x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Rubens Barrichello looking for some Chinese cheer

The Williams driver hopes to improve after his worst start to a Formula One season.

It has been a torrid start to the F1 season for Rubens Barrichello and his team, Williams.
It has been a torrid start to the F1 season for Rubens Barrichello and his team, Williams.

SHANGHAI // Rubens Barrichello's lasting memory of triumphing at the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix eight years ago is enjoying a post-race shower with Ferrari president Luca Montezemolo.

"It was a nice Champagne shower," said the Brazilian, laughing.

Now with Williams and having competed in more than 300 grands prix across a 19-year career that has encompassed drives with Jordan, Stewart, Ferrari, Honda and Brawn-GP, the 39-year-old knows repeating his Far East feat this weekend is unrealistic. Instead he will be looking to improve on what has been his worst start to a season for nine years.

Before the first race had even started in Australia, Barrichello was enduring problems. Three days prior to the weekend's opening practice session, he was due to fly from Buenos Aires to Melbourne. However, he found himself stranded in Argentina after the country's international airport was closed following trouble in the radio control tower. The problems would prove portentous to what was to come in the weeks ahead.

Having arrived at Albert Park on the Thursday, Barrichello's car suffered gearbox issues in Friday's practice and, two days later, he was forced to retire from the season-opening grand prix with transmission problems. In Malaysia two weeks later, it was a fault with his hydraulics that forced him to stop after only 23 laps.

"It hasn't been the dream start that we all wanted and it's been hard not to be disappointed," said Barrichello, who is no stranger to ending races prematurely - in 2002 he was forced to retire in 14 of the season's 17 grands prix. "We have new parts and everyone's working flat-out to turn the situation around. We're hoping for a much, much brighter weekend here than we had in Malaysia."

A brighter weekend does not appear on the horizon, however - the Shanghai International Circuit has for the past two days been enveloped in choking smog, the apparent result of nearby factories not suspending operations as they have in previous years. As well as that, following yesterday's two practice sessions, Barrichello conceded Williams' problems were set to continue into the weekend.

"We were testing new parts on my car in practice [and] they seemed to lose a little bit of performance towards the end of the last session, which means we'll have to work hard to evaluate them properly," he said. "We need to go through the data to see whether we will keep to this plan or go back to the original one."

Sam Michael, Williams' team manager, is of the belief Barrichello is "the best possible driver" and an ideal teammate for young Venezuelan rookie Pastor Maldonado.

"[Rubens] brings the car home, does not make mistakes, takes every opportunity coming his way and is an incredibly good car developer," Michael said. "And despite his age is still very fast."

Barrichello's best finish with Williams so far is fourth at the European Grand Prix in Valencia last summer and his realistic objective for this weekend is finishing in the top half of the points - as well as keeping abreast of developments in Kuala Lumpur, where the keen golfer is following the ongoing Malaysian Open.

"If we can get the new parts to work as we hope, and be reliable, I think a top six position in qualifying is possible. Even if we have to revert to the old layout, we'll be looking at top 12 because the FW33 is a good car," said Barrichello, who spent a couple of days swinging his clubs in Thailand before arriving in China.

Barrichello also holds the title of president of the Grand Prix Drivers Association (GPDA), meaning he is key to any negotiations between the 24 race drivers and the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), world motor sports governing body. When concerns arose in pre-season regarding the drag reduction system (DRS) and how it could pose a safety issue, it was Barrichello who spoke with the FIA and prevented the potential - albeit unlikely - scenario of a driver strike.

Fortunately, the rear wing has yet to "force drivers to gamble" and produce the "crashes" that the head of the GPDA had predicted. Instead, the benefits of the DRS have been limited and even caused Barrichello to lose lap time in Australia when his system suffered a glitch.

He will be hoping such is not the case for today's qualifying session: the Sao Paulo native could do with starting as high up the grid as possible on Sunday as he searches for both a top-six finish and his first points of what has been a forgettable season thus far.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae