Grapevine: Ferrari Deal Turns Spotlight on McLaren

Ferrari closed off a seam of paddock speculation on Tuesday by confirming Brazilian Rubens Barrichello for another season along with world champion Michael Schumacher. Barrichello's future at the Formula One team had been under intense scrutiny after a team orders controversy at the last race in Austria and the driver's evident unhappiness earlier in the season in Malaysia.

Grapevine: Ferrari Deal Turns Spotlight on McLaren

Ferrari closed off a seam of paddock speculation on Tuesday by confirming Brazilian Rubens Barrichello for another season along with world champion Michael Schumacher. Barrichello's future at the Formula One team had been under intense scrutiny after a team orders controversy at the last race in Austria and the driver's evident unhappiness earlier in the season in Malaysia.

In Austria, the Brazilian had been ordered to move over to allow Schumacher past and into second place while in Malaysia he was upset that the championship leader overtook him in the rain after he had urged caution. The instructions, after only six races of the season, effectively killed off any illusion that he had a chance of fighting for the championship while Schumacher was in the running.

Various drivers, including young Finn Kimi Raikkonen and Britain's Jenson Button had been linked in the media to possible moves to Ferrari. The whispers were that Barrichello was no longer prepared to play second fiddle and the team were unhappy after he was involved in several shunts early in the season.

The Brazilian's decision to remain at Ferrari suggested that was not the case, for whatever reason, although the fact that Barrichello has signed only until the end of 2002 will not kill off the speculation altogether.

Schumacher's position is very different and makes clear that the German will effectively remain the main man at Ferrari until the end of his career. The German was 32 last January and will be approaching 36 when his contract finally expires at the end of 2004.

Second Family

"I have often said before how well I get on here at Ferrari and that for me the Scuderia (team) is like a second family," he declared after the announcement. "I am very happy to have prolonged my stay by another two years and I hope that this confirmation with the team will bring plenty of success."

Schumacher is already Ferrari's most successful driver, having won 28 races for the Italian team since he joined in 1996 as Formula One's highest paid star. Ferrari's move, in the run-up to the most glamorous race in Formula One, allows the team to focus on the future without distraction and will divert much of the speculation to rivals McLaren.

Paddock sources say Williams have Ralf Schumacher under contract until at least the end of 2002 and Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya for longer, along with Button, on loan to Benetton until 2003. McLaren, runners-up last season, do not discuss the length of their drivers' contracts but have not yet moved to end the questions about their line-up for 2002.

Mika Hakkinen's form this season has, partly through bad luck, been eclipsed by that of team mate David Coulthard and already there have been suggestions in the media that this might be the Finn's last season before retirement. Hakkinen, twice world champion, is still only 32 however and has certainly not encouraged the speculation.

Coulthard Speculation

Coulthard's future has also been in the spotlight, particularly after team boss Ron Dennis accused the Scot of 'brain fade' after he stalled in the Spanish Grand Prix. Recent reports in the British media suggesting that Coulthard might be heading for Jordan were denied by that team.

Further down the grid, other teams have already moved to clarify their line-ups. Jaguar have confirmed Pedro de la Rosa as their driver for 2002 with Eddie Irvine, while Brazilian Luciano Burti, who left Jaguar for Prost, has a contract to the end of 2002.

Raikkonen, in his debut season, said in Austria that he was tied to Sauber for three years. Minardi have also confirmed Spaniard Fernando Alonso, who is also under contract to Benetton's owners Renault, for next season.

The annual jigsaw of placing together the drivers and teams is already well under way.

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