Rubens Barrichello was home in Brazil, preparing to leave for Melbourne over the weekend. "After some time in Europe, I came home slightly earlier than scheduled, as I hurt my back during testing," said the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro driver. "It is...
Rubens Barrichello was home in Brazil, preparing to leave for Melbourne over the weekend. "After some time in Europe, I came home slightly earlier than scheduled, as I hurt my back during testing," said the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro driver. "It is nothing serious, but I chose to come here to have some treatment. I had an inflamed nerve in my back, but it is much better now and, as there is still one week to go to Melbourne, I am confident that I will be 100% fit by then. I have had treatment and also I had to change my training routine slightly, doing more swimming than usual. In Brazil right now it is 38 degrees and I am feeling fine training in the heat, so I am ready and looking forward to Melbourne."
As for the new interpretation of the regulations and the new qualifying procedures, Barrichello has mixed feelings. "My passion is driving the car and so I liked the idea of the one lap qualifying, as this would have represented a real challenge," he said. "Getting it right in just one lap would have made me feel good. But now, (because cars must start the race with the fuel left in the fuel cell after qualifying) you will have to qualify with extra fuel on board and there will be times when pole position will be meaningless. The problem is that there is the possibility of getting your strategy wrong and then losing a race you should have won."
Barrichello feels that this latest twist to the rules could produce less rather than more overtaking in the early stages of the race. "It could happen that if slower cars decide to qualify with very little fuel then they will have to refuel after just a few laps, but for those few laps they will still be lapping faster than the quicker cars behind them which are carrying more fuel," he continued. "So there will still be no real racing until the pit stops. I do not want to be too critical at this stage because we don't know what will happen and we must wait and see how the situation develops in the first few races."
One aspect of the new rules which is causing the Ferrari man some concern at the moment, is the compulsory use of the HANS (Head And Neck Support) system, a "collar" designed to protect the driver's head in some types of accident. "At the moment, when I am in the car, I am unable to concentrate fully on driving as during the two months we have tried it, the system is really painful," revealed Barrichello. I have tried all sorts of modifications to the system but so far, I cannot get it right and comfortable.
"I am all in favour of continuous work to improve safety for the drivers, but I think it should be a matter of personal choice as to whether or not a driver uses HANS. I am concerned that in an impact it will hurt even more. On the bumpy circuits there will be a lot of problems. In Imola, the HANS was hurting my neck so much that I almost forgot the pain in my back because of it."
Although the regulations have undergone many modifications, Barrichello does not think it will change the pecking order amongst the teams. "There are a lot of rule changes, but they are the same for everyone," he stated. "That means that strong teams like Ferrari will have the best planning and methods to deal with the situation. I feel comfortable with these changes and I don't think they will affect our performance. The car and the tyres are good, the engine has been improved. So now we just have to get to Melbourne and learn about the new situation as it develops."
In 2002, Barrichello failed to score points in the opening three races, but he does not feel under any additional pressure this time round. "I am not getting stressed by the first three races, even though some people seem to be doing so on my behalf. The first three races are not the end of the world for me. I am in an excellent frame of mind and I know I am continuing to drive better than ever. These are the important factors. But, an early win this year would be nice!"
Finally, asked to single out a surprise element for the forthcoming season, Barrichello replied: "I have not paid too much attention to what the other teams have done in winter testing, but if asked to pick one team which might be the surprise of 2003, I would say Toyota, at least in the early part of the season." One of the Japanese cars is driven by Rubens' fellow countryman Cristiano da Matta. "He will have a tough time," suggested Barrichello. "Because he is going to have one hour to learn the circuit and then one lap in Friday qualifying before trying to set up the car on Saturday. I wish him all the best."