He tried hard to conceal his disappointment at the end of a race he knew had been taken away from him in Barcelona, but Rubens Barrichello's face revealed far more than his words at the end of the Spanish Grand Prix this weekend, as rumours intensify within the Formula 1 paddock that he is already the 'number two' driver at Brawn GP.
Having been pipped to pole position around the Circuit de Catalunya by team-mate Jenson Button – the legacy, he suggested, of having timed his final run too early – the veteran Brazilian immediately sought to make amends when the starting lights went out, storming past both Sebastian Vettel and the sister BGP 001 to grab the lead into turn one.
He would remain there all the way to his first pit visit on lap 19, having eked out a small margin over Button along the way, but unbeknown to him the team had switched the British star over to a two-stop strategy during the stops, whilst he had been left on three. That meant that whilst the 36-year-old now had an even greater lead, he would need to push harder still to extend his advantage in order to remain ahead at the end of the race, and ultimately it was just too tall an order to pull off.
At one point looking in danger of missing the podium altogether, Barrichello took the chequered flag 13 seconds behind Button in the runner-up position – his second rostrum appearance of the season, but one that was scant reward for what he felt should have been his first F1 victory in more than four years. Fastest lap to his credit was little consolation.
“The race began really well for me,” the São Paulista related, “and I had a great start overtaking Sebastian and Jenson to be leading coming out of turn one and through the safety car period. The car was feeling really good during the first stint, and getting out from my first stop ahead of Nico [Rosberg] on-track set the race up nicely for me.
“I don't know why they changed Jenson's strategy, because we were both on three stops – for me it came as a surprise when they said he was changing to two. Before the race took place the agreement was that both cars would be doing three stops, so I wonder why they didn't change me to a two-stop as I was the one who was running longer.
“From then I knew that I had to go flat-out to make my strategy work. However, I suffered on my third set of tyres and was not able to set the lap times which would have kept me ahead of Jenson. With the pace that I had pulling away from him [early on], I really felt I had it in the bag, and then all of a sudden after my third stop I was on a tyre that wasn't working particularly well, and when I saw he was in front of me it was very disappointing.
“It was a great result for Jenson and the team today, and at the end of the day I've got to be very happy with myself. I'm going to leave the track with my head held high because I did the best I could; my set-up was great and the car was feeling good, but the strategy just didn't work. I have to keep on going flat-out as much as I can, because I believe I have the ability to win the championship. Right now everything is going in favour of Jenson, but I am a positive person and I just have to keep my side up. I am confident that my victory will come soon.”
When asked whether he believed the ex-Honda F1 outfit was already throwing its weight behind Button's championship bid – with the 29-year-old now having triumphed in four of the opening five grands prix of the new campaign – Barrichello was enigmatic, not denying the suggestion but equally asserting that he hoped he would be given an equal chance to prove his credentials.