Rubens Barrichello's exit from F1 and his switch to the IZOD IndyCar Series was one of the most sensational stories of the 2012 pre-season build-up; but 12 races into his US open wheel racing career, Barrichello appears to be disappointed with how his post-F1 career has gone so far.
In recent interviews with Auto Motor und Sport
in Germany and SPEED TV in the US, Barrichello said that he still believed that there was a chance he could return to F1, having described the 2012 Grand Prix season as "sensational." (See separate story
However, Barrichello was quick to add that this didn't mean he wasn't taking his IndyCar racing seriously. "I am not racing in IndyCar as a last resort, I am competing because I love racing," he said. "I am happy that I can drive here and I do not see myself as a victim."
But there have clearly been frustrations related to his move to the US - some of them because of the inherent differences between F1 and IndyCar, while others have been more to do with the KV Racing Technology team with whom he has a one year deal in place. It seems changes may be coming, one way or another.
Barrichello singled out the heavier IndyCars less reliant on aerodynamics than their F1 counterparts, an emphasis on fuel conservation and the lack of tyre warmers and power steering for his problems adjusting to the new environment. Instead, IndyCar relies on classic mechanical set-up adjustments to dampers, springs and roll-bars to tweak performance, and has recently re-introduced a basic turbocharger overboost "push-to-pass" system instead of F1's hi-tech KERS and DRS technologies.
"In F1 there are lots of electronic toys, there is none here," Barrichello said, hinting that IndyCar technology was in a state more like that of F1 a decade ago. "There is nothing wrong, it is simply less money," he added, pointing out that an IndyCar operation could run on $5 million a year versus the $50 million required in F1.
Ironically, given his initial concerns over running on ovals, his best result to date has been seventh place at Iowa Speedway. He also finished in 11th place in his maiden Indianapolis 500 outing, and claimed tenth place on the Milwaukee Mile oval track.
"Strangely, I have my best results on ovals, and I tell you why," he said. "You need to have a smooth driving style to pick up points," he said, adding that this suited his temperament. Even so, he admitted that the whole thing had been "a whole new experience - in the beginning you're buzzing around just one thought in mind, just keep away from this wall!"
By contrast, Barrichello hasn't been enjoying the street and road circuits, most of which are so tight and bumpy that they would never have even been considered for F1 events when he was chair of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association. His season started well enough with three top ten finishes in the first four street races, but since then he's struggled to find anything like the set-up he needs for success. Meanwhile Tony Kanaan has gone from strength to strength, and now sits in seventh place in the drivers' championship - ten positions ahead of Barrichello.
"The best example was the race at Mid-Ohio," admitted Barrichello. He had started in 13th place but finished in 15th, while Kanaan started in 18th and finished in sixth place. "Tony set off behind me, but he was far ahead of me at the finish. This shows that I still have much to learn."
Inevitably there have been less than favourable comparisons between Barrichello's maiden season and that of another rookie entering the series after years of sportscar racing in Europe. In the single-car Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports operation, the impressive Simon Pagenaud has finished in the top ten seven times - including three podiums - to put him ahead of even Tony Kanaan in the drivers' standings.
With Barrichello making noises about not seeing his F1 career as totally over and done with, the question will be firstly whether he continues in IndyCar in 2013 - and if he does, whether it will continue to be with Chevrolet-powered KV Racing.
Barrichello was at pains to praise the "incredibly friendly working atmosphere" at the team. As well as enjoying working with his "brother" Tony Kanaan for the first time as a team mate, Barrichello said that he had a "very good" relationship with the team's third driver EJ Viso and regarded team co-owner Jimmy Vasser as "my teacher."
But Barrichello also admitted that "something is not going right in the team." Speaking during the most recent race weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course at the start of August, he explained: "I knew it [moving to IndyCar] was a learning process and that's what I'm doing, but I still don't have a basic setup that I'm comfortable with
"It's like walking on a tightrope. The balance is very tight, it is what it is. I'm consistently getting better, but unfortunately the car is still not where we would like it to be," he said. "Our results have been disappointing and I would like a competitive car."
Barrichello's concerns appeared to be somewhat echoed by Kanaan: "Our qualifying results have been very, very poor, so there is something in the setup," said the veteran of 17 seasons of US open wheel competition. "We aren't winning because we aren't qualifying well."
"We're all disappointed because we haven't run better," agreed KV Racing team principal and former Champ Car driver Jimmy Vasser. "We need to put our head down and work.
"We've had our ups and downs, we've been quick in practice and the race, but we need to get qualifying working a bit smoother," he added. "It's a little bit of finding the harmonic balance, but it's been elusive."
For his part, Vasser made it clear that he wanted Barrichello to stay with the team next season. "We've got an investment in Rubens, we want to keep him and we've got people in Brazil right now trying to sell sponsorships," he said.
But it was clear that the recent surge in stories suggesting Rubens might be eyeing up other options were starting to grate. "He's free to do what he wants but I'd like to get some clarity because I keep hearing all these stories about where he might be going," Vasser told SPEED TV.
"We're working on Rubens and EJ's deal is always year-to-year. The only thing I can tell you for sure right now is that we're 100 per cent committed to run Tony Kanaan next year."
While talk of a return to F1 seems somewhat far-fetched, it's the possibility of Barrichello moving to a rival IndyCar team that is really gaining momentum as the end of the current season draws near, and everyone starts thinking about their plans for next season. In particular, there are persistent rumours that Honda want Barrichello back in their fold, after their time together in F1 at BAR. That would mean Barrichello moving away from the Chevrolet-backed KV Racing team.
"We definitely want to run a second car [in 2013]," confirmed Rob Edwards, manager of Sam Schmidt's Honda-powered team. "Sam and I have a list of drivers we're interested in and we're going through it [but] you would have to ask Rubens if he's interested in our team."
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing - also running Honda engines and currently fielding a fellow F1 graduate in the form of Takuma Sato - is another team being linked with Barrichello for a prospective sophomore season. "Is Rubens a guy that we'd look at? Absolutely," confirmed team co-owner Bobby Rahal, also a former Champ Car driver and Indianapolis 500 champion. "He's a good driver, I like his personality and he could be a leader in the team."
But the most tantalising possibility of all is the fourth seat at Honda's flagship team Chip Ganassi Racing, which appears to be vacant following news that Graham Rahal is now a free agent
"I just met Rubens for the first time, briefly, last weekend at Mid-Ohio," said the team's managing director Mike Hull. "If he's available and we can put it together, it would be great for us." However, he emphasised that there had been no serious discussions about the prospect between the team and Barrichello.
Frustrations about his transitionary year aside, it still seems that Barrichello is enjoying his racing enough to ensure that he continues in competition again in 2013 if the right opportunity arises. Whether that's in F1, or at KV Racing, Ganassi or one of the other IndyCar teams coyly throwing glances in his direction very much remains to be seen.