Teams and equipment are steadily arriving in Melbourne and the atmosphere is steadily mounting ahead of the coming season opener this weekend. After such a long winter break, fans and drivers alike are eager to get the action under way. Ferrari's...
Teams and equipment are steadily arriving in Melbourne and the atmosphere is steadily mounting ahead of the coming season opener this weekend. After such a long winter break, fans and drivers alike are eager to get the action under way. Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello is no exception and is ready for an exciting weekend.
"The first race is always exciting," he said. "I had a wonderful time for a couple of months over the winter, thinking of nothing except my family. But then, I started to think about driving and asking myself where my car was. So I am excited to go to Australia again. I really enjoy the first three races of the season. To be honest, I have not done as much testing as I had done by this time last year, but I have completed two or three race distances in the car and am feeling better than ever in terms of my physical condition, as I have been training very hard in Brazil. Being on the grid for the first time in Melbourne is always a special feeling as we have not raced since Japan last year, but once you get going the actual driving is just the same as ever. It does not take long to get back into the groove and routine of racing, even after a three month gap as we have all been testing beforehand."
Although Albert Park is a street circuit and can be dirty on the opening day of practice, it's not a problem for drivers as that is soon rectified as things get under way.
"Albert Park is a good environment for the first grand prix as there is a party atmosphere and everyone is enjoying themselves," Barrichello said. "The track itself feels like a proper circuit, even though it is only used for this event. Sure, the surface is dirty to start with, but you can say the same about Hungary or some of the other circuits. Actually, although the track is dirty on Friday morning, the organisers put on so many other races for Formula Ford and the V8 cars and others, that it soon cleans up and the rubber gets put down quite quickly."
The Brazilian thinks Ferrari made the right decision in starting the season with the 2001 chassis rather than the new one as there's always a risk of unknown factors when changing from a tried and tested car to a new one.
"I think that starting the season with last year's car is a safe decision," he said.“ The car looked good in testing. The team has made some changes to it since last year and it actually feels faster than it did in Suzuka. Bridgestone has also done a good job and I think this year's tyres are better. We might have a surprise when we get to Melbourne, but I think we will be competitive. I think Ferrari should be favourite again this year, although there is always the unknown factor of going from the existing car to a new one. But at least our two test drivers will be doing a lot of mileage on the new car and, whenever we take it to a race, I am sure it will be ready."
Barrichello is not sure which team will present the biggest threat to Ferrari this year and admits he would not like to try and predict. "It has been very difficult to assess the lap times from winter testing and to see what are the main issues. But I think that, at least for the first couple of races, the main challenge will come from McLaren rather than Williams. I could be wrong of course!"
There have been some rule changes in technical areas for 2002: electronically controlled power steering has been banned and two way telemtry between the cars and the pits is now legal. Barrichello feels these rules contradict each other.
"Sometimes it's hard to understand what the rule makers are doing," he commented. "In a few years time we might be driving with gearlevers again but traction control is allowed! It does not follow what is happening in the modern world. Suddenly we can't use electronic power steering. I can see the reason behind it, but it is not that logical. But that's the way it goes. It might mean a bit more hard work in the cockpit, but having two way telemetry will not have a noticeable effect on many elements, although it will mean we won't have to press so many buttons on the steering wheel."
Sauber's young rookie Felipe Massa has been attracting a lot of attention over winter testing and some say that Ferrai have him in their sites for the future. Barrichello says he is pleased to see a fellow Brazilian on the grid.
"I spoke to him on the phone a few days ago and he is very excited about the season. I think he could be one of the surprises this year. I just hope he will be able to cope well with the media attention when we get to Brazil. I think that will be the biggest pressure he will feel all year. He is very young and should have a bright future. He seems very down to earth which is a positive sign."