Rubens Barrichello remains on a steep learning curve as he tackles his first year in Indycars with KV Racing and Chevrolet engines.
Rubens has been struggling in qualifying, but has made progress through the field in all three races run so far in St. Petersburg, Barber Motorsports Park and Long Beach. At Long Beach last weekend he qualified 22nd and worked his way up to ninth at the finish, one lap behind winner Will Power.
“The problem is I’m playing catch-up the whole time,” Barrichello said. “Yes, I’m testing more, but every weekend I come to a new race track. It’s very competitive and you run in groups so there’s very little track time. The race is not a problem because you’re already into it and you learn every time. You see different drivers going different things and you say, ‘Oh, I can try that.’
“My problem is the build-up to the race. Going to Barber for example I had four hours on the track before I went out. I was top five, I was happy and we went into the second session and it was wet. Then we went into the third session and it was foggy, so it was cancelled. We then went to qualify with the red tyre – I’m still not a hundred percent sure what the grip level is on that – and I qualified 14th and starting back there is a little bit difficult.
“In the race I got faster and faster though. So I hope that it’s not like this for the whole year, but I’m learning the whole time.”
He is yet to find as comfortable a driving position as he should enjoy. “I’m still not 100 per cent behind the steering wheel. I was just in a meeting saying I wanted to change the grip on my steering wheel. I’m still racing Tony (Kanaan)’s wheel, which is a bit too big for me. I want it smaller. And I’m still racing with my ear plugs from Williams because mine are not ready. It’s a process and when it all comes together I hope that I’m better.”
Barrichello’s silky driving style should serve him well on ovals, but until he tests on the 1.5-mile Texas oval in a few weeks, he has no idea what expect from a form of racing he’s never experienced. “I can’t imagine what the ovals will be like. I am excited but I don’t know what to expect. Tony tells me I should be doing very well because I’m very smooth. But it will be a new experience.”
Rubens says the biggest thing he’s struggling to cope with is the many more press appearances and interviews that IndyCar drivers are called on to do compared to their cloistered colleagues in F1. After almost two decades in F1 this was something he wasn’t quite prepared for.
“Everything else, apart from the car, is OK. But I’m having weekends were I’m busier than I was PR-wise. The first race I said, ‘Guys, when do I have 10 minutes before the race?’ And they said, ‘You don’t’. So that’s something I’m getting used to it, but it’s not a problem.”
Barrichello discounted recent rumours about him replacing Felipe Massa at Ferrari. “The press made this story about who should they put there if they were to replace Massa and the press named me. I came in one day and my mechanics said, ‘Are you leaving us?’ I said, ‘Why?’ And they told me about the rumours. But that’s all it was.
“I’m here and I’m enjoying it. I’m having a good time. Obviously, you don’t have a truly great time if you’re not winning. I’m a competitive person so I’m chasing after all my damper settings and everything else. Everything is getting better.
“KV has not won a race yet, but it’s on the programme for us to get there. We’re running behind a little bit in making full use of the weekend and the strategy. My first race was all about saving fuel. I told them I didn’t like it. I said, ‘Gosh! Put me in something that I can push.’ In 19 years of Formula 1 I was told once to save fuel.”
Rubens believes that between his old friend Tony Kanaan and KV’s owners – Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser – he can help push the team towards the front of the grid. “Tony has done a lot for the team already but I’m coming up and beginning to use my experience to help the team go forward. Jimmy and Kevin are a great combination – a racer and a businessman. It’s a great team.”
Now that he’s been out on the track for three furious races Barrichello has discovered how deeply competitive IndyCar’s field is. Humble in name recognition as many of his fellow competitors Rubens is still aware that most of them are very talented drivers.
“There are a lot of good drivers here,” he emphasized. “I can see that a guy who can win here could win in Formula 1 easily with the right team.”