Rubens Barrichello's schedule in between the British and German Grands Prix typifies the busy life of a professional racing driver. After coming third at Silverstone, the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro man tackled two days of testing in Spain and this...
Rubens Barrichello's schedule in between the British and German Grands Prix typifies the busy life of a professional racing driver. After coming third at Silverstone, the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro man tackled two days of testing in Spain and this week, prior to travelling to Hockenheim, he is fitting in sponsor duties in Prague. "I have never been to the Czech Republic, so I am looking forward to the new experience," says the Brazilian.
Barrichello feels that Silverstone showed that the Scuderia is definitely coming under more pressure from its rivals: "The British race proved that we were quite right to say the opposition is closing the gap to us in performance terms," he maintained. "McLaren came up with the big surprise, as it seems like only yesterday that they were struggling and in the last race they came good. You can never stop in Formula 1 and you have to constantly push to improve your package."
With that in mind, Rubens was happy to meet up with his friends on the test team in Spain. "The test team are always keen to find out from you as much as possible about the previous race," he said. "They follow the race weekend closely but they still want to hear it all first hand from the driver. They are the ones who make us better drivers and give us a better car. They deserve plenty of praise."
"In Jerez we tested some new features on the aerodynamic side. Jerez is actually a very difficult track from which to draw conclusions because every minute the track gets hotter and hotter. So you might do a time at 9 in the morning but a couple of hours later it is much hotter, reaching a peak in the early afternoon, then cooling down again. So track temperature is never consistent."
"As the track temperature changes you cannot rely on the stopwatch to tell you if something on the car is working better or not. The engineers have plenty of data they can study, but this is what I like the most about testing, the fact that they have to rely more on us and whatever we say becomes very valuable. I enjoy it because you have to be very accurate in providing feedback. Sometimes the engineers can see that you are in 100% agreement with the computer, or sometimes your opinion does not agree completely and that is when the interesting discussions begin."
Jerez is a good track to prepare for this weekend's German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, as both tracks have a surface that is tough on tyres and for the past few years, the German event has been run in very high temperatures. "We did some valuable testing as far as the tyres are concerned and I feel we made good progress in this area," reckoned Barrichello.
Hockenheim, although substantially modified from 2002 onwards has special meaning for the Ferrari man: "My win here in 2000 still means something to me and it's a fantastic feeling, as although the circuit might be completely different, it is still the same place. But on Friday, I will just pull my visor shut and start again with everyone on zero points and try and win again. I'm eager to do as well as I can. I am very relaxed at the moment as generally the last few, since Nurburgring in fact, have been quite good for me. There might have been a little something lacking for me to actually win races, but the possibilities for victory are always there and I think it will be the same situation this weekend."
The 'old' Hockenheim is still a fond memory for most drivers, but Barrichello has a wise take on nostalgia! "I miss the old things and as we become older, it seems that everything new in life does not look as good as the old stuff! The only bad thing about the old track was that, when it rained, the trees in the forest did not let the spray clear and visibility was almost non-existent, even though driving down those long straights was fantastic. The new circuit means overtaking is possible and it is a new challenge. A big difference is that in the stadium you now have a lot of downforce whereas before you had none and it was really difficult. It is quite a bit quicker now."
The new Hockenheim can now be rated as medium in terms of downforce levels and tyre compounds required, with the usual balance between grip and durability in the heat being the main concerns. Even without the long straights, a powerful engine is a must-have, as the longish run from the second corner is important as the hairpin at the end of it offers a good passing opportunity.
Instead of disappearing out of site of the spectators into the forest, the track now turns sharp right at the second corner before coming to a long left-hander, the Parabolica, which leads onto the very tight first-gear hairpin. A right-left-right section then joins up to the old Motodrom section which houses one of the noisiest crowds of the season, all of them apparently armed with air-horns.
As always with a medium speed track, good traction is an important factor. While Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro can lay claim to the biggest fan base at just about every circuit on the calendar, it is obvious that, here for his home race, the vast majority of the crowd will have their eyes firmly fixed on Michael Schumacher, as will the large contingent of German media.
As far as Barrichello is concerned, that is a blessing in disguise. "I can sit back and watch Michael have to deal with all the massive attention from the German media and the fans. That means it is quite a nice and relaxed weekend for me, as apart from a couple of events, Michael has all the work to do and I can concentrate on the car."
Having won ten out of eleven races so far, the Scuderia has to start favourite this weekend, while McLaren-Mercedes seem to have jumped the queue to provide Michael and Rubens with some opposition. As far as the form guide is concerned, Ferrari and BMW-Williams have been the strongest over the past five years, the Italian team having the upper hand with 3 wins to 2, although in 2003, victory went to Juan Pablo Montoya for the Anglo-German team.