At the Valencia test three weeks ago Rubens Barrichello was asked if he had any advice for Nico Rosberg, Michael Schumacher’s new team mate. ‘Get out of there!,’ he told us with a grin.
He tempered that remark by saying that Nico was a talented driver, adding that if he could become World Champion alongside Michael, then he could do it alongside anyone.
The incident inspired me to write a feature on Michael and his relationships with his team mates, which appears in today’s February 25 edition of Autosport (you can check out the new digital version at www.autosport.com). In the story Ross Brawn gives his thoughts on how various drivers have tackled the job of sitting alongside Michael – and he makes it pretty clear that some have taken a more constructive approach than others.
As a sort of postscript to that story I thought it would be interesting to revisit a telephone interview I did with Rubens in September 1999, a day or two after he was confirmed as a Ferrari driver. He was to replace his former Jordan team mate Eddie Irvine, who at the time was battling for the World Championship - Schumacher was still recovering from his broken leg. Ironically Irvine had signed up to take Barrichello’s vacant place at Stewart/Jaguar, just as this year the Brazilian has done a direct swap with Rosberg.
It’s clear that at the time Rubens was absolutely convinced that he could take on Michael, and that he could win a World Championship for Ferrari. Team orders? Won’t happen to me…
In the mean time he still had four races to do for Stewart GP. He scored a fourth, a third and fifth, taking his season total to 21 points – beating the target he’d set himself in this interview. However, much to Barrichello’s frustration it was Johnny Herbert who was to give the team an opportunistic win at the Nurburgring.
Rubens Barrichello Signs For Ferrari (September 1999)
Q: How long have you been dreaming about going to Ferrari?
“We talked every other year, you know. I talked to them in ’95, and we never lost contact. I think after the good first two or three first races that I had this year, it was like, ‘Wow, Rubens is in a competitive car and he’s doing a better job,’ so then we started to talk seriously.”
Q: Was it a childhood ambition?
“It’s definitely the biggest dream of everyone to drive for Ferrari. On top of that I must say I went for a competitive car. The last 10 years Ferrari made nine good cars, and having Schumacher there, the chances of making it right is even higher.”
Q: Do you know that the only Brazilian to drive for Ferrari was Chico Landi, who did one race in the 50s?
“I think he rented the car! It’s definitely going to be crazy in Brazil. They are already writing that I’m favourite for the World Championship next year. Let’s wait and see – it’s not going to be an easy task.”
Q: Can you believe that Fittipaldi, Piquet and Senna never drove for Ferrari, or even came close to driving for Ferrari?
“It was really nice to see what Emerson said: ‘We didn’t drive for Ferrari, and we wish him good luck. He’s definitely carrying our dreams.’ It was fantastic to hear from him, actually.”
Q: It will be seven years since Ayrton last won a GP. What will it mean in Brazil when you start winning?
“When Emerson was finishing, Piquet was starting, when Piquet wasn’t doing very well, Ayrton was there. It would have been the same hopefully. What would Senna be doing today? He was still going to be winning, and I’m sure he would have helped myself to go into a top team. But all of a sudden the disaster happened and I was left alone. I had 150 million people saying come on, it’s your time. It’s something I won’t like to experience again.”
Q: But of course there was nothing you could do with a Jordan-Peugeot…
“At that time, no. If I can win for them, it will be fantastic. Now there’s no excuses, and I hope I can do it.”
Q: Some people don’t understand why you want to be Michael’s team mate, but basically after seven years you just want to get in a winning car. Is that how you see it?
“Exactly. It’s a chance of doing what I want, which is winning.”
Q: We heard that you told Brazilian journalists that you wouldn’t go to Ferrari if you had to let Schumacher past. Is that true?
“I never said that. To be honest with you what I said is I don’t know what Irvine has in his contract, and I don’t care. What I meant was that it all depends on my driving, it’s all on me. You ask me if I have a clause in my contract with Stewart saying that I have to follow instructions, I do, and I think everyone does. That’s the same with Ferrari. If I’m in front and by chance Schumacher is behind and is coming faster and he has a chance to win the race, I don’t need any instructions to let him by. But on the other hand if the other guy, who is me, is coming faster – I’m sure it’s going to be a surprise, and I hope it will be – it’s in the best interests of Ferrari that both drivers have a chance to win.”
Q: Obviously after four years there Michael is very established, we know that everything revolves around him in terms of development, and it must be difficult for anyone to come in and make a name for themselves. Do you agree?
“Seriously it would be arrogant for me to go to Ferrari and say, Look, I want number one status, I want the same thing as Schumacher, and blah, blah, blah. It would be too rude, and I’m sure they would say who do you think you are? If I have the same equipment, which is the case, if I have the same testing, which is the case, I hope I can surprise. When I came into Jordan, I was number two. When I went to Stewart I was number one, but Jan Magnussen was the next Senna, and made my place again. I just want to have the opportunity to do what I know. I don’t want to go into politics. I’m sure if I’m doing fantastically well in the race, and the team has the chance to win the race, I don’t see the team asking me to switch places.”
Q: There’s so much pressure at Ferrari. Can you imagine what it is going to be like?
“It’s going to be a new experience. I don’t know what to hope for, but I feel prepared. I have to face it. If I want to win the championship one day, I have to face all the pressures probably. I’ve had the whole Brazil pressure on my back, and for sure the pressure that will happen now is going to big. I will try just to be me. I will try to be the same with everyone, I will try to have time for everyone, I’ll try to do whatever I did this last seven years. I won’t change on that. I don’t want to hide because I’m a Ferrari driver.”
Q: How well do you know Michael?
“I think Michael has a good heart. I don’t know him fantastically well, but whenever we talked I think he respects me as much as I respect him. In the GPDA I’m one of the guys that talks quite a lot, and I think he likes that. But I’m going there to learn – I’m not going there to say yes, I’m going to beat him. I’m going there as someone who wants to learn, and who wants to surprise some people. I’m sure I’ll be able to do that.”
Q: This season started well, but are you disappointed with the way it has turned out?
“To be honest I think we’ve been more reliable than we thought at the beginning of the year. But it was very frustrating going to Barcelona and Spa not knowing why we lost performance. That was the two occasions when I was disappointed. But everywhere else we’ve been quite competitive. You can say a puncture at Silverstone wasn’t that great, and a suspension failure in Monaco – we lost a lot of point. But we finished a lot of races. Last year the car wasn’t competitive at all, and we finished much less than that.”
Q: Was Spa more a case of other teams coming up and you staying the same?
“It’s hard to say, because we test new things all the time. We gain a little bit here and there. You can see that Jordan is really consistent, they’re doing a fantastic job. Williams is pretty much like us. They go very well sometimes, and then they lose pace. Jordan has kept progressing, and we didn’t as much.”
Q: Are you now going to concentrate on pushing hard in your last races for Stewart?
“Oh yes. I really do hope I can score as much as 20 points. I think it’s going to be a hard job in the constructors’ because Williams is doing a bit better than what we expected. I want to leave the team on a high, I want to be as close as possible to a win, if I can.”
Q: Will your last race with the team in Suzuka be an emotional one?
“It’s been fantastic to drive for them. Last year’s car was bad, bad, bad, and they treated me the same as they do now. I think I never lost my temper, I always knew that whenever the car was good I could perform, so motivation wise it was very good. So Suzuka is going to be very emotional, and I hope I can score more points for them.”
Q: You and Eddie were team mates for two years. Can you believe the co-incidence that you are involved in this swap?
“People say that I don’t get on well with Eddie, but it’s bullshit. It’s funny because most of the problems with him were on my side. At first I was trying to beat him and I forgot how to drive. I forgot that I was there to enjoy it. I was just trying to be better than him, and I really forgot. And secondly, I wanted to be someone that he wasn’t. He wasn’t like a normal team mate. He didn’t care much about things, but that was my problem, it wasn’t his. At that time a lot of bad luck was happening to me. I went to congratulate him in Melbourne. I wish him the best success at Stewart, and I’m sure he’s going to get on well with Gary Anderson there.”
Q: Finally, how do you sum up your thoughts on next year?
”I just took the chance. Sometimes you need a change in life, even though I’m very happy there. People help me and I help people. After three years, with a lot of changes going on, the chance came at Ferrari and I felt I must take it. It’s going to be the hardest thing that I’ve done in life, but at least I’m prepared. I just go as a young boy, trying to learn at school, that’s all. I’ve got to do it. The chance is there, and it’s the best challenge of my life.”