Is Rubens Barrichello That Big A Deal?

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Perhaps the biggest story of the offseason seemingly popped out of nowhere this past weekend, when it was announced that Formula One star Rubens Barrichello would run a two-day test at Sebring this week with KV Racing Technology. Twitter was rampant when the news hit, and for good reason. If Barrichello were to come to the IZOD IndyCar Series, it could prove to be huge on several fronts.

Of course, the skeptics have already reared their ugly head by saying his arrival would make a joke of Barrichello and IndyCar. Their reasoning is that it is nothing more than a washed up and overrated driver that has finally been driven from Formula One and is finding refuge in a second-rate series on his way to the retirement home. Don’t believe it. This is a big deal.

As of now, it is still a big “if” whether or not Rubens Barrichello signs with KV – but the rumor mill suggests he has the financial backing to run a full season if he so chooses. If he does sign, it would be a big shot in the arm for a series searching for star-power among its drivers.

I am not naïve enough to think this is as significant as the arrival of Alberto Ascari at the Indianapolis 500 in 1952, or when Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill appeared in the sixties. Nor does it compare to Emerson Fittipaldi and Nigel Mansell joining the series in the eighties and nineties, respectively. All of those drivers have won World Driving Championships and Barrichello has not. Still, Rubens Barrichello is an accomplished driver in his own right and has had a loyal following since his Formula One debut in 1993 with Jordan.

To American racing fans, Rubens Barrichello may be best remembered for the controversial finish to the 2002 United States Grand Prix held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He was running second to his famous teammate, Michael Shumacher, who seemingly allowed Barrichello to pass him for the win on the final straightaway. Both drivers denied it was staged, but fans considered the move a disgrace – especially on such hallowed ground.

Although Barrichello never won a Formula One driving championship, his driving talents should not be overlooked. In his nineteen seasons in Formula One, Rubens Barrichello twice finished second in the standings, two more times finishing third and once with a fourth place finish – not bad in the competitive pressure-cooker that is Formula One. Don’t overlook his longevity, either. Nineteen years in F1 is unheard of. His 322 F1 starts are the most in Formula One history. There aren’t many drivers (if any) today who can say they raced against the great Ayrton Senna, who was fatally injured in 1994 at Imola.

It is debatable that Senna may have been the greatest driver who ever lived – in any series, but there is not even a question regarding Senna’s ability of driving in the rain. He had no peers. But there are those that say that Rubens Barrichello at least approaches Senna’s talent for driving in the wet.

Barrichello’s talent was evident on Monday and Tuesday when he tested the DW12-Chevrolet alongside his good friend, fellow Brazilian and possible future teammate Tony Kanaan. After sitting in the car for the first time on Monday, it didn’t take long for Barrichello to be just behind Kanaan’s time on the 1.8 mile circuit at Sebring.

I don’t know if KV will sign Rubens Barrichello for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Season. It could be just a tease while he and Kanaan shake down the new car. But people that are a lot smarter than I am seem to think that this is going to happen. I sure hope they are right. It didn’t diminish any hope when Kanaan divulged on Trackside last night, that Barrichello was extending his test through today. That’s how much he is enjoying it. Kanaan also said the ball is pretty much in his hands. If he wants to do it, he will.

At age thirty-nine, it’s obvious that Rubens Barrichello is on the tail-end of his driving career. Some have quoted him saying he promised his wife that he wouldn’t run the ovals in IndyCar. But the rumor mill has him signing for the entire season including the four (or five) ovals on the schedule – including the Indianapolis 500.

This would be a win-win situation for everyone involved. It would give the IZOD IndyCar Series a massive jolt of credibility – especially on the other side of the Atlantic. It would also further bolster a strong Brazilian following. It could give Tony Kanaan a new lease on life as he would no longer be the elder statesman on his team – a title he has reluctantly held since Dario Franchitti left Andretti-Green following the 2007 season. It would also give Jimmy Vasser and Kevin Kalkhoven a formidable one-two punch that would greatly improve the chances of KV Racing Technology finally getting that breakthrough win.

This would also prove to be a winner for INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard. He is entering his third season at the helm and his tenure is in need of a boost. Like it or not, his legacy will be judged mostly on TV ratings which will ultimately improve everything else in the series once they rise. The full-time presence of Rubens Barrichello in the series cannot be overstated. Ratings will improve internationally as well as domestically. There are many Formula One fans in the US that turn their nose up at IndyCar and would never give the series a look. That could change with a driver of Barrichello’s caliber.

So to those that scoff at IndyCar fans drooling at the thought of Rubens Barrichello coming to our series – I say that there’s still time to get on board the IndyCar bandwagon. Barrichello may not be the savior of the series, but he would certainly brighten the outlook of a season that has already surpassed what many were predicting a year ago – and the season is still almost two months away. Hopefully, this will happen. It would be a win-win for everyone.

George Phillips

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32 Responses to “Is Rubens Barrichello That Big A Deal?”

  1. Agreed. On all points. I hope he and KV do the deal.

  2. Good post George. There is some curiosity and excitement over here (UK) regarding Barrichello’s potential KV drive. His knowledge and experience with machinery cannot be overstated and go some way to boosting KV’s position in IndyCar too, but alas, we wil have to wait.

    One note though – his comment about not racing ovals was made back in 1996 when he had split from Jordan and had not yet been picked up by Stewart Grand Prix. It was initially thought that he would try for a seat in CART for the 1997 following on from Alex Zanardi’s debut year with Ganassi; however he shot that down citing some of the speeds noted at some of the ovals (remembering of course that this was before SAFER barriers and HANS devices).

  3. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    I could not agree with you more George, there are nothing but positives all the way around if KV and RB can come to terms. A fan friendly world class driver like Barrichello can help bring even greater credibility, sponsorship and viewership, to a series that can use all it can get these days.
    Ironically and sadly this news above, seems to have garnered a much larger amount of press than any new chassis and multiple engine combination, or the testing thereof ever could have. Of course the “at the speed of a glacier” fashion in which Indycar releases info about such things has a great deal to do with it.

  4. Rubens’ IndyCar test video is already at 43k views and counting–in less than 24 hours. That’s a good indicator of interest right there, I think.

  5. To a series that has one race in Brazil and is (far as I know) still planning a second one, this would very good. Might also get some F1 fans turning on the tube out of curiosity. I don’t think it’s “huge” domestically but it certainly would be a boost internationally.

    I’m more concerned at this point that some small teams will be at a slight disadvantage this year because they won’t have engines in their cars.

    • billytheskink Says:

      What happened to the Porto Alegre race anyways? The Versus crew said it was going to happen for 2012 during last year’s Sao Paulo broadcast and I think the series even announced they’d received a written commitment to hold the race a few weeks after that. Was anything else said?

      And I hope Barrichello signs largely because I think it would be interesting to see him compete in another type of racing. Giving Brazil, Europe, and domestic europhiles (a group that sustains MLS) a reason to pay attention to the series is also a plus,sure.

  6. Brian from NY Says:

    Good article George. What many people don’t understand is that with the globalization of today that a driver like Rubio will have huge positives overseas, if not here in the USA. Auto Racing is a worldwide sport and the IndyCar series needs to market it outside of the states. Media members in the states have a tendency to not look past the borders. The thought is that everything is bigger and better in the old USA. The reality is that NASCAR and Football is minor leagues compared to Formula 1 and Soccer outside of the states.

    To give a comparison, Rubens has 1.5 million tweeter followers versus Danica at about 500 thousand. In Brazil alone, the TV audience for F1 is about 50 million for each race while NASCAR does about 5 to 10 million here in the states. Really, the best chance for IndyCar teams to be financially viable is by finding sponsorship that has International interests like a Shell or a Vodaphone. While it’s important to build the domestic market for IndyCar, getting a piece of the global market is a good thing for the sport. The hangup for IndyCar has always been it’s inability to promote a series instead choosing to focus on one race. Formula 1 has Monaco but it also has Spa, Monza, Silverstone, etc, etc.

    As for Rubens driving ability, look at the second half of 2009. In the year that Jenson won his title, Rubens was the better driver the second half of the season. Much of this was due to changes that were made during the year that more suited Rubens and the results showed. During most of Rubens career, he has had to take a backseat to his teammate (Schumaker) in regards to car setup. Rubens is still one of the best in the business and he would be great for IndyCar.

  7. Getting into the DW-12 has to feel amazing compared to the piece of junk Williams gave him the past two years. Hopfully he hasnt lost it the past two years. In a series full of duds, Rubens always came across as an engaging personality. I always thought he would fit IndyCar well. No team orders in IndyCar either-something that stole a few Ws from his resume in Europe.

  8. In a series that is desperately in need of “stars” that the fans can connect with, bringing in someone with the stature of Rubens Barrichello is a huge step in the right direction. Even more so if it denies a seat to yet another anonymous South American ride buyer.

  9. Well…I like it.

  10. Savage Henry Says:

    I think that Barichello can do a lot to raise the profile of Indycar globally, not just with fans but also with other drivers. I remember when Fittipaldi and Mansell came over they were pleasantly surprised to find 1) the drivers shared information, were nice to each other, and generally seemed to like each other (as opposed to the pressure-cooker of F1 – Barichello already mentioned something to that effect); 2) the cars are set up to the strengths and preferences of the drivers to a certain extent (to the point above – in F1 the engineers set up the cars and the drivers make due). If Rubens reports back to the F1 crowd that he likes things better over here, then maybe other bigger names could follow. Now I know a lot of people will say that the last thing we need is another crop of washed-up F1 drivers coming to Indycar. However, if they are bigger-name drivers they will bring publicity and money (potentially lots of it) -two things that the series desparately needs.

    Second, I hope that Barichello at least runs in the Indy 500. That will bring a lot of attention to the race, especially since almost all F1 drivers (and a lot of NASCAR drivers, for that matter) have publicly stated that they would never run Indy because of the speeds and the danger. If Barichello enters, qualifies, and performs reasonably well (and doesn’t get injured) that could also open the door of other drivers giving it a try. It would be too much to hope that we could go back to the golden years when drivers from several other series came to race at Indy, but even if a couple came over it would do a lot to add to the prestige of the race.

    Another thought as I don my rose-colored glasses. Two other big-name drivers are in their last year of their F1 deals and almost certainly won’t be renewed. Mark Webber won’t be back at Red Bull next year. He has long been a mentor and financial backer of Will Power and has mentioned that he follows Indycar. Felipe Massa is going to be out at Ferrari after this year. He’s another Brazilian who at least has a good relationship with Barichello and possibly Kanaan and/or Castroneves. Would these guys be more likely to sign on to some backmarker F1 team or could they decide the pastures are greener in Indycar. If Barichello comes, does well, and enjoys it the chances become better. Again, think of the money that those guys would bring with them!

  11. I really am looking forward to seeing Rubens in Indycar. I very much hope it happens.

    It is a close second only to 27 cars, ALL with motors, at St. Pete.

  12. This is HUGE in a number of ways, as I voted above …most of which are fairly obvious to anyone with their thinking cap on. And, in addition to his racing credentials, he seems to be an even-tempered fellow with a pleasant personality who could easily become a fan favorite. It also appears that he is already favorable impressed by the easy-going comraderie that flows through the ICS community, which is completely different from the arrogance, aloofness, and selfishness that that he is used to in F-1. I REALLY hope he decides to give Indycar a try.

  13. …one too may “that”s . . . sorry!

  14. IndyCar should be hiring racers from the feeder series, following James Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti, and Danica Patrick.
    RB is not a world champion coming to IndyCar at the top of his game ( like Mansell and Fittipaldi).
    Barrichello earned 10 or 11 wins in 19 seasons,
    said that he doesn’t want to race on ovals,
    promised his wife that he wouldn’t race on ovals,
    doesn’t say that he is bringing 3.5 million dollars to KVRT,
    and was just pounding around Sebring’s track for fun in the sun and notoriety.

    • I wouldn’t say that Fittipaldi was at the top of his game. He had been out of a car for four years before coming to CART and was also ten years removed from his most recent world championship. I’d say his Indy car career worked out ok. Although Mansell was the defending world champion, Milka probably could have won in that Williams car with active suspension.

      Young stars are good but you need veterans too. It’s the known names that attract crowds and viewers. Once there, they’ll come to learn the young stars.

    • Bent Wickerbill Says:

      Is that all you could come up with, stop trying so hard to cheer us up…

  15. Agree with you entirely, George.

  16. I disagree. Ruben’s is a funny guy and I want him to come over and be successful. He’ll do great things for growing Indycar interest in Brazil. But he does nothing for getting more American fans. And if, as I do, you want to see more TV ratings and fans from the USA, and also want to see more ovals, and better road courses (RE: Road America, Cleveland, Road Atlanta, Sebring); Rubens doesn’t do a whole lot to add to that. That is not to say I don’t want to see him in Indycar. I just think a lot of people are overselling the idea especially as nothing has even been confirmed officially.

    • It’s true that he does little for getting more *American* fans, but don’t discount the latino market here in the states. And again, any given individual fan in Brazil may not have the economic impact on the series and the various team sponsors bottom line that an American would have, but in aggregate, it’d potentially be a nice, large addition.

      If it grows the fanbase, it’s a good thing. Yes, you do want to see more TV ratings and fans from the US, but Rubio would add more TV ratings and fans period. Just not from the US. That doesn’t mean it won’t add more money. And in a cash-flow-problematic thing like auto racing, the potential for additional cash is not a bad thing at all.

  17. james t suel Says:

    I think Rubens coming to Indycar will be good. However i dont belive it will do much for most American fans. If he does join Indycar it must include the ovals, or your no Indycar driver!!

  18. I agree with everything you say, George. This would be a huge profile boost for IndyCar and a nice career boost for Rubens too. I see no losers in this one.

    There are many Formula One fans in the US that turn their nose up at IndyCar and would never give the series a look.

    There are plenty of same outside the US and particularly in the UK/Europe a surprising number of F1 fans are entirely ignorant of IndyCar racing. Many still think of it as the IRL, all-ovals, and they see oval racing as a bad thing either because they find them boring or because of the danger level. Not helped of course by the Wheldon accident.
    I find this whole thing remarkable because I can’t understand why a fan of one big open wheel series isn’t automatically a fan of another big open wheel series where the racing is just as good if not better.
    Of course in F1 circles Barrichello is seen by many as being a great guy but one who stayed a year or two longer than he should’ve. Personally I am a huge fan of the man especially since he left Ferrari, I’m one of the many who struggle to even understand the concept of *not* being a Rubens fan.
    My worry is if a man seen as washed up starts scoring podiums in IndyCar straight away, it won’t make existing IndyCar drivers look good. The reality is that Barrichello has been driving better than ever, it’s just that he’s been saddled with awful cars (which, speaking as a Williams fan, hurts me to say) and in F1 that’s more crucial than any other factor.

    • “Barrichello has been driving better than ever, it’s just that he’s been saddled with awful cars”
      ~ Yeah; that Brawn car with which his teammate won the championship was so awful.
      If RB were so awesome, he would’ve won a championship in 19 years and would’ve won more than 3.4% of races.

      • For some reason he decided to play Schumacher’s whipping boy for years rather than go for wins and titles, I don’t understand it either and I think he now realises it was a mistake – he’s certainly no friend of Schuey these days.
        Pretty sure RB outdrove JB in the second half of 2009 when the Brawn car had been overtaken on pace. Button only won that title by his early season momentum and because the others took points off each other when they were quicker. Had the car remained fast the points tally would’ve been more representative.
        Anyway, I don’t recall saying he was championship material. He’ll be good for IndyCar for a lot of other reasons, including his popularity, experience and persona.

        • Brian McKay Says:

          I should really hold my tongue many times rather than being a nattering nabob of negativity. RB may be quite competitive in this series and garner much sponsorship from Brazil.

  19. I think there are actually 3 active drivers today that can say they raced Ayrton Senna: Barrichello, Schumacher (who won the day Senna died), and Bruno Senna, who “raced” with his uncle in karts on the family farm as a kid.

  20. Allow me a Chris Economaki moment: the most recent IndyCar race with a Formula One race winner in the field was the inaugural Las Vegas Indy 300 in 1996. Michele Alboreto finished 5th. Since then, 34 F1 veterans have made an IndyCar or Champ Car start following their F1 debut (including returnees Andretti, Bourdais, da Matta, & Zanardi, and forgettable names like Marques, Mazzacane, & Yoong). Their F1 career win total (all 34 drivers): ZERO. Rubens isn’t just another F1 driver, he is the most experienced Grand Prix driver in history. He has 11 wins, he was Michael’s best team mate at Ferrari, and if you think he will just ride around to get a good finish, look up “Barrichello Schumacher Hungary 2010″ to see one of the ballsiest passes in recent years. He still has the speed and the passion to win, and he didn’t deserve such an unceremonious end to his F1 career. He should come here where he will be welcomed and can win; entertaining the thought of signing with HRT shouldn’t be an option.

    I agree with Savage Henry; Webber and Massa would also complement the IndyCar grid when their F1 days are over.

    • billytheskink Says:

      3-time Grand Prix winner Johnny Herbert withdrawing from 2 IRL events makes an interesting footnote to this bit of trivia.

  21. Bottom line….I want Rubens in the series! Will him joining do anything for the profile of the series? Not really. But…as a racing fan, I’m excited at the thought. I know he’s not Senna, or Stewart, or Michael Schmacher (can’t spell that I know! :) but he’s one heck of a F1 vet, and the thought of him and TK together is exciting to me. Hey, you guys think Viso could learn something from those two? haha!

  22. 30 responses to this, yup, Rubens is doing something! I agree with everything you said, George.

  23. [...] RACINGIs Rubens Barrichello That Big A DealIs Rubens Barrichello That Big A Deal function dropdown_post_js(menuObj) { var i = menuObj.selectedIndex; if(i > 0) { [...]

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