Focus - is Rubens ready to lead Ferrari? 18 Dec 2003
Rubens Barrichello has come to terms with being team-mate to the best driver in the world. 2003 was the most consistent of his 11 seasons in Formula One racing: he was fast, made few mistakes and proved technically brilliant, culminating in two stupendous race wins at Silverstone and Suzuka.
He out-qualified Michael Schumacher six times, including in five of the last six races. In 2002 he managed that just four times, so the evidence suggests that relative to the world champion, Barrichello overcame the pressure-cooker environment of one-lap qualifying better.
But such improvements by the Brazilian present Ferrari with a dilemma. The team now has to re-think the manner in which it goes racing. If Barrichello continues his upward performance trend into the beginning of next year, the team cannot afford to be as Schumacher-centric as it has been for the past eight seasons. For the first time in almost a decade, Ferrari will be forced to become a two-car racing team.
If Schumacher continues to drive into 2004 (and many German papers suggest he won't), this would force Barrichello, potentially the faster of the two drivers, to play a supporting role. To ask him, as the quicker of the pair, to act like a number two would undermine his position both as a sportsman and as a racing driver, and it would be detrimental to Ferrari's equilibrium, probably costing them the Constructors' Championship in the process.
But there is a solution: Ferrari has to persuade Schumacher to quit. It sounds ridiculous, but it would, first, win Ferrari the World Championship in '04 (Bridgestone tyres notwithstanding), second, pay back Barrichello for his unflinching commitment to the Ferrari cause over the past four seasons (during which time they have won the Constructors' Championship every year) and, third, secure the medium term future of the Scuderia.
If they can persuade Schumacher not to race, giving him an ambassadorial role instead, the team could elevate Barrichello to number one status, a role that he showed towards the end of 2003 he was capable of filling. They could then bring in Fernando Alonso as his team-mate, whom Renault boss Flavio Briatore has already said is available at the right price, and if any team is capable of paying big bucks for a driver, it's Ferrari.
Barrichello would undoubtedly rise to the challenge of leading the most celebrated team in motor racing, and he would undoubtedly thrive at having the focus of the team on him. Like this year, he'd work closely with his race engineer Gabriele Delli Colli, but he'd also get the bulk of the attention of technical director Ross Brawn, which would benefit his set-up and race performances greatly.
So, the team would give Rubens one proper crack at the Championship in '04, all the while developing Alonso into a rounded Championship challenger, and the Scuderia would then have two potential World Champions racing for them in '05 and beyond, thereby securing the medium-term future of Ferrari.
(The above is an edited extract from a much longer feature on Rubens Barrichello and his role at Ferrari. It is available exclusively in the January issue of Formula 1 Magazine.)