Is Rubens Barrichello That Big A Deal?
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.