Rubens: ready to fight number one

Rubens Barrichello is heading into his sixth season with Ferrari, and thus his sixth season as Michael Schumacher's team mate. That period has brought a respectable nine wins, but still he is perceived very much as the supporting act, the man who picks up the pieces when Michael has a problem - or is handed the occasional present when the German's World Championship challenge is under no threat from outsiders.

There's no question that at 32 Rubens is a better driver than he was when he joined from Stewart, but just as he has improved, so has Michael. Chasing a moving target is a little frustrating. Nevertheless, Rubens insists that 2005 will be his best ever season.

"I hope so,"says the Brazilian. "In life you learn not just from racing, but you learn day to day that you can be a better person, you can be a better driver. I've learned so much, I have so much more confidence in myself. The new rules will affect the grid a little bit, but you have to learn as fast as possible and be there at the right time. I'm feeling very good that it shall be my best year. I just try to keep on getting better and better.

"The space that I earn in Ferrari today is as big as Michael, and the respect that I have. It was difficult climbing, it was difficult since the beginning, the first couple of years of being a Ferrari driver with Michael there.

"Right now I'm just proud to have Michael alongside, because I'm often being compared to the best, but I'm giving my best. I'm sure that the day that I feel Michael is unbeatable is the day that I go home and stay with my family.”

But can he really close the gap to Michael still further? He has no doubts.

"Sorry if I lack a little bit of modesty, but I don't think the gap is big. I think the gap has been reduced quite dramatically throughout the years. The new season will be a bit more unpredictable, at least at the beginning, because everyone is experimenting with new rules so it's going to be different, that's for sure. If that's going to allow myself to close the gap or even go in front of Michael, that remains to be seen.

"Obviously if you go by the paper I've been one who's always seemed to treat the tyres better, so in a way, that could favour me. But at the end of the day a seven time World Champion should find his way out of this. It's going to be nice, even if I don't think the cars are any safer for the rules in terms of how the tyre thing. It might be more interesting in a race condition, because the race might be pretty much alive until the final five laps, which is going to be interesting.”

Rubens says that any improvement in his form will come from within.

"I personally don't think that it will come from the changes, I think the big chances for me to win have to come from myself every year, every step you make, just in confidence, just feeling good about it...

"Obviously the new rules will affect everyone. Whoever will adapt to the rules the fastest will have an advantage. We're going to learn a lot this weekend. Everyone will definitely have a point in the middle of the race where you're going to have to save the equipment. I think in order to win it will come more from me than the rules.”

Of course, improving relative to Michael may turn out to be of academic interest only if the real challenge in 2005 comes from elsewhere. At this stage nobody can really judge how things will develop in Melbourne and beyond, but the indications from testing were that the F2004M could be outpaced in the early races.

"Testing has been a little bit different than other times. It's difficult to know the right answers from testing. There are so many times that teams have been setting good times, but probably they were using less fuel, or they were in qualy mode, so it's difficult to know.

"But by the looks of it McLaren and Renault seem to be the ones that are going very fast. They are the ones that lost less than other people, because the new rules made everyone lose a lot of downforce, and they seem to have lost not as much, because they've been setting good times.

"I don't think we're going to have the answer in Friday's testing here, because Friday is going to be very little for everyone, I guess. Saturday is the very first time that we're going to have an answer, who is who. But I guess the impression is that Renault is at the top of the list - hopefully not as much as Ferrari - but I think they're going to be there or thereabouts.”

Still, as Rubens points out the whole point of the Ferrari interim car exercise was to take advantage of the proven reliability of the old package. All that matters is crossing the line.

"At the end of the day everyone is talking about who is the fastest. But if you're the fastest guy for 99% of the race and you're not there at the end, you won't have anything. So it's very important this year to finish the races, even more so than being on pole position.”
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