, midfield racing awaited, following their time with the Prancing Horse.

A tough prospect lies ahead for Barrichello especially if one considers the combination of Schumacher's skill and the career-destroying potential of Ferrari. By staying at Jaguar (formerly Stewart), Barrichello could have enjoyed the backing of the Ford factory team, providing increased resources as part of an impressive plan for Formula One success. In addition, he would continue to enjoy the environment of a team he had come to regard as family. At Ferrari, a steep learning curve awaits.

A bad decision or a brave one? Time will tell. Barrichello will probably have to be content with podium places and the minor placings, but maybe a win or two should Schumacher and others hit trouble. If he manages to gain the upper hand, he can then claim to be the best, for to attain that title, he will have had to eclipse the brightest star currently shining in the Formula One galaxy.

      Related Articles:

The Prancing Brazilian
(Dec-08, 1999)

An Intriguing Situation
(Apr-2, 1996)

Paul Murray© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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