Column: The importance of Brazil for its home drivers
24 November 2011 – A home Grand Prix holds major importance to anyone who races in Formula 1, with supporters filling the grandstands in their thousands to cheer on their local heroes. However, this weekend's Brazilian Grand Prix at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace means so much more for three men on the current grid.
Ferrari employee Felipe Massa, Renault's Bruno Senna and experienced Williams driver Rubens Barrichello all have points to prove, and with only the first of those men confirmed in the sport for 2012, the latter two are effectively fighting for their survival.
GPUpdate.net analyses the aforementioned pilots, takes a brief look at their respective 2011 performances so far and, crucially, divulges what they have done in the past to keep their names on Formula 1’s illustrious timing screens…
Felipe Massa, Scuderia Ferrari: 153 races, 572 points
The 30-year-old has gone through a challenging phase at Ferrari ever since returning from his serious crash at the Hungaroring in 2009, being somewhat overshadowed by now team-mate and two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso. But we all know what he is capable of under the correct circumstances, with him finishing just one point behind Lewis Hamilton during the McLaren man’s title-winning season.
Team President Luca di Montezemolo has quite boldly explained that “he'll have to prove himself next season” if he is to earn an extension at Maranello, and that upward trend must start in his home country of Brazil. The last race of the season plays such a major role in terms of a driver’s mindset over the seemingly endless winter break, but it is also crucial for the team's overall approach inside the factory.
Massa simply cannot let Alonso head towards the festive period with an overriding psychological advantage, so he must dig deep and produce one of his finest drives if he is to reassure people of his irrefutable potential. This world-class pace can be proven by a flick through some Grands Prix of old, a selection of which he contested alongside none other than seven-time Champion Michael Schumacher.
Some defendants would jump to his year as overall runner-up if wanting to prove his speed, but we need not go that far. One of the hardest ever campaigns for the Scuderia came in 2009, and Felipe was the man leading its charge until a terrifying and season-ending accident. Prior to his crash in Hungary, the Paulista had amassed more than double the points of former title winner Kimi Räikkönen from the first nine races, a driver who needs no introduction.
This example, plus his largely impressive title assault in 2008, begins to show us that the struggles of 2010 and 2011 are not a true representation of his driving abilities. Adding even more to the quality of Felipe’s CV, two of his finest victories were earned alongside Michael Schumacher. The second of those triumphs came at the 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix, and a move towards that kind of performance on Sunday afternoon would be the ultimate remedy for his current difficulties.
If Felipe can then go on to consistently unlock the pace that Alonso is currently finding in Ferrari’s package, he may do enough to secure a more long-term stay at the team. And there is no reason why this cannot occur, with the seasons above proving that he can more than adequately cope with the finest talent in the field sharing his garage.
Bruno Senna, Lotus Renault GP: 25 races, 2 points
This weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix will be crucial for Bruno’s future in the sport, with a logjam of drivers queuing up to drive at Lotus Renault GP in 2012. Having been drafted in to replace Nick Heidfeld from Spa-Francorchamps onwards, the former GP2 front-runner’s performances can be best described as steady.
With Robert Kubica recently announcing that he will not be returning at the beginning of next year, one would presume that there is an opportunity for the Brazilian to secure his full-time seat. However, with Vitaly Petrov’s place at Renault seemingly confirmed and Romain Grosjean sitting ‘at the top’ of team boss Eric Boullier’s list for the now vacant slot, Bruno has to deliver a strong drive.
The nephew of late triple World Champion Ayrton clearly has potential, proven by both his short stint this year, but also when he first entered the sport in 2010. His maiden F1 outing came for HRT in Bahrain last season. Despite a relatively slow start, in which he was outpaced by team-mate Karun Chandhok, Bruno upped his game and helped the team to secure its joint-best result (14th) at the Korean Grand Prix.
Taking a look at his most recent results in more detail show that there is potential to be extracted, with the Brazilian being able to comfortably adapt to the team’s car over his seven-race stint to date. An introductory weekend at Spa-Francorchamps, which included a stunning effort in qualifying, ultimately resulted in a solid top 15 position after an unfortunate first-lap clash, before going on to secure his first ever points finish at Monza just a fortnight later.
However, a string of slightly less encouraging results since the Italian event have tainted the impressive start that Bruno was able to make, with Petrov on the other side of the garage scoring the team's only points (a 9th place finish at the Japanese Grand Prix) during the final and ultimately challenging flyaway races of the season.
His career is moving towards its prime stage now, the 28-year-old needing to remain in the sport to avoid its vicious circle of eliminating driver talent. Thus, he must end on a high note if he is to confirm his place at the top of Boullier’s list for 2012, with Interlagos his final chance. A strong top ten finish could just make the difference when the Enstone squad makes its final decision, but only time will tell.
Rubens Barrichello, Williams F1: 325 races, 658 points
If Rubens were to bow out of F1 unknowingly in his home country this weekend, it would be one of the harshest exits in the history of the sport. He has admitted to enduring the worst season of his career, but we cannot forget his past achievements and underlying pace. Yet to know his fate for 2012, the 11-time Grand Prix winner is adamant that more success can follow if given the opportunity to drive a stronger car.
With names such as Räikkönen and Adrian Sutil supposedly vying for the second seat at the Grove-based squad, Rubens must convert high emotions into another one of his characteristically voracious drives at Interlagos.
Having failed to conjure up more than four points finishes from a total of 18 races in 2011, we saw a spark of those above mentioned attributes at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi just under a fortnight ago, with an aggressive and overtake-infested Sunday afternoon almost earning the reward of a top ten finish.
If we take a glance at the history books, we can begin to construe that this year is an unfortunate blip. Rubens has been a part of the grid for a mammoth total of 19 seasons, and has consistently shown us why he should remain there. Although the Brazilian’s 2011 drives have appeared under par, partly due to the FW33’s lack of raw pace and partly because of team-mate Pastor Maldonado’s well-timed surges of speed, we only have to look back one campaign to see the height of his talents.
Rubens scored points in ten of the 19 races last year, his personal best result coming at the Valencia Street Circuit. Picture the scene; Rubens has the fifth fastest car in the field and creeps into the final phase of qualifying. 24 hours later, he ends up just one spot away from tasting champagne on the podium.
Many continue to rave about his then team-mate Nico Hülkenberg, and although the German GP2 graduate was going through the motions of his rookie season in the top echelon of motorsport, he was given an extreme lesson in how to get the most out of the squad's solid if not unspectacular machinery.
Barrichello’s prowess can of course be demonstrated with his victories for Ferrari back in the team's hay day, including that magical triumph at a drizzly Hockenheim in 2000, but the point I’m trying to make is that more of the same can still be achieved. Every Grand Prix driver knows when enough is enough, but Rubens hasn't reached that point and proved just a couple of years back for Brawn GP that he can still fight for victories. It would quite simply be a crying shame for his career to end in this manner.
As previously mentioned, the São Paulo man doesn’t have the equipment at his disposal to deliver a miracle result on Sunday, but more of his Yas Marina attitude could well do the trick if he is to sign on the dotted line with Sir Frank Williams again.
GPUpdate.net's Mike Seymour on Thursday