x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Barrichello makes his experience count with sixth

Heidfeld frustrated with only 15th on his return to series Gary Meenaghan SINGAPORE // With 17 uninterrupted years of experience driving in Formula One, Rubens Barrichello, Williams-Cosworth's Brazilian driver, proved under the floodlights of Singapore's Marina Bay Street Circuit yesterday evening that maintaining a permanent presence in the paddock can be invaluable. Nick Heidfeld was taking part in his first qualifying session since the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 10 months ago, after being called upon last week to replace Pedro de la Rosa, who had endured an ineffective season at BMW-Sauber-Ferrari and was dropped after the Italian Grand Prix.

However, despite the 33-year-old saying beforehand that he was itching to get back behind the wheel, Heidfeld struggled to get the best out of his car, eventually ending qualifying in 15th position. Likewise, Michael Schumacher, returning this season with Mercedes GP following a three-year absence, has failed to produce anything close to the type of performances that saw him win seven world championship titles.

Yet Barrichello, taking part in his 302nd grand prix tonight, finished sixth yesterday in a car perceived by many as inferior to Renault and Mercedes. Most tellingly, however, is that each of the five drivers faster around the 5.793km track is firmly embroiled in the fight for this year's championship. "I'm pleased to put a good lap in and to finish top six is a dream," said the 38-year-old. "At the end of the day, I have nothing to prove to Formula One having been here for so long. All I can say is my motivation is intact and my will to win is intact.

"You have to be modest in this life: I mean, I could be angry finishing sixth, but I am actually very happy. "And I know the team deserves a lot better and we will get there." Heidfeld was seen throwing his helmet at the pitlane wall following his failure to progress to Q3 and he admitted being frustrated with his return. "I am not completely happy," said the German, who finished almost five places behind teammate Kamui Kobayashi. "I hoped for more and I think I didn't get the most out of the car. But perhaps this wasn't realistic considering the fact I only drove this car [on Friday] for the very first time with these tyres."

Peter Sauber, Heidfeld's team principal, was understanding of his new recruit's displeasure, but chose instead to focus on Kobayashi's impressive performance. "Nick's result is OK, [but] 10th for Kamui was a surprise for all of us; a great result. "This was the 'overture' to Kamui's home race in Japan in two weeks time." Kobayashi said he achieved the ultimate result possible given the car. "I wasn't happy with the car in free practice," he said. "But the team did a great job in improving it, so in qualifying it was good and I think my result is the best we could achieve."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae