The fifth annual United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway does not officially get going until tomorrow morning, yet preliminary activities are already underway. As is traditional with the FIA, a Thursday interview took place today in two sections: first Ross Brawn and Rubens Barrichello of Scuderia Ferrari spent half an hour with the media, then Sir Frank Williams and his two drivers, Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya got grilled (before lunch, too).
The primary questions asked of Brawn and Barrichello concerned the latter's attempted pass of teammate Michael Schumacher at last weekend's Canadian Grand Prix, to no avail, and the incidence of brake duct improprieties by a couple of teams resulting in their disqualifications.
Brawn spoke directly of the team orders inherent in Grand Prix racing and noted the primary rule at the Scuderia: "don't knock each other off, but you're free to do what you can that's sensible." While that might be the leit motif, it is still subject to interpretation. "Our drivers know each other's packages and are free to race one another," he declared. "Rubens was running less fuel than Michael and still, Michael kept him behind."
Barrichello was "somewhat frustrated" at not being able to pass his teammate. "My one real chance came on the outside and I thought I had him because I was alongside. I had a bit lower grip than him on the outside and he managed to, all sideways, to make the chicane. So that was the [one time]. It was very much on the limit, Barrichello said. "I don't think I could have done anything different. I tried my best to get him at that time."
When he gets out of the car, Barrichello must answer not only to his team but also to the journalists crowding around and responding to questions about the frustrations of trying to beat Michael Schumacher abound. "It's not frustrating for me. I'm there to race for myself, to race for Ferrari, to have fun and I had a lot of fun [in Canada].
"Yes," he said, "it was frustrating at the end because if I could have gone past Michael, I think at least three, four-tenths of a lap I was quicker. So by that amount I would have won the race, but that's racing. I mean, I wasn't asking him to let me by anyway, so it was good racing."
Qualifying for the Ferrari duo wasn't the best in Canada and, in fact, they ended up sixth and seventh on the grid, Michael leading Rubens. But at the end, when it mattered, Ferrari were in front of the pack. "We were actually thinking, 'where the hell they came with those times,' as we were more than a second behind," Barrichello recalled.
"But we have a fantastic car for every circuit. There's no doubt about that. So it was just good to see that we were on the pace, but we had to keep them working very hard. I managed to pass Kimi and then I caught up with Michael quite rapidly and then, we started to see people going to the pits. I thought, 'this is going to be a good afternoon'," he chuckled.
In the past Ferrari has been criticized for its team orders. Drawing the "fine line" between team orders and competitive racing is often difficult to do, but it's left to Brawn to look at this sort of thing. "Michael and Rubens have a very good relationship so we don't need to say much to them. We know they don't want to see each other out of the race and they're going to push as hard as they can without overstepping their marks." In other words, Brawn and the Ferrari team depend on their drivers to behave properly, quite an assumption.
"I wouldn't expect our drivers to try and put the other driver off the track in an attempt to make an overtaking maneuver. I mean," he responded, "if Rubens had done a Sato on Michael, I would have been pretty much upset. What Rubens did in Canada was fine and I expect Michael to do the same to him. And maybe even a little bit more aggressive."
Schumacher's success since joining Ferrari -- and in particular since he finished fifth in 1999 -- has been overwhelming. Is it more car or more driver responsible for the victories and pole positions? "I would say it's a combination of all elements, including Rubens," Brawn allowed. "Rubens is a tremendous input to the team; what he does in testing and the work he does at the racing is also a contributive factor to the results Michael gets," another reason why Schumacher enthusiastically keeps Barrichello as his teammate.
"It's a very good car and we've built some very good partners with Bridgestone, Shell, a lot of companies who are part of the Ferrari package," Brawn acknowledged. "And it's just all clicking at the moment. On top of that you've got the best driver, certainly the most successful driver in the history of Formula One and the best driver I've ever known in Formula One," he declared.
"So you put all of those elements together and Michael's got a huge enthusiasm this year," as he works to gain title #7. "I was really pleased to see how frustrated he was after Monaco. It's well documented that he threw his helmet around the garage. I don't mind that," Brawn shrugged. "I think if a guy is that frustrated after what he's been able to achieve, it shows how hungry and how motivated he is. And like Rubens, he is a great team player and understands the value of that and understands it is a team effort."
The controversy at Ferrari with Barrichello's submission to Schumacher in Austria two years ago, and the latter's apparent balk at the line to give Rubens the prize here in Indy the same year, has provoked questions about the team. Barrichello doesn't see it as controversial: "I just feel I won Austria and he won Indianapolis, that's all," the Brazilian smiled.
"I think adversity strengthens the group. I think that's the important thing," Brawn concluded. "I know it exists in other teams, but the team becomes more insular with adversity. I'm proud to say I don't think you'll find anyone at Ferrari talking outside the group about responsibility or blame for problems we may have. I think that's a very important asset for Ferrari and one of the principles we try and run our team on."