Rubens: how IndyCar compares with F1
4 March 2012
Rubens Barrichello is the only driver on the planet to have raced in a 2011 F1 Grand Prix as well as having driven the new-specification 2012 Dallara DW12 IndyCar and the V6 Chevrolet turbo engine, giving him a unique position to compare and contrast the experience in the two series.
So: what had caught his attention so far?
"The first surprise was the fact that I didn't have the warmers on the tyre. You know, I went out, it's a different technique to drive," he admitted straight away. "When I went out, Jesus, I didn't have the temperature on the tire, and I almost spun. So that's a new thing for me."
It's just one of the little tricks he's going to have to pick up from his 'brother' Tony Kanaan as he adjusts to his new challenge. "Tony is very, very good at that. He goes out, and he feels like he has new tyres all the time," said Barrichello admiringly.
"The other day I was testing in Sonoma and left the pits, turned the pit limiter off - and I almost revved the engine higher than what it should rev because my mind was still set up for my 19 years that I was in F1," he continued. "So different revs, different everything."
Happily there were some areas that were much more comfortable for him during his first two test sessions with his new team, KV Racing Technology.
"The gearbox was quite good, the engine was nice and drivable. The brakes were fine, as I had carbon brakes my whole life, and now it's there in IndyCars all the way," he said. "The steering wheel is a little bit heavier, so I have to get used to that. But apart from that, I mean, the car gives you great feedback on the high speed corners and braking stability.
"It's still not natural for me because I only had a few tests with Tony's car," he pointed out. "I have another two days at Sebring and one day at Barber, and I don't know if I'm going to be well prepared for the first race, but what I can promise is that I will push to the very limits," he said, adding: "It's just a different machine, and I need more time in it. But I had a lot of fun driving."
Of course, it's not just the difference in technology that Rubens will have to adjust to: it's also a very different sort of culture, including much more up-close and personal interaction with the fans in the US than the arms-length distance than F1 fans are kept at during Grand Prix weekends.
"I like the fact that we're going to be closer," he said, genuinely. "At Sonoma we had like a thousand fans on the track, 1,500 there, and it was great. It was a great reception. It was a good mood all over ... It's well organized. People don't go across the board, and they just know where to stand.
"Just after the test, they took me to this stand where they put up questions, and I thought it was fantastic because that's what makes a good series," he continued. "You go there and you have your driver and you can wear his cap, and then you have a time to be with him."
Not that anyone could describe Barrichello as ever having been standoff-ish in his life, as his social media activity alone demonstrates.
"I have a great relationship to the fans," he agreed. "I have been very close to my fans all over the world. You can see from my Twitter, I'm so happy that I have almost 1.5 million followers. Obviously most of them are Brazilian, but I hope that America becomes quite big."
One thing that Barrichello wouldn't be drawn on was direct comparisons between IndyCar and F1 teams, however. "I have no intention of comparing teams and F1 to Indy. I think it would be unfair to. There are so many positives on both of them."
Barrichello has spoken before about his disappointment with the rather perfunctory way he was told by Sir Frank Williams that his F1 team was letting him go in favour of compatriot Bruno Senna just hours before Senna's signing was publicly announced. So it's hard not to read some comparison subtext into his praise he lavished on KV Racing for the way they'd welcomed him to the IndyCar paddock.
"The thing that I found about the team is that within one minute I felt at home," he said. "It was a big family. They work really well together. Good bunch of engineers and mechanics, all willing to help."
Probably the most significant difference for Rubens in IndyCar compared with the situation he's leaving behind him in F1 is that for the first time in several years he'll have genuinely competitive equipment at his disposal: potentially championship-winning calibre hardware, indeed.
"The last time I had a competitive car was with Brawn in '09 where I won races, and I'm really happy that I'm going to have a competitive car right now," he said. "Jimmy has already promised me a really good car, Kevin, as well, so I'm going to push with that good car," he added, referring to KV Racing's co-owners Jimmy Vasser and Kevin Kalkhoven.
He contrasted that to the uncertain situation in F1: "At first, everybody knew that I was fighting for a position at Williams, and we didn't know if the car was going to be good or not, but it was just the fact that I wanted to be racing. When I heard the news that I wasn't going to be there, of course I was disappointed with everything.
"All of a sudden I had the message that you want to do what you love," he continued, saying that all the changes in the series for 2012 will dramatically level the playing field to an extent unthinkable in F1. "The IndyCar, you have chances with the rules, you have the chances from cars being very much the same, and the driver can make a difference ... I think that's a good chance for myself after such a long time."
But one thing that he took issue with was any suggestion that IndyCar was a "retirement home" for former F1 drivers once they'd finished in Grand Prix racing.
"To be honest with you, I don't think we should say that IndyCars is an after‑F1 thing. I think IndyCars are a great series, and everyone should consider trying that," he said. "It would be wrong to think, okay, we're going to do IndyCars after F1. You can do it before in a way. [Juan Pablo] Montoya did it that way, for example. I think the series are very good for that. It's a very competitive one."
With the hype of the press conference behind him, the reality of what he's let himself in for will be dawning on Rubens this weekend: in just three weeks time he'll be on the streets of St Petersburg preparing for the first event of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series. It'll take all his experience and talent to be ready in time - and a truck load of help from Kanaan and the rest of his new US racing family.
"Even flights, for example, how do I get myself into this place or this or that?" he said, suddenly realising just how very much his life is going to change from the mad but now-familiar whirl of weekend Grand Prix venues.
It's going to be a whole new world for Rubens Barrichello. And clearly he can't wait.
"I love what I do. I love the sport, and I love the speed, so myself behind the steering wheel, I just feel at home," he said. "To be able to compete with Tony Kanaan, who is my brother from a long time, on a team that he already put it up to a different level last year, and with me coming and obviously with EJ [Viso] as our teammate, I think we're going to be able to put the team to a different level again."