BARRICHELLO EAGER TO MAKE SPEEDY BRAZILIAN HOMECOMING By Dan Knutson indyf1.com Special Contributor INDIANAPOLIS, April 6, 1999--Round two of the 16-race Formula One world tour takes place April 11 at Interlagos in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The race...
BARRICHELLO EAGER TO MAKE SPEEDY BRAZILIAN HOMECOMING By Dan Knutson indyf1.com Special Contributor
INDIANAPOLIS, April 6, 1999--Round two of the 16-race Formula One world tour takes place April 11 at Interlagos in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The race is a sellout due in part to the strong showing by Brazilian driver Rubens Barrichello in his Stewart-Ford in the Australian Grand Prix season opener. After qualifying fourth, Barrichello had to start that race from the pit lane in a backup car after his primary car caught fire on the grid. Despite having to start from the back of the pack and later losing time with a stop-and-go penalty because of a pace car infraction, Barrichello stormed back to finish fifth.
Barrichello grew up near the Interlagos circuit, officially called the Circuit Carlos Pace after the late Brazilian F1 driver Carlos Pace.
"The home support will be fantastic," Barrichello said. "My Stewart-Ford ran brilliantly in Melbourne but, more importantly, we were able to improve on that in the Barcelona test. I have some great memories of Interlagos, and I enjoy the circuit a lot. I learned to race go-karts at the kart track at the circuit.
"As a young boy I'd ride my bicycle up from the karting track and sit there watching my F1 heroes drive past. My best moments now are at that same area during the formation lap when I can read the banners that say: 'Go Rubinho Go!' It's then that I realize that I'm home."
Brazil's Emerson Fittipaldi, who won two Formula One World Championships and a CART title as well as the Indy 500 in 1989 and 1993, inspired many Brazilian racers, including Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna. These three drivers would combine to win eight Formula One World Championships and 78 Grand Prix races and in turn inspire legions of new Brazilian drivers. Today, there are three Brazilians competing in F1, three in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League and eight in the CART series.
Most of the F1 teams went testing last week to make final preparations before heading off to Brazil. Races outside of Europe, such as the Grand Prix of Brazil and next year's United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis, are nicknamed "flyaways" by the teams because they leave their large transport trucks at home and fly all their cars and equipment to the venue. But that doesn't mean that they travel light. British American Racing (BAR), for example, will bring three cars and 18.7 tons (17,000 kilos) of freight to Brazil.
BAR was one of four teams testing at Barcelona for three days last week and left feeling pleased with the improved reliability and speed of its cars. Former Indianapolis 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve was quickest on the first day of the test in his BAR-Supertec, second quickest behind Jarno Trulli on the next day and again second quickest behind Olivier Panis on the final day. Trulli and Panis are teammates at Gauloises Prost-Peugeot.
"It has been a good test," Villeneuve said. "We did a lot of work finding out the best way forward for the car. We managed some good speeds and worked on the reliability. We need a bit more power and engine reliability, though, so there's still some work to be done."
Villeneuve's teammate, rookie Ricardo Zonta, who along with Barrichello and Pedro Diniz, is one of the three Brazilian drivers currently in F1, was also happy with the results of the test.
"We made some good progress on setups," Zonta said, "and I'm more confident in my car. We need a good set-up for Brazil, especially as we don't know how the car will perform over the many bumps there."
The Winfield Williams-Supertec team went to Barcelona and tested for the first time since the Australian Grand Prix on March 7. They had decided to wait until some new components were built and design changes were made before doing any testing.
Williams' new recruit -- two-time CART champ Alex Zanardi -- said his F1 comeback will take a turn for the better in Brazil. He scored his first F1 championship point on the Interlagos circuit in 1993 when finishing sixth for Team Lotus.
"I didn't have quite the start to the season I hoped for," said Zanardi, who crashed in Australia, "so for me it all starts in Brazil. I really like this circuit -- it has a good variety of corners. The circuit is very bumpy, which I tend to look at more as a characteristic than a weak point." With its sweeping, plunging corners, the 2.667-mile (4.292-km) Interlagos circuit is a challenge to both the drivers and engineers. The weather is hot and humid, and sudden tropical downpours are common at this time of the year. Zanardi's teammate, Ralf Schumacher, sees the rain as an ally. "If the weather is dry and the other teams have no reliability problems, it will be difficult for us to be in front," Schumacher said. "But the weather at Interlagos changes very fast with stormy rainfall, and under wet conditions I'm quite optimistic."
Gary Anderson, technical director of Team Stewart, is also optimistic. "In Brazil you run high downforce settings," Anderson said, "because of the high altitude you lose about 10 percent of the downforce. Because we will be running a similar aerodynamic configuration to Melbourne, where we undoubtedly had an edge over a number of other cars in overall performance, we should expect to outpace our closest rivals again.
"The testing in Barcelona in March has underlined what a good package we have -- good traction, good brakes and a strong engine. We just need to hit a streak of reliability. Rubens (Barrichello) knows the track better than anyone, and he's convinced that the new car will be suited to it." West McLaren-Mercedes drivers Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard, and Ferrari's Michael Schumacher are considered the three main favorites to win the World Championship this year. None of them finished the season opener, so they head for Brazil on equal footing in the championship chase. Schumacher's teammate, Eddie Irvine, who won in Australia, leads with 10 points. In the Brazilian Grand Prix last year the top three finishers were Hakkinen, Coulthard and Schumacher.
FORMULA ONE NOTEBOOK
Where to watch: Formula One fans in the United States can watch the Brazilian Grand Prix live on Fox Sports Net and SpeedVision. Both networks will start with a pre-race show at 12:30 p.m. (EDT) April 11. SpeedVision will also air qualifying live at noon (EDT) April 10.
Weighty issues: A test will be used in Brazil to insure that F1 cars are not using illegal flexible rear wings. A 220-pound (100-kg) weight will be suspended from the rear wing that cannot bend beyond a pre-set distance. It was suspected that some teams had designed some flex into their rear wings, which would allow them to bend back and flatten at high speeds and thus reduce drag on the straights. The wing would then pop back up and create downforce in the corners.
Verstappen steps in: Jos Verstappen will take over Luca Badoer's Minardi-Ford seat in Brazil after Badoer injured his hand while testing in Italy.
Verstappen, who has 57 Grand Prix starts, has driven for Benetton, Simtek, Arrows, Tyrrell and Stewart, and this year signed on as the test driver for Honda's new F1 project. Honda has released the Dutchman to Minardi for one race.
Little Mick: Will Michael Schumacher win the World Championship 25 years from now? He will if he follows in the tracks of his famous father. Michael and Corinna Schumacher are the proud parents of a son born March 23. They call Michael Jr. "Little Mick." Michael Sr. missed a test session after twisting his ankle while jogging but will be fully fit for the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Ford improves: Ford has been working hard on the reliability of its new V10 as well as ensuring that the engine fires that struck both Stewart cars on the starting grid in Melbourne do not recur.
"We have made several modifications to the engine to overcome the problems seen on the grid in Australia," said Ford's European racing boss Martin Whitaker. "Our competitiveness was confirmed by the three-day test in Barcelona in March where we were the fastest. The test also illustrated that there is still some way to go with respect to engine reliability. It looks like the trouble was related to a manufacturing problem."
Brazilian Grand Prix Fast Facts
Date: Sunday, April 11 Race: Second of 16 on 1999 schedule Venue: Circuit Carlos Pace, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil Circuit length: 2.667-miles, 4.292 km Race length: 72 laps On TV: Race (live) - 12:30 p.m. (EDT) April 11, FOX Sports Net, SpeedVision; Qualifying (live) - noon (EDT) April 10, SpeedVision Points leader: Eddie Irvine, Ferrari 1998 race winner: Mika Hakkinen, McLaren-Mercedes 1998 pole winner: Mika Hakkinen, McLaren-Mercedes Previous winners: 1997 -- Jacques Villeneuve; 1996 -- Damon Hill; 1995 -- Michael Schumacher; 1994 -- Michael Schumacher; 1993--Ayrton Senna