Rubens Barrichello is adamant that he is far from out of contention for Formula 1 World Championship glory in 2009, despite having conceded a further two points to Brawn GP team-mate Jenson Button following the Briton's fifth triumph of the campaign in the Monaco Grand Prix this weekend.
Having entered qualifying believing to have the upper hand over the driver in the sister car around the narrow, tortuous streets of the glamorous Principality – a circuit at which he had on four previous occasions finished up on the rostrum – Barrichello was disappointed to line up just third on the grid as Button stormed to an unanticipated pole position, and he admitted afterwards that he had effectively lost the race 24 hours before the starting lights even went out.
Nonetheless, a superb getaway vaulted the veteran Brazilian past the front row-sitting Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, and he would go on to hound the race leader throughout the initial laps, looking to have the better pace of the two and known to be carrying an extra lap worth of fuel in his car. The São Paulista's bid for victory would be undone, however, by chronic graining issues on his rear tyres as a result of having been following so closely in Button's slipstream, precipitating an earlier-than-planned first pit-stop to change rubber – and turning his race into an exercise in staving off the onslaught of the two Ferraris behind him rather than on gunning for the top step of the podium.
Though he tried hard to reduce the gap at the front, ultimately the damage had been done and Button had it all under control, steadily maintaining a margin that never dipped below the ten-second mark to extend his advantage in the title chase to 16 points over Barrichello, with more than a third of the season now having been completed. The oldest and most experienced driver in the field, though, insists nothing is over yet.
“I lost the race basically yesterday in qualifying,” mused the recently-turned 37-year-old. “That's how I see it. I had a perfect weekend in terms of set-up; I had a perfect weekend in terms of dominating everything apart from the last part of qualifying.
“I had a really good start on the 'option' tyre and was able to get ahead of Kimi before the first corner, which put me in a great position to challenge Jenson. I had tremendous pace – you could see at the start of the race I had better pace than Jenson – but following so closely behind him affected the aero balance of my car and I suffered with massive graining on the rears which lost me a lot of time.
“That basically put me back, but we had a great strategy to recover. I came in earlier than planned to keep second place, but by then Jenson was over ten seconds ahead. There's a negative way of looking at it and saying 'Jenson won again', and a positive way of seeing it in thinking that in Monaco you can't overtake, and yet I started third and finished second so I can say I'm one of the few that made an overtake today.
“I've got to be happy with that, and another one-two for the team is just amazing. It was a great race and I really enjoyed the challenge and the fight with Kimi. I'm still very much in the fight, and collecting as many points as possible whilst pushing Jenson as hard as I can.”
Indeed, the ex-Honda F1 outfit's third one-two of an increasingly impressive year has pushed the Brackley-based concern a commanding 43.5 points clear of nearest challengers Red Bull Racing in the constructors' battle – and Barrichello's input into that, team principal Ross Brawn underlines, cannot be underestimated.
“Rubens had a great start to get ahead of Raikkonen,” the Englishman remarked, “and was showing excellent pace before his first set of rear tyres began to grain heavily as a result of following Jenson so closely. Unfortunately that compromised his chance of fighting it out with his team-mate, but he did superbly well to keep Raikkonen at bay and bring home maximum points for the team's championship challenge.”