IndyCar will have a former Formula One driver in the field this year after KV Racing Technology signed Rubens Barrichello for the 2012 season.
The 39-year-old from Sao Paulo, Brazil, has signed a one-year deal to drive with KV Racing where he joins countryman and old friend Tony Kanaan and Venezuelan E.J. Viso. The team made the official announcement of Barrichello's move to IndyCar in a press conference with Portuguese media in Brazil on Thursday morning.
Barrichello will race the No. 8 car backed by construction company BMC Brasil Máquinas and Embrase Security and Services. The Brazilian firms have apparently brought $5-million to the table to get the veteran driver into an IndyCar.
While several IndyCar drivers have already expressed their excitement about racing against the F1 veteran, having the Brazilian in the field may not bring huge benefit to the series.
Let's be clear: This is not the same as Nigel Mansell making the move to IndyCar racing as the reigning 1992 F1 world champion. At the time, Mansell was on top of the world and he signed with perennial front-runner Newman/Haas after a falling out with the Williams team over his contract and the fact the outfit's engine supplier, Renault, wanted Alain Prost to join the squad in 1993.
The Briton went on to win the Championship Auto Racing Teams (commonly known as CART) crown as a “rookie,” taking five wins and 10 podiums in 15 races in 1993. He stayed in CART the following year but left the series at the end of 1994. At the time, Mansell's arrival as the F1 champion was a huge coup for CART and solidified its reputation as a high-quality alternative to grand prix racing.
Although there’s no doubt that the likeable Barrichello has an impressive resume, he is also in the twilight of his racing days. It’s a bit puzzling to understand why Barrichello would want to risk trying ovals in IndyCar, especially after the death of Dan Wheldon in the 2011 season finale in Las Vegas.
Barrichello's early career was marked by the death of his countryman and F1 legend Ayrton Senna, who lost his life in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. On that fateful weekend, the then young Brazilian's career almost ended before it really began when Barrichello had a massive crash in Friday practice that could have easily ended in tragedy if it weren't for a fast acting safety worker who pulled Barrichello’s tongue from his throat. A day later, rookie Roland Ratzenberger died in a qualifying crash before three-time world champion Senna perished when his car left the track and hit a concrete wall seven laps into the grand prix.
With that tragedy in his past, Wheldon's loss still fresh in the mind, and Barrichello making a promise to his wife that he would never race on ovals, moving to IndyCar seems a strange decision for a driver who has also likely pocketed somewhere around $80-million from F1 over the past two decades.
And while it was less than a classy way to go, let's not forget his time in F1 ended unceremoniously when the Williams team cast him into the wilderness after his contract expired last year and no other teams were keen to pick him up.
Barrichello holds the record for the most F1 races with 322 contested in a career that began at the 1993 South African Grand Prix. Along the way, he took 11 wins, 14 poles and 68 podiums driving for Jordan (1993-1996), Stewart (1997-1999), Ferrari (2000-2005), Honda (2006-2008), Brawn (2009) and finally Williams (2010-2011).
His best years came in a supporting role to seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher at Ferrari where he finished second in the title standings twice and scored all but two of his victories. Controversy also marked his time at Ferrari, especially the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix where the team ordered Barrichello to let Schumacher take the chequered flag despite the fact that the Brazilian had started from pole and led every lap in a dominant performance. Barrichello waited until the last second to comply, slowing in the final corner to allow his teammate past.
While he was contractually obligated to defer to Schumacher at Ferrari and never really had a legitimate shot at the title, Barrichello got his best chance in 2009, when the Brawn team exploited a loophole in the rules to field a car with a double diffuser that put it head and shoulders above the rest.
Instead, teammate Jenson Button capitalized on the car's superiority, taking wins in the six of the first seven races before holding off a hard-charging Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull for the title. Barrichello ended that year third overall.
His last two years at Williams were filled with frustration, as the once powerhouse team struggled to stay competitive in the face of tightening financial resources.
When it became apparent that his time in F1 was over, Barrichello took his friend Kanaan's advice and came to IndyCar to check things out. He's tested with KV Racing twice so far, the first time at Florida's Sebring International Raceway in January and then last week at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., and put up competitive times. His first IndyCar race will happen at the end of the month on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.
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