With more than 300 Grands Prix and nearly two decades of Formula 1 experience to his name, it should come as no surprise that Rubens Barrichello settled in very quickly with KV Racing Technology during their January 30 test at Sebring International Raceway.
The F1 veteran, who had actually never set foot in an IndyCar prior to Monday, easily found his rhythm, turning a total of 94 laps for around 150 miles. After admittedly pacing himself early on, he adapted nicely and began consistently matching lap times set by countryman and close friend Tony Kanaan, who joined him at the Sebring outing. “I had a very nice day with KV Racing Technology,” Barrichello said. “In the morning I was getting used to the car and not doing anything silly because obviously you don’t want to put it in the wall. It's a different machine from what I'm used to, but it had a good feeling.”
Kanaan was equally as pleased with the effort. “Well, there really isn't much to say,” he quipped. “The guy comes here for the first time and after 20 laps he's already running the same lap times as me! His knowledge and experience helped confirm some ideas that we had for this test, so it was very productive having Rubens around.”
Though, at the moment, his venture includes no more than this test, it has drawn rampant speculation about Barrichello’s future. Despite being the most experienced driver in Formula 1 history, he finds himself on the outside looking in ahead of the 2012 season. Williams F1, the team with which Barrichello contested the last two seasons, has not retained him and nearly all of the remaining seats have been filled, leaving him without a ride for the time being.
Barrichello did his best to dodge questions regarding his future. “Whatever happens for the future, which might change, all I said at the beginning was I want Kevin (Kalkhoven), Jimmy (Vasser) and Tony to remember when we were here at Sebring, 'Rubens tried that and it was really good and made us go faster, so let’s try that again for this circuit,’” he responded. “So, I've had a very good and productive day behind the wheel and with all the setup options that I have tried, I think it went well. You could call me a rookie, even though I've had 33 years doing this job, but today I was an IndyCar rookie.”
Jimmy Vasser, co-owner of KV Racing Technology, also attempted to dodge the question. “On behalf of Kevin (Kalkhoven, co-owner of KV Racing Technology with Vasser) and everyone here at KV Racing Technology, I can say that we are all very pleased with today’s test. The entire team did an excellent job. This was Ruben’s first time in an IndyCar and I think he enjoyed himself. Certainly, we had a lot of fun working with him. Most importantly, if he is going to have this kind of effect on Tony we are going to have to figure out a way to keep him around.”
This is hardly the first time that an F1 stalwart has flirted with IndyCars. Emerson Fittipaldi joined the CART series in 1984 after winning a pair of F1 World Championships 1972 and ’74 for Lotus; he would add a CART title to his resume in 1989, along with two Indy 500 triumphs (’89 and ’93).
Behind Fittipaldi, Nigel Mansell may be the most recognized F1 pilot who eventually competed a full season in IndyCars. In 1993, as the reigning World Champion, Mansell shook the motorsport world when he left Williams F1 for Newman/Haas Racing. He went to win a CART championship that year.
What’s more, the legendary Ayrton Senna once tested a Penske chassis in December of 1992, amidst contractual disputes with the McLaren team, and the late Jim Clark is a former champion of the Indianapolis 500 (1965).
Other ex-F1 drivers to find success in IndyCars include Alex Zanardi, Raul Boesel, Mauricio Gugelmin, Mark Blundell, Christian Fittipaldi, Teo Fabi, Eliseo Salazar, and Roberto Moreno (though his introduction to the U.S. came in 1985, before he made an appearance in Formula 1).
Juan Montoya and Sebastien Bourdais would find also success in CART/Champ Car, albeit before their F1 careers began. Each moved to the U.S. after claiming International Formula 3000 titles. Montoya would claim the 1999 CART championship and follow it with an Indy 500 crown in 2000, while Bourdais claimed an unprecedented four consecutive Champ Car titles from 2004-07. Bourdais has returned to open wheel racing in the U.S. and has signed with Dragon Racing for 2012 while Montoya currently contests the NASCAR Spring Cup Series for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.
At the moment, nothing beyond Rubens Barrichello’s test is planned. In fact, not even he knows what his future holds. But, if he so chooses it, the INDYCAR road has been paved.