Rubens Barrichello has admitted that he is in discussions with Williams regarding a switch from Brawn GP to the Grove-based outfit for the 2010 F1 World Championship campaign, with one of the Brazilian's close friends claiming that the deal is already done.
There have been rumours swirling around the paddock for some time that Barrichello – the oldest and most experienced driver on the grand prix grid, with no fewer than 282 starts under his belt in the top flight since making his debut back in 1993, more than anyone else in the history of the sport – is Williams-bound next year, and now it seems that such a move is closer than ever before, if not wholeheartedly signed, sealed and delivered.
Speculation that all was not well inside the Brawn GP camp arose earlier in the season, following a number of dubious strategy calls and poor reliability that ostensibly cost the eleven-time grand prix-winner the possibility of going for victory to the benefit of team-mate Jenson Button, a man widely regarded as team principal Ross Brawn's favoured son.
Matters came to a head in the immediate aftermath of the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring in mid-July, when Barrichello launched a stinging post-race outburst at his team, accusing Brawn of putting on 'a good show of how to lose a race' and 'making him lose the race' after he had led early on only to slip back to sixth at the chequered flag following a fuel rig failure and questionable strategy – with the subsequent delay enabling Button to leapfrog him before the close.
Then, it was widely regarded that the Barrichello-Brawn relationship was heading for the end-of-season divorce courts, with most surmising – fuelled by the Paulista's own confession that he was, for the first time in his 17-year F1 career, contemplating retirement – that the 37-year-old would be hanging up his helmet after the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on 1 November.
Now, however, Globo TV
commentator and ex-grand prix ace Luciano Burti has revealed that a source close to Williams has told him a deal is done, initially for 2010 but also with an option on both sides for 2011 – what would be Barrichello's 19th campaign at the highest level. The Folha de São Paulo
newspaper is reporting a similar story, with claims that the agreement will effectively quadruple Rubinho's present $2 million retainer, in addition to win bonuses.
“I haven't signed with anybody yet,” Barrichello told British newspaper The Guardian
, “but it's true that I'm talking with Williams and Brawn.”
Should he indeed move to Williams, it is believed that the former Ferrari star would be partnered by the multiple world championship-winning independent concern's current reserve driver and recently-crowned GP2 Series Champion Nico Hülkenberg – thereby ensuring the team of the ideal blend of youth and experience – with fellow German Nico Rosberg heading in the opposite direction to Brawn in a virtual 'swap', having previously been linked to McLaren-Mercedes in-place of Heikki Kovalainen.
Now, though, it is understood that with Mercedes-Benz looking ever-more likely to shift its future attentions away from McLaren and towards Brawn, the three-pointed star is manoeuvring Rosberg into a seat at the latter rather than the former. Following Williams' newly-confirmed split with Toyota [see separate story – click here
], most likely in favour of Cosworth rather than Renault due to cost and the recent 'Singapore-gate' scandal, it is widely anticipated that the underperforming Kazuki Nakajima – who has score no points this year in comparison with Rosberg's tally of 34.5 – will be bade sayonara
Barrichello would be only the fourth Brazilian driver in Williams' history, following in the wheel tracks of Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna and Antonio Pizzonia. In the meantime, he travels to his home grand prix at Interlagos this weekend bidding to keep alive his hopes of 2009 F1 title glory, needing to out-score Button by at least five points to take the chase for the coveted crown all the way down to the wire in Abu Dhabi a fortnight later. He has never triumphed in front of his adoring partisan supporters in São Paulo, with his best result being third place for Ferrari back in 2004, one of only five finishes from 16 starts there.
“I will be giving it my all to achieve the best possible result,” he underlined. “The Brazilian Grand Prix is always special for me, and I am very proud of my home race. It's fantastic to race in front of the Brazilian fans and receive so much support.”