Rubens Barrichello has belied his status as Formula 1's 'veteran' with a stunning run to join Brawn GP team-mate Jenson Button on the front row of the starting grid for this weekend's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne - insisting that he 'feels younger' than most other drivers in the field.

Indeed, the Brazilian confessed that he even had a pang of regret about not having stolen the top spot away from his British rival, after generally having the measure of Button throughout free practice only to come up just over three tenths of a second short when it really counted in the crucial Q3 phase of qualifying. Still, for a man who only a matter of weeks ago had looked to be out of a job and with his record-breaking grand prix career at an end, he acknowledged that he had no real cause for complaint...

"It has been a great day," enthused the popular S?o Paulista. "It has been a critical three or four months back home waiting for news. As far as I'm concerned, I've had the holidays of my life since '93 (when he made his F1 debut with Jordan Grand Prix). I never have had any holidays at all; it was a month at home and then back to work. It was horrible to just sit there and wait for news.

"I am really happy to be here, and I need to congratulate Ross [Brawn] and Nick [Fry] for doing an outstanding job. Everyone who has touched this car needs a credit, because it is a wonderful car - really fantastic - so well done to the boys back in England as well.

"I think we have a good package, especially for the first four races where we have the pace and people are talking about us and they see that we are fast. It's just good to conquer; I think the last two seasons have taught us a lot, myself and Jenson. It's been horrible driving a bad car, but it's the horrible times that teach you to be better and I think we need to use this as the right time right now."

The last time Barrichello drove a car as competitive as the Mercedes-powered BGP 001 was the Ferrari F2004 five years ago with which he triumphed in Italy and China on the way to the runner-up spot in the drivers' title chase - and that, he admitted, was with rather more pre-season preparation time under his belt ahead of the curtain-raiser...

"I think that the dominant time we had at Ferrari, we probably had 20,000 kilometres before coming into the first race," the nine-time grand prix-winner reflected. "This is very, very different. I had three tests. I have been in the gym every day but even saying that, I don't think we are physically prepared to go flat-out from the beginning of the race, just because [driving] the car gives you what you need, neck muscles and things like that.

"The three days were very, very good and they prepared us very well, but I'm just saying that compared to those times, it's very, very different. This car is a wonderful car to drive, well-balanced and looking after its tyres, so we have everything that we need to carry on.

"I was very glad to see Virgin signing with us this morning because it means that we have the attitude in the team to carry on. That could have been a problem during the year, and right now I hope that we have good guys at home and we just need some more money to develop the car. I think this car will be very, very good for the first four races - but we definitely need to have things coming through to keep on going."

Barrichello and Button certainly both seem in strong shape Down Under this weekend, though the former has warned that the race itself could be filled with errors and unpredictabilities - from poor grip levels caused by the cooler conditions of being on-track later in the day to the super-soft Bridgestone rubber rapidly tailing off in performance and 'incredibly difficult' visibility.

That said, he does foresee a good deal of overtaking thanks to the new adjustable front wings and the fact that some cars are using KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) and some are not - and he is adamant that, albeit at 36 years of age the oldest driver on the starting grid, he feels younger than ever.

"I feel younger than most of them," he asserted. "I think I have shown there is nothing that is veteran about me. I speed up [and] I am always very excited and grateful to have a good car. It has been tough the last few seasons, so it is good to be back in a great car.

"My car was fantastic on low fuel; it was really, really good and I was very confident I could get pole position. On the first two qualifiers it was very, very nice and as you could see I put that fastest lap in, but then in Q3 for some reason I developed some odd understeer on the car. We tried to move the wings a little bit more to add a little bit more front wing, but the car kept going to understeer, so I was very limited.

"It was difficult, although I think the first row for both is a real credit to the team and we must be happy. It gives us a great chance in the race tomorrow. Besides, if anybody a month ago had asked me 'would you give $1,000 to be second in Melbourne?' I would have given a little bit more. I am just so happy to be racing at the front again."



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