EXCLUSIVE: Rubens Barrichello interview
Talk in Formula One circles this winter has been all about Honda's withdrawal from the sport with the decision prompting teams to push through radical cost cuts to stop other manufacturers following them out
While discussions with potential buyers to save Honda Racing are ongoing, the future of the team's 2008 drivers remains up in the air. Jenson Button has spoken publicly about his desire to see the team through their current situation, while Rubens Barrichello has stayed out of the spotlight since the end of the season.
However, after flying into Britain this week to visit the Honda Racing factory and ramp up his efforts to win a new contract, the Brazilian met up with autosport.com at his London hotel for an exclusive interview to reveal why he too is determined to secure a fresh deal.
Rather than contemplating retirement, the fired up Barrichello revealed why he is fitter than ever, hungry to help Honda Racing and confident the team can be a success under new ownership in 2009.
Q. It's now six weeks since the Formula One season finished in Brazil, you are in London today and you've been to the Honda Racing factory. How are things?
Rubens Barrichello: I'm doing well. I've had a month and a bit since the last race, and they could have been bad in a way because I had no news on my future, and all of a sudden Honda pulled out of the championship. It felt like there was this uncertainty in the air.
But, having said that, it didn't change much. Yes, I was fighting for my place against a young driver coming in, but I was already scheduled to drive in the second Jerez test, which would have been great as it would have been a straight comparison. That would have been a challenge I enjoyed.
Then, there were two days where I didn't get any feedback from the team, so I called Ross (Brawn) direct and he could not inform me what was going on. Then all of a sudden we had the Honda thing.
At the end of the day, as I said it won't change anything for me. If someone comes and buys the team with a tighter budget but with the competence of the people we have there, especially with Ross, I think they need both drivers to be experienced. So, I think it will change very little.
Q. Where were you when you found out about the Honda pullout? And what was your first reaction?
RB: I was away with my family. It was the only vacation we'd had after the last race, with five days out of Sao Paulo. The team called me there, and it was shocking. I couldn't believe it. It was more shocking than if they had called me to tell me they had chosen a driver different to myself or Bruno (Senna) someone even younger!
You could never have imagined that Honda would have these problems. I never heard anything about money so maybe that was a problem as well. Perhaps the budget was too much, with too many things to do. It was very strange.
Q. I went up to see Ross Brawn at Brackley on the morning of the Honda announcement and he talked about you, saying you were very fired up for 2009. You'd lost some weight; you'd won the kart races and were very hungry to be in F1.
RB: You know, the things that I said to Ross today and I say to everyone: in life you have the confidence and the natural ability to do things. But I never overcame the problem at Ferrari, where Michael (Schumacher) had a little bit more. Equipment wise I don't think I had any differences in terms of engine, gearbox or car, but he had the special treatment to choose over strategies and things, which meant to win the race you had to be lucky. I never overcame the fact that my focus was on this, rather than doing the best I could with myself. So, after six years there, I had three years of cars that were up and down, but more down than up and that is when you learn even more.
Qualifying 13th or 12th with this car was like being on pole by half a second with the others. It is so easy to distract yourself with a bad car than a good car. With a good car if you make a mistake you start second and probably Lewis (Hamilton) and (Felipe) Massa had plenty of this during the year, but you don't see it because of the fuel strategies.
So I told Ross, right now I am into the situation where I am not old and I can still use this as a learning emotion. I am so fired up. I told him again that it could be a good time for me to say goodbye and start shouting bad against people for what they have done bad to me, but no. I am ready to race. I have lost half the weight of what I need to lose, and am eager to keep going. I don't think it is coincidence that I won the two kart races back in Brazil. Of course, it is at a level of competition that is much lower than F1, but it shows that I am up to it.
I think I can use my mentality, plus my speed and my focus on the right stuff right now to really help the team carry on. And I don't want to sign just for one year. I want to sign for two or three years. I also started my career on slicks and I definitely want to finish my career on slicks.
Q. Would it have been easy for you, with last season effectively being written off, to have eased off and think you didn't need to make an effort? And how much was it a conscious effort to keep pushing like you did all year?
RB: My mind was always aware that things would improve especially because before we went to Australia we had a car kit that gave us a second of performance - which was exactly what the wind tunnel said it would give. And we had another two update kits to come over the year, so I thought, 'this is great.' Unfortunately the other two never even approached what they were meant to, which was a little bit disappointing.
But when you are focused on your job, if you know you have given your very best, no matter where you finished, then that is great. And you have to fight to make sure the things that went wrong go right next time. Silverstone looked great this year when I finished third, but on the Monday after the race we got everyone together because we should have finished second. We lost 20 seconds in the pit stop because there were too many people talking over the radio. So for a team like us, we should never accept something like that.
Q. With the way the regulations are going next year, especially with no in-season testing, does the onus shift towards the need for more experienced drivers?
RB: There are two sides to this. First of all you need to have speed. If you only have experience and don't have the speed, then you are never going to get the speed. This is the main point. So you are better off getting someone quick and you develop him with experience.
I think in terms of myself I have both. It is a question of checking if the old boy is still eager to do it, because at this point if you talked to David Coulthard and then talked to myself it was a completely different thing. When I heard DC telling me he was going to stop he was feeling he had done enough, he wanted to go home. I just cannot see myself going back to Brazil yet because I still have the speed. Yes, I can see when I am done going back to my country, which I have always loved. But I still want to race.
I haven't driven the car for a while and I went to the simulator today and spent two hours there before they told me to stop because I had to do something else. So it is still there in myself and I do think speed plus experience will be needed next year. There is no testing, a different approach with a new car and new tyres, and you need to know in three laps if the car is going to last with the tyres or not.
Q. Do you think the team appreciate your efforts and determination and that Ross is aware of the push you have made?
RB: I think he does, but I don't know where we lost ourselves in the first place for me having a contract. I should have had a deal a long time ago for next year. I still don't understand what went on in that period when they told me that they had signed Jenson (Button) because he was younger and had a long future ahead of him. I said to them: wait a minute, I am here and if you propose to me a three-year contract I will sign. So where is the problem about the long term?
Then, there were different faces so I don't know which approach they had. A better year than I had, I don't think we could have had. They always knew I wanted to keep on doing it, especially after so many bad years. I came from Ferrari to conquer something. At Ferrari they didn't give me the space, and at Honda I had the space but I didn't have the machinery. Now the car is looking better. The slicks are going to be good. So why stop?
Q. Do you think your visit here, making the effort to come to England to see the team, was important to show your willingness?
RB: Yes. Obviously everyone at the factory feels a bit strange when you say to them Happy Christmas they are not just wishing to see me next year, they don't know if they will be there next year. So there are a little bit of mixed emotions there although it is a mutual thing. Only they probably know what I have done this year for the team, and with the right equipment we would be doing very well.
Q. Has retirement ever crossed your mind?
RB: No. It is far away. It is crazy, but all the happenings all through the past month have made me even more eager to drive. It would be easy to see the negative about the situation, but it has shown me that another door has opened. So it is a bit of a different approach.
Q. Do you think that if you had made the same effort as you did in 2008, but had not had as strong a year, were stuck at the back of the grid half a second off the pace you would have a different mentality?
RB: You know, the most important thing is for you to feel well with yourself and your driving and I have felt very well this year. I have read the interviews that Jenson Button gave, talking about myself and all the numbers, which gives a good boost to the ego but it is really what you feel that matters. At the end of the day you have to get your behind into the car, so you need to feel capable of doing that. When I say I can still be champion, it is because I really believe that. I am not worse than I was in 1993 in terms of speed; in terms of my physical condition I am better than ever, so it is just down to the car and to the whole situation.
Q. You've lost a fair bit of weight since the end of the season. What's your training regime been like?
RB: It has been going on for one-and-a-half months and basically everything I did before has been doubled. I used to go to the running machine or to run outside in the morning, and then in the afternoon go to the gym or the other way around. Right now, if I run in the morning and do the gym in the afternoon, I will run again afterwards. And if I do the gym and then run, I do the gym again. So I have doubled the impact. I have lost three healthy kilos, because I am not weak I am actually stronger. And I am looking for another couple of kilos for mid-January. I feel bright about things.
I went to the factory today and you see a lot of optimism there. You see the bosses are willing to have someone come in and buy it, but who stays in the background a little bit. But that should be the right thing, because if someone buys now and wants to take a bigger role it is going to be difficult because Ross knows now who is good and who is not.
Q. How competitive do you believe Honda can be if a buyer is found and they decide to stick with you? Ross still thinks the target of a BMW-type performance is still achievable.
RB: Well, you have to judge it by the numbers. Ferrari were so good because you could predict that the car would be within one tenth of what the wind tunnel figures said. And, after one and a half years of Ross being at Honda, he has made it to the point where he can translate what the tunnel says.
So I believe that we can jump straight into a top ten contender in qualifying, and then race to the points or even better. The only problem with the first race could be reliability because we might not have many tests beforehand. People are very excited to have a different engine at the factory, just because they have been working with the same one for such a long time. I don't know which one it is going to be. I have heard all sorts of rumours but they could not confirm which one it would be today. So it is looking good on that side, but it is very difficult to sell the idea right now that the car is going to be competitive after two years that have been very bad.
Q. How optimistic do you feel about Honda's future?
RB: For someone who wants to win the championship it is not ideal. In a kart race you get there with the same equipment and you know what you can do. But I put my pride into my pocket a long time ago I am open to take a punch in the face if that is what is needed to get in the car and do it myself. I want the challenge and the speed and I think through last year's approach I will conquer a lot more. The age is there, 36, but it is only there as a number. Right now it hasn't got me yet in terms of real age I still feel as young as my F3 days. So I just want to, as soon as possible, get to the point where I can jump into the car, and go through the checklist of ensuring the car is doing the right things and responding to what is needed.
Q. And I guess after this period of uncertainty, if you did get that chance it would provide you with even more motivation to do a good job?
RB: Yes, absolutely. My phone will be ready, even on New Year's Eve when I will be jumping the waves in Brazil and hoping my wishes come true. Although you have to hold on to your expectations because anything can happen, I do believe if they don't get a buyer then that is because they are changing destiny for myself and Jenson.
We are the two best drivers available, it is probably one of the best combinations out there. We work very well together, and the team are going to be new somehow so to have speed and this healthy rivalry to keep on going is important. With a competitive car we could score a lot of points next year, and that is what is going to make the team survive. It is the impact we can make in the first year that will keep it alive.
Q. And do you feel there would be a sense of justice after all the pain everyone at Honda went through last year for no gain with the new car yet?
RB: I think it is in a way justice. I was convinced to get away from my contract at Ferrari, and it is not anybody's fault I left because I wanted to. When I got to the team I didn't find it how I was promised. And in a way, I've been fighting all these three years to overcome the problems and also to change them.
A driver against a whole bunch of people was very difficult, so there was slow motion. But with Ross I was able to get him up to speed very quickly and things did move a bit but we are still not there. So it would be like justice to give me another time in the car and to get going. It is not too difficult to see that. Someone at my age may feel we can just go do a bit of skiing or something else. For me, I am still too keen to work. I would be bored not doing that.
Q. Has the focus solely been on Formula One, or have you looked at other opportunities to stay racing?
RB: I've talked to several people. It was funny that my telephone started to ring about different things as soon as Honda said they were pulling out. I had calls from the WTCC to the 24 Hours of Daytona it really started to ring. But my focus is completely on F1. For the love of speed I would do anything, even IRL, but I have unfinished business in F1. I am sure I can finish higher up, if not winning the championship.
I really believe that is what I deserve. It would be a shame not to use the services of someone so eager to do it, plus with all the experience and the speed. It is the right time and it comes with the willingness to do well.
If you sign someone with the speed but whose time is over, they will set up the car differently and badly. You are 80 percent of the time going through corners, and you set up the car differently compared to someone who comes and wants to go flat out. For me, I am still taking it flat and sometimes this year in qualifying you have that little pimple on your skin saying 'just remember you are not a boy any more' after the corner. So it is still there very much.
I came to show my face here in England, to show I appreciate everything that happens to the team, and to tell them to keep working hard and putting every effort in possible. There is no negative about anything you have to take the positive side and there will be a positive side. Someone will buy it and it can be better than it was the last two years.
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