On the eve of his 19th campaign on the grid, Rubens Barrichello has expressed a quiet optimism ahead of the resumption of F1 hostilities with the 2011 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in just under a fortnight, claiming that Williams is 'in much better shape than this time last year' and eyeing points-scoring finishes right from the 'off'.

In the 2010 curtain-raiser in Bahrain, Barrichello just missed the top ten in qualifying and just snuck into the points on race day, but the Cosworth-powered FW33 has shown impressive pace on occasion during pre-season testing - although how much of that was genuine, how much was attributable to tyres/fuel loads and how much was down to wanting to grab the headlines ahead of Williams' flotation on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange is open to interpretation.

Either way, and despite having revealed last week that the multiple world championship-winning Grove-based outfit is 'not quite where we want to be just yet' [see separate story - click here], the most successful driver in the sport's long history is convinced the new car is a significant step forward over its predecessor.

"This is my second year with the team, and we are in much better shape than we were this time last year," the 38-year-old Brazilian underlined. "Everything has been prepared well, and the team are doing a really good job getting everything ready in time for Melbourne.

"I think we are better on performance than last year. The car is a different animal, so there is a different way of treating it, but I quite like it. How much faster it is, is very difficult to know, but the car feels better than last year's to drive.

"There is still a question mark about where we stand. I know that we have improved, I know how optimistic I am and I know how much I would love to say that we will do really well, but what I will say is that I want to be in Q3 and to score points [in Australia] - and I think that is achievable."

"Throughout my career, I have never seen a pre-season that is so difficult to interpret," he added in an interview with O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper. "What you can say is that Red Bull and Ferrari seem to be in front, while Williams has improved - but I am sure there are some cards hidden up sleeves."

Barrichello has also reflected upon the key changes for the forthcoming campaign, offering his views on the much-criticised, fast-deteriorating Pirelli tyres as well as the return of KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) and the much-debated moveable rear wing overtaking aid.

"It is difficult for everyone, but it depends on the balance you have," 'Rubinho' mused of Pirelli's 'super-soft' compound. "It gets to a point where tyre performance has completely gone and you can't bring it back. You have to look after them, but even then you wouldn't realistically be able to make them survive a whole race.

"Running with both KERS and the rear wing is tough. As soon as you do a lot of running you get used to the situation, but every new track will be a new challenge. Hopefully we will get a little bit more of an explanation as to how the wing will work, as originally it was only to be used at the start and in straight lines to overtake, but now it seems to be engaged at most corners.

"With KERS, you have to look at the steering wheel to save as much as you want and to use it in the right places, so you're not looking straight ahead all the time. This is one of the things we are taking about with [FIA chief technical delegate] Charlie Whiting and [FIA President] Jean Todt to try to improve."



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