- GP Week
Let's start with the figures, like in boxing matches. On the one side Rubens Barrichello, born in Sao Paulo, Brazil on the 23rd May 1972, 318 grands prix raced, 11 of which won, 14 pole positions and 658 points earned overall. On the other side Jarno Trulli, born in Pescara, Italy on the 13th July 1974, 247 grands prix raced, just one win (but at the most prestigious venue, in Monaco in 2004) and four pole positions, totalling 243.5 career points. If we count out the ever-present Michael Schumacher (born 1969, thus well over 42 years of age, and 282 grands prix under the belt), they are the two Formula One veterans.
Rubinho beat, at the 2008 Spanish Grand Prix, Riccardo Patrese's historical record of GP starts (256), which lasted since 1993, while Jarno, during last week's Singapore Grand Prix itself, has just overcome David Coulthard (246) in this ranking, and is now eight races behind his illustrious fellow countryman, Patrese.
But linking Jarno Trulli and Rubens Barrichello, the two 'old men' of modern Formula One, is not merely vital statistics. If we look into this season's story, in fact, we see that they share disappointment, too: they were both hoping for a competitive year, according to their winter expectations, and saw their dreams shattered, resigned to backmarkerdom. The Italian driver is racing for Team Lotus, a historically-named team but which actually debuted just a year ago. This year he was hoping to fill the gap from the more experienced teams thanks to the new Renault engines (instead of the old Cosworths) and to reigning world champion Red Bull's gearbox and transmission. On paper, a winning mix. But on paper only.
"I'd say we may have been a little too optimistic at the beginning of the season, because we thought we could be placed at the mid-grid, but we are not," - Jarno candidly admits to our microphones. "I'd say it wasn't an easy season, but I always fought hard. I had a lot of trouble adapting to the power steering, which has some little problems, but so far I didn't perform too badly, especially in races, where I had very good results. From now on I should have the new power steering, with which I already had a good feeling in the past, so I hope to find the speed I showed during the races in qualifying too, which in the past has always been my strong point."
His Brazilian colleague, on the other hand, belongs to another legendary marque; Williams, an experienced team but a long way shy from being the powerhouse it was in the 1990s. In Grove, too, they hoped to have found the magic wand able to reverse last seasons' trend, especially thanks to new youngster Pastor Maldonado's Venezuelan dowry. Instead, the FW33 (stuck with old Cosworth engines) proved to be a slow car, so much so that it led to technical director Sam Michael's resignation. Barrichello, too, isn't looking for excuses regarding this negative season's outcome.
"In the end, nobody in the team is happy about the results, because the car is a lot worse than we expected," he admits. "But this is what we have on hand now and we are trying to develop it, even though there are just five races left and then the year will be over."
For Barrichello and Trulli similarly, though, racing for their current teams isn't merely a brave call that has so far failed to yield the desired results. It represents a real challenge: the adventure of re-inventing careers of almost 40 combined years. Both having raced for world champion teams (Renault for Jarno, Ferrari and Brawn for Rubens) and alongside world champion team-mates (Fernando Alonso for Jarno, Jenson Button and Michael Schumacher for Rubens), last year they accepted to start again from scratch. Barrichello pinpoints the reason:
"I chose Williams because they had had a very good 2009 season and I was hoping to keep up at Brawn's level. They didn't manage to do it, they are still trying hard, now they changed the technical management and I hope this will help them to go forward."
In other words, to use his experience to make a small team big. It's the same for Trulli.
"For the future I hope we can improve a notch, which we weren't able to achieve this year" - he answers when we ask him about his goals for next season - "because it would be nice to start battling for the points, which we weren't allowed to do in the past two years. It's true this is a new team, starting off from scratch, so we need to give it some time."
And then there is another element linking together Rubens and Jarno, almost a moral obligation: they have always fought for their colleagues' safety. Jarno was for many years one of the most active directors of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, Formula One's driver trade union, while the Brazilian is its current chairman. This deserves a mention, because one of the reasons why this association was created in the first place was due to Rubens' accident ahead of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, which threatened to end his career less than one year into it. Since then the improvements on safety side have been enormous.
"We made Formula One much safer and we want to make it even more so," Barrichello explains. "As GPDA, we are very happy that FIA is taking more into it, to give us the best options possible in terms of safety. We just have to see it as it comes. All we are asking is to be more part of it. Some crazy regulation changes that we saw in the past, if we had the input of drivers, I think we wouldn't even have come into those situations."
This year the regulation changes were a talking point again, with the reintroduction of KERS, the Drag Reduction System debut and above all the arrival of Pirelli as single tyre supplier: a package of changes which has caused sweeping changes to the F1 show. On these latest modifications, now that we have almost reached the end of the season, the drivers' opinion is favourable.
"All in all I'd say the outcome is positive," Trulli comments. "Pirelli, in the end, have shown to be competitive and reliable and performed their job very well. DRS, together with the tyres, created more show and more overtaking, which was the goal everybody was hoping for."
But this hasn't always been the case. If we ask them to look back to all the regulation changes they have witnessed during their long careers, there are some they couldn't stomach. Barrichello has no doubts.
"When they brought up the grooved tyres, for me it was the silliest idea on Earth. I didn't race go-karts with grooved tyres, I didn't race Formula 3 on those and so on. So it was like: I'm learning to get to Formula One and when I get there, what's the point? It was not a very good idea. Probably one of the worst ideas of Formula One altogether. Because when you started spinning with those tyres, you would never stop. And that was bad, because you want the tyres on the ground. I'm an old racer, I want to see real racing. But this doesn't mean you don't have to move on. The world moves on, you cannot say 'I will do things like this all my life'. I think we have to be open-minded. Cars are safer in the everyday world and we drivers are safer and can teach people to be safer."
Once Barrichello goes down memory lane, he starts going at full speed. Having put aside the regulation topic, we tiptoe into another one which has always been controversial since he left Ferrari criticizing his team mate at the time, seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher. After all these years, Rubinho's opinion on the matter is now far more objective, even if he still doesn't refrain from spitting some venom.
"I get along with my team mates. I think it's in the benefit of the team to get along with people and to be able to talk frankly about how we are going to move on to make the team better. In that respect, I got along with everyone. Even with Schumacher, at some point. But then I got fed up. And then for me there was more value in the behaviour of a human being than actually doing something that I didn't think it was right. Apart from that, I get along with my team mates without problems."
Nowadays, to this end Barrichello's life is much easier, because he can afford to act as an older brother to his younger and less experienced team-mates such as rookies Nico Hulkenberg last year Pastor Maldonado this year.
"I think it would be unfair to make comparisons. Nico and Pastor are both very quick, they both can be better than the other in some of the situations. Pastor is very quick over one lap in a Formula One car. After 19 seasons if I can keep ahead of him it means I'm doing really well. That's all I can say. With Pastor, I have a very good relationship. We talk the same language; I speak Spanish, which is probably easier for the communication. I can see he's already using some of my English terminology when we talk about cars, which means he's already learning about it. It's quite good. He has to learn from me, obviously. And how to talk about cars... that's what I've been doing my whole life!"
After so many things in common, there is one thing, however, that Jarno Trulli and Rubens Barrichello don't share. Trulli, in fact, has already put in place a contract that binds him to Team Lotus for next year, too (even if he may occasionally have to stand back while the team's third driver has a go).
"I will be there in 2012 as well, of course!" is the laconic answer with which he tells us, smiling, of having signed the deal team principal Tony Fernandes proposed him. As for the Brazilian, his future is still uncertain. Several drivers (Kimi Raikkonen for instance) are longing for his seat and, should Rubinho not renew with Williams, one wonders where else he would go in F1.
"I don't want to leave," he explains, "I want to be racing next year, so I don't have a lot to talk about. We are talking, it's day-by-day."
OK, but does the team want Barrichello to stay, too?
"I don't know, you should ask them," he tries to dodge with a smile. We push him: but should you leave Williams, would you rather race in Formula One with a smaller team or switch to another category altogether? His answer shows his experience and savvy.
"I don't know, I have to weigh all the pros and cons, I don't pretend to say now that I will do this or do that. I want to be racing in a competitive car next year and I think Williams can offer that, so we just have to wait and see. Anything else I say right now won't make my future any better."
Surprising as it may seem, after 19 and 14 back-to-back seasons in Formula One respectively, these two old lions haven't lost their will to fight. And to learn, too: yes, because - as they say - in Formula One you never stop learning:
"You learn every day. It's like in real life. We learn every, every, every single day," Rubens insists. "There is nothing we can say we are able to do once and for all. Every time you step in the car it's never the same, it's always new."
Though it's true that the F1 of the Noughties has been dominated by youngsters (it's not by chance that, in five years, the record for the youngest world champion, which had lasted 30 years, was beaten three times in a row by Alonso, Hamilton and then Vettel). And it may be true as well that the youngest driver on the starting grid today, Jaime Alguersuari, with his 21 years of age could well be the son of either 39-years-old Barrichello or 37-years-old Trulli. But history is on their side. Juan Manuel Fangio won his fifth and final championship when he was 46 years, one month and 11 days old. And Louis Chiron even allowed himself to race in 1955 Monaco Grand Prix at the tender age of 55. In comparison, the two 'old men' of today's F1 seem like a pair of children. And be sure you haven't seen the last of them.