Thursday 19 January 2017

Barrichello forgets his roots in scramble for vacant seats

Many are still keen to pay for privilege of an F1 drive, says David Kennedy

Published 04/12/2011 | 05:00

The Rio Tiete, which runs through Sao Paulo, means 'truthful river'. It is many things to many people. Powerful because it supplies electricity to the city, polluted because of environmental failures. It is a moving conveyor belt for discarded fridges, cars and the occasional body.

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It represents decay and hope in equal measure, not unlike the vivid pinks, yellows and blues of the dilapidated houses that line the riverbank in Pirapora. The people of Sao Paulo are a reflection of this strange urban charm; colourful and vibrant, as if in defiance of their poverty.

You can't come to this country and not be touched by the emotions of a nation who celebrate great sporting events and heroes as energetically as they do their famous street carnivals.

Throughout recent decades Formula One has survived the worst of times here, but the dire Brazilian economy never killed the show, as happened in neighbouring Argentina. Now the country is on the up and with it will emerge a pool of natural talents who weren't even born when the legendary Ayrton Senna was alive.

Home-grown hero Rubens Barrichello came to Interlagos for what might be his Formula One swansong. In the final race of a lengthy 18-venue season, he finished 14th. It's hard to orchestrate the perfect valedictory. He bows out as the driver who competed in the most Grands Prix.

But is it his last year? In Brazil, Rubens took the opportunity to criticise paying drivers. It's true, of the 12 teams on the grid as many as half are looking for money.

But maybe after a 19-year stint at the pinnacle of the sport Rubens has forgotten that he too paid to race for Jordan for the four years he was with them. But now, having tasted the income side, and with a thirsty Embraer Legacy 600 jet to maintain, he doesn't feel ready to give up the day job.

He was chasing the Renault seat, which has gone to Kimi Raikkonen, who returns to F1 next year after a two-year absence following a migration to rallying.

Conversely, Barrichello's comments open the debate as to how a youngster today, having won a feeder championship for F1, is expected to secure a drive when there are more people returning to F1 than ever. To compound that, drivers are paying seven-figure sums -- put a six at the beginning -- for a tail-end drive, when they would ordinarily be midfield runners in GP3.

To narrow the gap even further, you have drivers who are on the wrong side of that geriatric racing barometer, 40, occupying seats that would normally be filled by young hopefuls. Pedro de la Rosa will join Schumacher in that category when he returns to a drive with HRT.

But you do wonder, if a former seven-times world champion can't cut the mustard in his comeback how is Raikkonen going to fare?

Add to that mix the ban on testing, which would otherwise ensure the reserve driver is in peak condition should he be called on, and it just doesn't make for fertile ground for F1 wannabes. Formula One is in danger of becoming 'Tír na Gold' or 'Tír na Old'.

At least Mark Webber left Brazil a happier man than when he arrived. He's waited all season for this win and who was to know that Sebastian Vettel (pictured) would play Santa Claus twice in the run up to Christmas, bequeathing victory to Webber in this race, and Lewis Hamilton the last, albeit as a result of mechanical issues.

There is a conspiracy theory doing the rounds that Red Bull manufactured the gearbox problem to reward Webber with a win. Is Red Bull so confident they can carve up wins like this? I think not.

If you ever meet that other Brazilian driver Felipe Massa just don't ask him for a high five because that's a number that will haunt him this year. It's his highest place finish of the season and he capped it off by finishing fifth in Brazil in what was his 100th Grand Prix. Four fifths might sound like the beginning of a swearing rant and he would have every reason to because those results don't do him justice.

Adrian Sutil ends the season very confused. Having helped Force India achieve its strongest result to date, finishing an impressive sixth in Brazil, he finds himself without a drive.

Anyway, Sutil didn't do his reputation any favours in Shanghai last April when he allegedly assaulted Renault owners/Genii Group boss Eric Lux, with a broken champagne glass, while out for a night on the tiles with his best mate Lewis Hamilton.

One side is suing, while the other is saying it was an accident but whatever happened it doesn't make for good publicity for any team. Still the German is confident he will be in F1 in 2012, though it probably won't be with Renault.

Jenson Button is sitting on a renewed McLaren contract and he's had a great season compared with Hamilton who is on the back foot hoping his team will sign him beyond 2012. But Hamilton will undoubtedly bounce back from the woes of a season he'd rather forget, excluding his three wins that is.

There are still ten places to be filled for next year; maybe teams are waiting for more drivers to come out of retirement/hospital/nursing homes. Mega-buck paying customers will always take their place at the table but the figures don't always add up.

Team Lotus (who will become Caterham F1 in 2012) picked up a handy $12m for finishing a coveted tenth in the constructors' championship. That was achieved with the help of two solid drivers, Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli. Whatever happens in F1, the truthful river will still flow through Sao Paulo. With a 20-race packed calendar scheduled for next season does Bernie have his eye on Arctic hinterlands next? He was recently spotted in Lapland with Santa checking out venues. Ice-racing -- now that would liven things up a bit. Soon the season will have no beginning or end. Amen, says Bernie, with a hearty ho ho ho.

Sunday Indo Sport

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