Rubens Barrichello's dreams of a 20th season in motorsport's top flight may become a reality after the Brazilian's tenure at Williams appeared to improve with the dawn of the new year.
The veteran, who made his F1 debut with Jordan back in 1993, looked set to be overlooked by the Grove team as a number of well-heeled alternatives became available in the final six weeks of 2011, but is reported to have strengthened his bargaining position after finding backers willing to support his candidature for the seat alongside Pastor Maldonado. The Venezuelan was confirmed before the end of the 2011 campaign, thanks in no small part to funding from the national oil concern, but the second seat remains one of only two apparent vacancies, along with the slot alongside Pedro de la Rosa at HRT, for 2012.
Force India outcast Adrian Sutil and Barrichello's fellow Brazilian Bruno Senna, as well as former Toro Rosso pilots Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi and Vitantonio Liuzzi, have been mentioned in connection with the Williams opening, with both Sutil and Senna thought to be able to bring backing to the team. Both are reported to have made visits to the Grove factory, with Senna allegedly undergoing physical tests amid a tour of the facility, but Barrichello's determination to prolong his record-breaking career may yet force both to the sidelines.
According to the BBC
, Barrichello believes that his experience would be a key asset to a team undergoing major technical upheaval over the winter, with former technical chief Patrick Head confirming his complete exit from the F1 operation in the past couple of days [see story here
]. Mike Coughlan has already taken over from outgoing technical director Sam Michael, while there are also other new faces in the design and aero offices. On top of that, Williams reunites with former engine partner Renault after two seasons with Cosworth.
Barrichello's experience and development ability kept him onboard in 2011 when others were rumoured to be in line to partner Maldonado, although the year proved to be a frustrating one for all concerned as Williams slumped to ninth in the constructors' championship, just ahead of the three youngest outfits on the grid - Team Lotus, HRT and Marussia Virgin.
"With all the changes for next year on the engine side and engineers," he said at the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix, "it would be clever from the team to keep the drivers and keep on going. I'm not pushing them, I'm just trying to show them that is the way to do it."
Ironically, Head's exit from the F1 operation may smooth the way for Barrichello to return, as the Briton was allegedly growing weary of the driver's reaction to the team's struggle for competitiveness, but it appears likely that no decision will be taken until the outcome of Williams' talks with potential sponsors in Qatar, which could influence - or free up - the choice.