Brazilian veteran Rubens Barrichello is back for his record 16th Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park – but the Williams driver almost didn’t make it to Melbourne
by Matthew Clayton
Veteran Brazilian Rubens Barrichello is the only man on the 2011 grid to have competed in all 15 previous Australian Grands Prix at Albert Park, but getting to Melbourne for his 16th race proved to be harder than he could have ever imagined.
A problem at the airport in Buenos Aires on Monday saw Barrichello’s arrival in Australia delayed by 24 hours – and at times the Williams driver wondered if he would ever get here at all. The 38-year-old flew from home in Brazil in his private jet to Argentina to take a commercial flight to Australia when the problems started.
“I was inside the plane and had my pyjamas on already when they said after three hours that we were going to have to jump out because of a radio control tower problem,” he said.
“I heard someone say that it would be a minimum 12-hour delay, maybe much longer. My first thought was ‘this is a nightmare’. I called everyone who could help – I actually called Mark (Webber) to see if he could help me with Qantas somehow.”
Barrichello was so desperate to find an alternate way to Melbourne that he used social networking site Twitter to ask for suggestions – and considered a radical plan that involved a boat journey and a flight through two countries.
“At one stage I was going from Buenos Aires to Uruguay by boat for three-and-a half hours, then take a flight from there to Santiago, and then come from Chile to here. I went to the harbour to ask about it, but went back to the airport – and I was waiting there for 15 hours. (Waiting at the airport) was like what you see on the TV – and this time it was me!
“When I finally got on the plane, 24 hours after we were supposed to go, I slept 13 hours straight and got here last night. There was never a chance I was going to miss the race – even if I had to swim over here ...”
Barrichello will start his record 19th Formula One season this weekend, and is optimistic he can improve on his 10th place in last year’s championship in his first season with Williams. He’s looking forward to seeing how the pace of the FW33 compares to the rest of the field after some encouraging signs in pre-season testing.
“I know that my car is competitive over one lap, and we’ve been working on the long-distance (runs) to see what is there,” he said.
“I also didn’t use KERS on my fastest lap in Barcelona, which is worth three to four-tenths over one lap. I think we are here to surprise ourselves, but how much, I don’t know.”
The return of Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) and the introduction of the new adjustable rear wing will give drivers more tasks to juggle in the cockpit than ever before in 2011, and Barrichello says the extra workload in today’s F1 cars shows just how long he’s been in the sport.
“I don’t have problems with how much you have to do now – it’s how much you have to take your eyes off the road. That’s more of the worry,” he said.
“I actually still have my very first steering wheel (from 1993) – it had a radio button, and that’s it. My steering wheel now has 26...”.