Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Wednesday, April 19, 2000
Anonymity Suits Ferrari's Barrichello
By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
PARIS - As Rubens Barrichello crossed the bustling paddock a few paces behind Michael Schumacher, the autograph hunters, journalists, photographers and hangers-on surrounded his German teammate, leaving Barrichello all alone.
As he prepares for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on Sunday, Ferrari's latest recruit, the first Brazilian to drive for the sport's most illustrious team, said that relative anonymity suited him fine.
''I'm a private guy; I don't want to be a rock star,'' he said in a recent interview. ''If somebody wants to talk to me, that's fine. If somebody wants an autograph, that's fine. But it's actually good to go alongside Michael because everybody goes on him and you can walk. It's a good opportunity for you to have a peaceful time.''
Barrichello is not looking for a peaceful time on the track. He could have earned more money by staying at the Stewart team -- now Jaguar -- where he had raced the past three years. He moved to Ferrari to win.
''Everything I've done in life was to have a competitive car to perform,'' he said.
Barrichello was also attracted by the Ferrari name and by its No. 1 driver. He grew up near the Interlagos Formula One circuit outside Sao Paulo and has fond memories of the Ferrari team.
''I wanted to know if I'm just a good driver or if I'm a special driver,'' he said. ''When I was driving go-karts, I had a feeling that I was a special one. Then suddenly in Formula One, in cars that I wasn't capable of winning races with, you kind of lose that feeling. By driving the Ferrari, by driving alongside Michael, it is probably the best answer I could have.''
After three races, his teammate has a perfect score, while Barrichello has gained a second place and a fourth place. In the first race, at the Australian Grand Prix in March, he was as fast as Schumacher and even overtook him and led until he was called in for a pit stop that handed the victory to the German.
Ron Dennis, the director of the rival McLaren-Mercedes team, called Barrichello a ''sacrificial lamb'' who had been brought in to allow Schumacher to win. Barrichello pointed out that he had been on a different pit-stop strategy to overtake a car that was blocking him. In any case, the second place equaled Barrichello's best result in Formula One.
He also led the Brazilian Grand Prix for a couple of laps last month, but his car broke down, and he failed to finish. In Imola, Italy, two weeks ago, although he finished fourth in the race, he had problems with his car all weekend. But Barrichello knows how to deal with disappointments.
''I've had so many of those; I had a great disappointment in Imola in 1994 when I lost my friend,'' he said, referring to Ayrton Senna, ''and when I had my crash. ''Disappointments are things that I don't live with. They're part of the past, and that's why I'm becoming a better person every day.''
Barrichello's accident at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994 during the Friday test session, when his car went airborne over a curb and crashed into protective barriers, was the first of a series that continued with the death of Roland Ratzenberger of Austria on the Saturday and Senna's death on the Sunday. Barrichello suffered a small concussion and superficial lacerations to the face, but the loss of his friend and mentor had a profound effect on his career.
He was driving for Jordan, a team that was not up to its current level, and Rubinho, as he is known at home, suddenly felt the weight of Brazil's hopes on his shoulders. As he tried to fill the void left by Senna, his results went down.
It was not until Barrichello joined the new Stewart team in 1997 and fell under the tutelage of Jackie Stewart Ñ who was, like Senna, a triple world champion Ñ that he began to come into his own. He scored the team's first points, finishing second in Monaco in 1997, and he eventually earned 21 points last year, finishing seventh in the driver standings.
Having started in Formula One in 1993, he seems like an old-timer, but he is only 27, while Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen are both 31. And despite his unanswered question, the Brazilian speaks with a tone of confidence and maturity.
He also has one advantage over his teammate at Ferrari, thanks to his Italian roots and his fluency in the language.
''I'm having a good time,'' he said. ''I'm told I need more exposure. I don't need more exposure. I'm cool with what I'm having. But for sure when I win my first race, 60 percent of the people will want to talk to me and 40 to him.''
The ''him,'' of course, is Schumacher, who starts at Silverstone 21 points ahead of Barrichello. But Barrichello is nevertheless in second place in the driver standings, and he has a good feeling about the track.
''I raced seven years for British teams,'' he said. ''I've had many more laps around Silverstone than I've had around Interlagos, so I really feel at home.''
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