There was a brief shake of the head from Rubens Barrichello as he crossed the line at the Brazilian Grand Prix last October in the knowledge that his eighth place meant arguably his last chance to be crowned world champion had gone. Publicly, the 38-year-old insists that dream still exists but, having moved down the grid following his switch to Williams-Cosworth from Brawn GP, the reality is very different.
Despite that, Barrichello argues he has worked harder than ever in a bit to get fit for the 19-race season, a process that has not been totally enjoyable. While holidaying with his wife and two sons in Orlando, which he does every year, he decided to compete in a half-marathon at Disney World and, much to his surprise, ran the entire 13.1-mile course without being noticed. "I'd never done anything like that before nor had I really trained for it but my time wasn't too bad - one hour 55 minutes," he recalled.
"But it was so so cold - about minus three - and I couldn't feel my toes after seven kilometres, so it was really hard. "But I had a cap on and sunglasses so no one could recognise me, which is just as well as I didn't much feel like talking." As well as running, the rest of his training programme has entailed cycling, go-karting and, somewhat bizarrely, golf. Of that quartet, Barrichello argues that teeing off is the most beneficial.
"I'm serious," insisted Barrichello, who boasts a handicap of 10. "It's the perfect preparation for F1. In F1, if you make a mistake at a corner - even a little mistake - your race can be over. "Likewise with golf, one bad hole and your round is ruined. Of course, there's more time in golf but mentally it's the same approach." The former Ferrari and Brawn driver certainly has his work cut out at Williams, a team he admits he nearly joined on four different occasions but "for one reason or another it wasn't the right time".
So why the change for 2010, joining a team who last won a race in 2004 and have not been champions since 1997? "Well, driving for Williams has always been a dream of mine," he said. "I remember watching aged eight with my father when Alan Jones won the world title for them in 1980. That was one of my remaining dreams in F1 and the other is to be world champion." Barrichello, though, is a realist and probably does not have the car at his disposal to fight the likes of former teammate Jenson Button at McLaren-Mercedes.
Intriguingly, Barrichello himself was in discussions with McLaren about a move there for this season but had already set his heart on a switch to Williams. And in another fresh twist he will be racing against former Ferrari teammate Michael Schumacher, so long an obstacle to him being world champion and now at his former team Mercedes (formerly Brawn). When asked if he expected Schumacher to win on his return, he replied: "I hope not although it's nice to see Michael back. I hope it's me that's fighting for race wins. This team deserves it as it's been too long [Barrichello's home race in Brazil back in 2004, in fact]. We have to still believe we can win."
As for his tip for the title, he says that at this stage he has no idea. Button and McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton, and Fernando Alonso at Ferrari, though, are marginally his top three favourites. Barrichello's own title ambitions got off to a poor start last season when he struggled with a brake set-up problem on his Brawn. By the time he and his team of engineers had resolved it, Button had already won six races and was the runaway championship leader.
Button's ex-teammate describes himself as a "man with no regrets - you have to live with the choices you make", but he cannot help but think of the "what if" from last year. Barrichello put on a stunning charge in the second half of the season after trailing by 26 points at one stage and bagged two wins to put Button under pressure until Interlagos, where the Briton wrapped up the title. "Those two wins I'd argue are more impressive than Jenson's six earlier in the season because it was in a car that was no longer dominant," he said.
"But that takes nothing away from Jenson. He's a great guy and the standings showed that he was the deserving champion. "In different circumstances, I believe I could have been world champion but it wasn't to be for me." Barrichello has been the bridesmaid before, twice finishing runner-up to Schumacher in the championship standings and also ending up third in the title race on three occasions. The third of those came behind Button and Sebastian Vettel last year but he has not spent the winter dwelling on it... too much.
"I thought about it a bit but I always make sure to let things go at home," he said. "It's important to switch off and just spend time with the family and be, as my wife says, the big kid." He will be hoping Williams give him the car to allow him to do his best right up until the season-ending Abu Dhabi, a race he praises for its originality. "I like the track very much as it's fun to drive," he said. "I know some drivers claimed turn two was boring but I didn't find that. It should be a track full of overtaking next season.
"The race didn't go so well for me. I got touched by Mark Webber [at the first corner] and lost part of the body of my car. The guys told me to stay out and then I started losing a lot of time. It was a bad end to the season but I hold no grudges to Abu Dhabi. I love the place." Barrichello has no immediate plans to hang up his racing overalls and hopes to race in Abu Dhabi at least three more times. "And when I do retire," he added, "I hope it's with a world title." @Email:email@example.com