Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Barrichello Boost?

Right now, no one except Rubens Barrichello definitely knows his plans for 2012 (and Rubens might not know yet himself). The news that Barrichello was testing with KV Racing next week set the INDYCAR community on fire. Although Barrichello has said his wife would not want him to run Indy, even the thought of Barrichello running a partial schedule is enough to raise eyebrows and get people talking. Would he actually join his friend Tony Kanaan for a season with KV Racing? Or is this simply a test, an interesting footnote to what will become the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season?

To put this in perspective, Barrichello is not the second coming of Nigel Mansell, a F1 champ moving on to contest American open wheel racing. He doesn't need to be. He is a multiple race winner, a fixture in F1 for the past two decades, and yes, by all accounts one of the most affable F1 drivers you’ll meet. 322 starts, 11 wins, 68 podiums, and a lifetime of experience working with new race cars. Oh, and as of yesterday, he had somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.4 million Twitter followers. No INDYCAR driver, not even Danica Patrick, can touch that (she falls short by around a million or so, just for reference).

I’m not saying if Barrichello jumps to INDYCAR, ratings will double and bleachers will magically be packed. But it would be another bit of intrigue, another competitor, one that has known victory in the world’s top level of motorsport. And it wouldn't take a huge number of those followers paying attention to INDYCAR for a change to see some manner of positive effect for the Series.

Although the remaining seats in IndyCar are drying up quickly, there remains potential for adding much vibrancy to the Series on top of what is there. Barrichello, the F1 import that could give KV a “dream team” duo. Paul Tracy, ready for one more try, still brash and acerbic. Rookies like Martin Plowman and Pippa Mann, social media and fan-savvy drivers looking for the chance to prove themselves. Free agent veterans such as Tomas Scheckter, Vitor Meira, and Buddy Rice, waiting to see if they get another shot at glory, or if the DW12 signals the end of their active time in INDYCAR.

It's too early to get our hopes up for Barrichello's participation in INDYCAR for this year. If it's just a test (and right now, there's nothing to suggest it's anything other than that), no harm done: it's already stirred up some interest in the Series as a nice bit of free publicity. But if he does join the IZOD IndyCar Series, it would likely be the crowning driver storyline in a season that should be chock full of them already.

And yes, he'd be one heck of a rookie.

4 comments:

  1. The plus side: Barrichello's a big name, will solidify Latin American interest in the sport even further (yet another Brazillian in the series... Latin segments of big cities would be one hell of a market to capture the attention of).

    Also, he'd be an example of a world class driver wanting to test his skills on the Indycar circuits. If he'd do ovals (he may not; he may prefer to continue being a road courser), then it'd be interesting to watch a good F1 driver work to bend his skills to a different type of racing.

    The drawbacks: Indycar would continue with it's international perception as a destination for drivers who are washed up or fading. On top of that, in Indycar's main TV audience market - the average American - his name is going to be of niche value at best. It won't draw anyone who's not already aware of open wheel racing, and there's no guarantee it'd capture the attention of really hard-core F1 afficianados.

    Really, though, I'm not too worried about the drawbacks. For one, I don't see him as "washed up" (although in the perpetual youth movement of F1, frikkin *Lewis Hamilton* is already seen as being part of the establishment. Poor Kimi Raikkonen is probably considered an old man, and I'd bet that there's someone out there saying "Vettel's not going to be young forever"). I think he's still got the chops to compete.

    Furthermore, I don't ever see it as a real problem when a good driver enters a sport, even if only temporarily. Besides, it might be good for **him**; F1 politics and off-track, ancillary pressures are enormous (Mario Andretti was famous for saying how tense Senna used to be in the last years of his life because of those issues, and it's only gotten worse since then), and having someplace that'll still keep his skills sharp without driving him mentally nuts might be refreshing to him. At least I'd hope that's the case.

    Overall, I'd think this is a good thing.

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    1. I think I'd agree with that assessment, overall. I don't think there's any sense of Rubens feeling washed up--by all accounts, I think most folks felt like he still should have been out there this year. And yes, F1's "youth movement" is relentless, isn't it?

      And yes, INDYCAR is a different world, especially in how the drivers are treated. Sure, the payday doesn't compare, but neither do the relative pressures and political junk.

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  2. I wonder if Nelson Piquet, anther Brazilian, has been talking to Ruben's wife about his experience at the 1992 Indy 500. Like not being able to walk for a year after meeting the Turn 4 wall.

    How could you make a move to Indycar and not want to run in the Indy 500? What else is there if not the biggest race in the world? I realize that the euros and F1 crowd view oval racing as suicide, but come on grab for the brass ring. Driving in the Indy 500 would be a nice addition to his career accomplishments.

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    1. I'd love to see him try it, but no one's sure if this will be anything past a simple test. It would be tremendous to see what he could do at Indy. Guess we can hope, at least.

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