Rubens Barrichello has re-iterated his conviction that he is far from out of the 2009 Formula 1 World Championship fight, despite having yet to get the better of title-chasing Brawn GP team-mate Jenson Button – insisting that he is 'having a wonderful time' and has his eye very much on the long game.
Whilst Button's results sheet thus far this season reads 1st-1st-3rd-1st-1st-1st, Barrichello's record is a touch less impressive, being 2nd-5th-4th-5th-2nd-2nd, and qualifying has gone the British star's way on all but one occasion. Having once again trailed in behind the sister car in the Monaco Grand Prix at the weekend – despite looking to be the quicker of the two early on, before tyre-graining issues saw to his challenge – Barrichello admitted that the race had effectively been lost 24 hours earlier.
That, indeed, is something of a moot point. Only once – in Sakhir – has the Brazilian been sent out in the vital Q3 phase of qualifying with a lighter car than Button, meaning barring an extraordinary lap time, the odds are invariably stacked against him right from the off. And once you are behind when the starting lights go out – as Monaco evinced – in essentially equal machinery it is very hard to turn the tables again over the course of the grand prix.
The conspiracy theorists argue that Brawn is favouring Button's challenge at the expense of Barrichello's, and on paper the facts do little to suggest any different – but the most experienced driver in the top flight's history is adamant that he can still fight back.
“If you look back, the race was defined [in qualifying],” the São Paulista remarked, “as you have great momentum going when you start from the front. Just like in Barcelona I had a great start, and I was able to have a run on Kimi [Raikkonen]. We had a different reading from many of the other teams. We had the 'option' tyre and we thought that was going to be the tyre to use for three-quarters of the race really, then all of a sudden we saw some of the others using the other tyre. As you could see, [the option] was the tyre to have to begin with and we pulled away, which was great.
“I was running comfortably at a tremendous pace, but possibly I was just too close to Jenson as losing that little bit of aerodynamics I was struggling a little bit more without the air in front and I started to slide and badly grained the rear tyres. I couldn't keep up the pace – from 1m16s I started to do 1m20s, and Jenson was gaining like three or four seconds a lap which defined the race pretty much. I had a great weekend and the car was perfect the whole way through, so it was a shame we had the graining.
“I was very lucky that it is just impossible to overtake at this place, even though he (Raikkonen) had KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems). If you brake in the middle of the line, Monaco is really impossible. There's a 101 per cent chance of not overtaking, so it was lucky that it was here where I had the graining. It was a great strategy to recover from that. I came in much earlier than expected and after that it was fine, but by then Jenson was 16 seconds ahead. We had very similar pace; sometimes I was better, sometimes he was, but basically the race was lost during that graining phase.
“In the second stint my seatbelts started to get looser and looser and I could hear them going clank, clank. I was just getting loose, so I had to start driving differently. I had to send the brakes to the front, as when you brake you are just moving and you get to the pedal and you lock the rear wheels more.”
That notwithstanding, the runner-up laurels comfortably maintained Barrichello's second spot in the title standings, twelve points clear of third-placed Red Bull Racing rival Sebastian Vettel, but an ever-increasing distance away from Button, who now has a 16-point margin atop the table. The nine-time grand prix winner – who turned 37 on Saturday – well knows that he needs to begin gaining the upper hand fast, but he is equally confident of being able to do just that.