Brazilian F1 veteran Rubens Barrichello spoke exclusively with RACER Editor David Malsher about his move to the IZOD IndyCar Series with KV Racing, which was confirmed on Thursday.
Q. What or who convinced you to come to IndyCar?
RB: Well, obviously, to convince me it would have to have my approval at the end of the day. I decided to come because I enjoyed very much what I saw at Sebring…when it was just a visit, then it became something where I was invited and then we just ended up finding the right address to get to do it.
Q. Are you surprised at how quickly it came about?
RB: I had an agreement with my BMC sponsor to do Formula 1 and when I showed that for the same amount of money they would have the whole IndyCar, they were very happy! So, I've obviously done something with Jimmy that I agree with where I could have some sort of salary with that and I was happy with the outcome and everything was good…
Q. What made you change your mind about ovals?
RB: I'm a racer…I like challenges and, in a way, I thought I might end up sitting in my living room watching the races with “my” car going around with someone else driving. I'd think, ‘Why is that going on, why are you not doing that?' And I had no answer. So I thought, ‘Might as well do it.' I would love the challenge to see what's it's about, whether it's good or not, so I said, ‘OK, I'll do it!'
Q. Most drivers will tell you that Indianapolis is more like an ultra-fast road course in terms of the way the car handles. Places like Iowa and Milwaukee, these aren't things that you're afraid of at all, right?
RB: Well, I think, at the end of the day, we have to have in mind that I'm a rookie and I have to go through all the exams in a way that you start at a certain point…. I have no expectations of what I'm going to be able to do at those racing tracks because it's obviously a brand-new thing to me. I never drove such a thing. So, if you ask me, ‘Are you afraid of it,' I am actually not afraid of them. I look forward to driving them and having fun. But, after that, are we going to be able to do it? I have no idea. I have to get myself there and see.
Q. You've obviously been through some huge evolutions in Formula 1 like when the cars went narrower from '97 to '98 and then switched from V10s to V8s in 2006. Will having been through 19 years of evolutions in F1 help with your adaptation to both the new car and the new tracks?
RB: I would say, yes and no…just for the fact that, yes I drove for 19 years different cars and, of course, that can put you to a level that you adapt to almost anything. But the “no” is because I have never driven anything close to the IndyCars. It's turbos, and the weight of the cars is different. I definitely have some adapting to do. We will have three tests before the first race, so I'm not expecting to be ultra fine, fine, fine with everything. I am just at the factory doing a different seat fitting once again. But I hope that at some point I will be happy with everything.
Q. Do you think that the fact that IndyCar is having this complete reboot at this time, and everyone is starting from ground zero with the new cars, especially the drivers, do you think that will help you?
RB: Yes, because the league is actually going through a number of changes with new cars and everything, now is definitely the right time for somebody new to come in.
Q. When you were with Williams, I hear you gave a lot of guidance to Cosworth regarding how to make their engine more drivable. Are you hoping to bring those same skills to Ilmor and Chevrolet, considering they have new turbo engines?
RB: Yeah, I think so. That's definitely something I look forward to. I have done quite a bit already and they have to use me as much as possible to gain an advantage. I think that an engine is an engine, and it's a part of the job I enjoy very much, being very technical and creative with everything. So, yeah, I hope to bring them all the positives.
Q. When you were testing with KV, obviously you were trying out an IndyCar for the first time, but were you also able to contribute to how KV could improve these brand-new cars?
RB: I hope I did. I mean, that's a question for the engineers and Tony Kanaan, but within 20 laps I was up to speed and I was able to give different feedback because obviously with Tony and the drivers they have already a lot of good feedback. I came from a different world, so it was just nice that I could give different feedback for some more directions.
Q. Are you expecting this to be massive news in Brazil?
RB: I think so. We put it out as a press conference that, “Rubens is going to define his future,” so it could either be that Rubens is racing in the Indy 500 or that Rubens isn't racing anymore. And because of the Internet and because of the speed at which you guys work at getting news all over the world, it's very difficult to keep a secret. So, they've been talking about it for the last month pretty much.
I don't think they know I'm going to be racing on the ovals. I think they're expecting me to say I maybe am going to probably be racing at Indy, but that's it. So, I think it will be big, big news and I hope with my followers on Twitter and the good feeling I have all over the world with my public, I hope that I can contribute to the league.
Q. Are you expecting a sellout crowd in Sao Paulo?
RB: I hope so. Last year Sao Paulo was good for me in Formula 1, and this year I've only changed the address on the invitation…
Q. Are you happy with the idea that IndyCar is a lot more relaxed in terms of letting the fans have access to the drivers? Is that something that appeals to you?
RB: Yeah, I quite like that and it's a good time to have everybody around. Of course, it will be a difference for me in other respects and I will have to learn and go through them. But I have been in the public eye for such a long time. I had a great reception in Sonoma with the crowd there. I look forward to working with the league.
Q. Talking about Sonoma, what do you think of tracks like that? Was it an appealing track for you?
RB: Well, I had no idea of the track as such. I played games in the past, but I had never actually been there. It was a really good experience and a difficult track with blind corners. It was good for me to have some testing before I actually race there. This year will be fun seeing all the different tracks, I'm pretty sure I will enjoy them all.
Q. What are your ambitions for the season ahead? Obviously no one knows the state of play with the engines – is Honda better than Chevy, is Lotus better, etc. But, if Chevy, for example, does turn out to be the best engine, are you expecting to be able to compete for wins and pole positions, or are you thinking more podiums?
RB: I'm thinking it's too early to say! I think Tony brought the KV team to a different level when he came in and the team felt more competitive with his driving and the way he helped the team to set up the cars and so on. I hope my contribution is to put the team one level up again. Whether or not I'm going to be able to do really well, it's a question mark because everything is very new to me. I will keep my feet on the ground and work as hard as I can. It doesn't matter that I had 19 years in Formula 1, I'm starting from zero here. I am very competitive so, of course, I want to do well. But how well I'm going to do, I guess we are going to see sometime soon.
Q. You're perfectly happy that there are fewer gadgets to play with in the cockpit, a lot fewer parameters for you to alter in IndyCar compared to F1?
RB: I think you are not going to see me comparing things to Formula 1. I think they are different. They each have their enjoyment, and I can tell you I'm only doing IndyCar because I had a lot of enjoyment when I was driving the car. So, for sure, I think this is going to be a fun year. I have to get used to different sorts of yellow flags and different strategies and things like this that I'm not at all used to, but I think it's going to be great.
Q. Can you say whether it's just a one-year deal?
RB: It is a one-year deal for now.
Q. With the proviso that if you enjoy it, you'll want to come back for more, right?