Rubens Barrichello believes that his new deal with Ferrari has given him the chance to fight for the Formula One drivers' championship.

However questions can be asked of what chance Barrichello has of a realistic challenge for the F1 crown with Ferrari. The Brazilian would be a hugely popular champion in the paddock but many believe that he won't be able to achieve his aim while still partner to Michael Schumacher.

Schumacher joined the famous Italian team in 1996 to try and take it back to its glory days. Since that time, Eddie Irvine, Mika Salo and Barrichello have also raced for the team and only Irvine has been able to have a realistic shot at the title when he finished second in 1999. However, this was only because Schumacher had broken his leg at Silverstone and Irvine was left to lead the team. Without that incident its unlikely that the Irishman would have been the main challenger to McLaren driver Mika Hakkinen.

Since joining the team in 2000, it has been Barrichello who has had to play second fiddle to the German who, to outsiders, appears to get preferential treatment to his team-mate. On a number of occasions things have gone wrong with the number two Ferrari while Schumacher hasn't been forced out of a Grand Prix with a car problem since the German GP in 2001. His only retirement since then was at Interlagos last season during the chaotic Brazilian GP when he spun off in the rain.

In the same period of time, from Germany 2001, Barrichello has been forced out of six races because of car trouble, not even making the grid in Spain or France in 2002. It may just be that Barrichello has had all the teams bad luck but is it really possible for it to go so right for one driver in a team and so wrong for the other? Why when Ferrari has a fault does it always seem to be car number two? Schumacher even got away with his car catching fire in Austria in 2003 - and still went on to win.

Some will say that Barrichello may have been better to throw his hat into the ring for a drive at Williams for 2005, where there will be at least one seat on offer, depending on the outcome of the Ralf Schumacher contract wrangle. The BMW powered team would no doubt have been able to provide him with a car that he could fight for the title with, as Juan Pablo Montoya showed in 2003.

But maybe the Brazilian has one eye on the future. Barrichello told Reuters that if he still had the determination when his new deal ends in 2006, he would be more than willing to carry on driving for the team. Its no coincidence that the end of the 2006 season also marks the end of Michael Schumacher's current deal and it is widely rumoured that he will then leave the sport. After all there is no reason why the German couldn't have nine F1 world titles by that point.

That would leave Ferrari looking for a new number one driver, and although the team are believed to admire young guns Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, the first pair drive for two of Ferrari's closest rivals who wouldn't be keen to give their stars away. Question marks remain over Massa, who has speed, but is seen as somewhat accident prone. Maybe that Schumacher replacement could be closer to home?

Who better would there be to follow Schumacher than the man who has supported him through his glory years and helped make the German the most successful F1 driver of all time, the man who will have had six years to build a close relationship with the team around him?

There is no doubt that while Barrichello has the talent to be an F1 champ, it may not be his time just yet.

 

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