Rubens Barrichello has asked his countrymen to show Lewis Hamilton 'respect' this weekend at Interlagos as the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship title showdown plays out – despite their evident desire to see home hero Felipe Massa pip the Briton to the crown.
Hamilton leads Massa by seven points in the drivers' standings heading into the Brazilian Grand Prix, meaning he needs to finish just fifth to make sure of clinching the trophy, regardless of where the Ferrari star takes the chequered flag.
The McLaren-Mercedes ace has, however, already found himself the subject of racist abuse on a Spanish website in the build-up to the all-important finale [see separate story – click here
], and Massa clearly has the crowds on his side in São Paulo, his birth city and home to the Autodromo Carlos Pace, where he so memorably and popularly triumphed in 2006.
Honda compatriot Barrichello, however – the most experienced driver in the history of F1 and a man determined that this year's Brazilian Grand Prix will not also be his last – has called for due respect to be shown to both title protagonists.
“All I would ask of the guys who come here to cheer Felipe on is to respect Lewis,” the 36-year-old urged. “I think Brazil can do that quite well and I don't think it's an issue.
“Imagine me doing something against Lewis – would Felipe be happy with that? Would he be a worthy champion? I don't think so.
“I think the guys have fought the whole championship by themselves, and that's the way it has to be. I would not get in the way.”
“Obviously I don't want to get in the way of the championship,” agreed fellow Brazilian and Renault rookie Nelsinho Piquet. “I'm not going to take sides. Both of them have been fighting for it for the whole year, and I think they should take the championship as everybody else has done it over the past 50 years. There's nothing I can do; it's them and their cars and we have to race as if it was a normal race.”
According to Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport
, BMW-Sauber's Robert Kubica – who recently spoke out against what he and some other drivers deemed to be Hamilton's at times robust and overly 'aggressive' on-track manner – was met with chants in both Portuguese and English during an autograph and photo session in a São Paulo shopping centre encouraging him to 'smash into' the Stevenage-born ace.