Saturday 21 April 2018

Reality of 'mobile bodyguard' hits Barrichello


PUT yourself in Rubins Barrichello's shoes. All your life you wanted to drive in Formula One. You finally get your chance with Jordan but you have your sights set higher.

Then one day you get the call that you've been waiting for since life had a meaning. It's from Ferrari and they would like you to drive for them. You are asked to sign a contract that has many stipulations but, like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally all you can say is 'Yes Yes Yes'. As far as you're concerned the ink can't dry on the contract fast enough.

Then you experience all the trappings of being a works Ferrari driver, starting with the adulation. Eddie Irvine once famously said when you drive in F1 all the women come on to you and when you drive for Ferrari all the women and the men come on to you! In Italy everyone is your friend, you just don't get fined for speeding and you eat for free in the best restaurants. Make no mistake, you are top dog. Even some of the Press like you.

Then your dream turns into a nightmare. You joined the team to win races, to be treated as an equal, to be the best. Suddenly it dawns on you that you were hired to act as a mobile bodyguard to Michael Schumacher. The harsh reality is that even when you're faster than your team-mate you have to bow to the champion and pull over to let him through; because even the great Michael Schumacher needs a helping hand every now and then. Your contract stipulates this, so you can't really complain, can you?

You have two choices. You can leave and look for a good team where you are the number one or you can cling onto starboard and hope they sign you again for 2002. For what? To do the same thing over again. It's the wake-up call you get when you sign-up as team-mate to Michael Schumacher. Unless you can outperform him consistently, don't expect to be treated as an equal. In Ferrari you are paid your money and you have no choice.

Those who have been around the block agree, like Jaguar boss Niki Lauda. "With Coulthard winning, Ferrari wanted to give Schumacher the most points, it's logical". Gerhard Berger concurs: "Rubins shouldn't be too upset, he should say 'let's make a deal, I'll do this for you, you do this for me"'. New recruits Montoya and Alonso beg to differ and both reckon it was too early in the season for team orders, especially as Rubins himself is in with a chance of winning the championship. Personally I think it's fair, as foul often is.

In post race conference, Michael Schumacher looked like he had stolen candy from a kid. Barrichello looked like it had just been snatched from him. The winner David Coulthard sat between the tense team-mates. Could this championship be decided on a moral issue? McLaren, who have lost a championship in the past because of the absence of team orders claim this year is no different, at least not yet. When Rubins was given the ultimatum by Jean Todt to let his team-mate pass, the Brazilian must have regretted learning English.

Their radio chat was broadcast live on Italian Television and went something like this: "Move over Rubins, for the sake of the championship. RubinsSchumacher, Schumacher." For all F1's big budgets and hired brain power, for all the endless man-hours of work to eke out the last one-thousandth of a second advantage, it could yet be decided by crackly radio syndrome.

Eddie Irvine has had his fair share of kerb crawling this year but I hasten to add it was of the legal variety and due to the uncompetitive Jaguar. Unlike Jaguar's test driver, Tomas Scheckter, who was in Milton Keynes one evening recently when he found himself in an area of ill repute having a Hugh Grant moment. Unfortunately for Scheckter this lapse of judgement cost him his job.

He wasn't as fortunate as a current F1 driver, who shall remain nameless, who allegedly shared a car with his father and two hookers in Brazil last year. Next day, the father boasted about his escapades to anyone and everyone in the paddock, quite oblivious to the possible consequences. The son is still gainfully employed!

Meanwhile Niki Lauda, as subtle as a sledge-hammer, had little sympathy for Scheckter, "He blew his chances", said the Austrian.

Eddie Jordan let out a silent groan that could have cracked the nearby mountains when both cars were out of the race before the end of the first lap. It must have been painful to watch as the visiting dignitaries from Honda, President Takeo Fukui and Managing Director Katsumi Ichida, looked on.

Trulli didn't even get off the grid and was subsequently black-flagged for breaking a red light while trying to rejoin the race from the pits and Frentzen was out with gearbox problems. The Japanese must have choked on their sushi as they bid sayonara and edged their way down to the BAR pits in search of better news. Olivier Panis rewarded them with a fifth place.

Nevertheless Jordan remains optimistic. After all, Trulli was fifth on the grid in Austria ahead of eventual winner David Coulthard. They can look forward to Monaco next Sunday where their set-up really suits the circuit. Last year Trulli and Frentzen qualified second and fourth respectively. Trulli could have gone on to win the race because Schumacher retired but unfortunately he, too, was a casualty when his gearbox packed up.

This year they will be going all out for their first podium finish of the season. Throughout last week they have been second in testing on three occasions. It will be a busy weekend for EJ as he hosts his regular pre-race party at the Royal Yacht Club. The great and the good will beat a path to his multi-million pound boat in search of champagne and credibility. But Jordan will be firmly focused on the job in hand. This is a race of high attrition and if the ball bounces in Jordan's favour they could even win here.

Meanwhile the other Eddie will be desperate to emulate last year's fourth place. If some of the new aerodynamic tweaks are implemented as expected, Irvine could be in with a chance of scoring much needed points for Jaguar at one of his favourite circuits.

QUALIFYING for Monaco is a sight to behold. It is the best motorsport day in the year, without question. It offers us a glimpse of talent in its pure raw form. If you can't be there in person then reserve your favourite armchair on Saturday to witness the fantastic spectacle of these cars being hurled around unyielding corners, like Casino Square.

It is a roller-coaster roulette ride where gambles are won or lost. It is a tense, nerve-wracking, unforgiving, god-forbidding course that can make or break a career. It's a club that the greats like Prost, Senna and Schumacher have made their own. Juan Pablo Montoya will get the opportunity to prove if he is worthy of membership, tyres permitting.

There is nowhere quite like Monaco to sort out the men from the boys.

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