This Formula 1 Invasion Should Be More Pleasant

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, March 9 2012

KV Racing Technology's Jimmy Vasser, Tony Kanaan, Rubens Barrichello and Kevin Kalkhoven. The new guy brings some pop.

Some quick, random early season thoughts:

The storm warnings were out for the media during the months leading up to the return of Formula 1 racing to the United States in 2000. Do not, the old F1 hands were telling their newbie-to-the-series American peers who would cover the race in Indianapolis, expect much from the foreign competitors in terms of cooperation.

In fact, expect arrogance and derision.

As it turned out, most of the F1 drivers were cordial, some were helpful and a couple were genuinely pleasant and cooperative.

Rubens Barrichello fit into that last category. The man from Brazil was a gentleman. Even though he was driving for Ferrari. It was impossible not to like him.

His move to drive for KV Racing Technology in the IZOD IndyCar Series this season is as cool and welcome as it is significant. In a way, it’s cooler than when Nigel Mansell came over to race in the CART series back in 1993.

Yes, when Mansell arrived in America to race for Newman/Haas that year, his star was at appogee. He was the defending F1 champion, having won in a Williams-Renault. But a fairly public feud with team owner Frank Williams had developed. A huffy Mansell bolted Williams and used a move to America as weapon of spite.

Mansell did come in and win races and the CART championship in 1993 but he didn’t win many friends. He feuded with the media, sponsors and even teammate Mario Andretti, who was also a past F1 champion. After two seasons, Mansell was gone. He moved back to F1. Few around the sport were brought to tears by the announcement. Some felt used, others abused.

Different deal with Barrichello.

Barrichello, who appeared headed to retirement a couple weeks ago, was talked into the KVRT seat by good friend and fellow Brazilian Tony Kanaan. Kanaan worked both sides in brokering the deal; he laid it on thick to both Barrichello and team owners Jimmy Vasser and Kevin Kalkhoven.

In the end, it worked.

Barrichello logged the most starts in F1 history. He won 11 races and while he was twice runner-up to world champions, he never won his own championship.

No, Barrichello is no Mansell. And that’s a good thing.

Barrichello brings good feelings over. He brings American F1 fans who have long been savvy enough to know that his career was so much more than just being Michael Schumacher’s wing man. He brings class and grace.

Great addition for IndyCar.

During the off season, I got lots of questions about Danica Patrick. People asked me to speculate on how she would do in NASCAR; how soon she would do it and how many times she would do it.

My answer was that I thought she would be a lot like she was in IndyCar. Good days and bad days on the track, perhaps a pole or two, maybe a victory this year in either Cup or Nationwide.

And her overall presence in NASCAR?

Well, I think she is going to be kind of like the Busch brothers – but without their success. You know; charming to beat the band when the sun is shining, but button up tight, dudes, when the clouds roll in.

Through the first two weeks of the season, that all appears to be about right. She spent the first part of Speedweeks impressing peers and wowing fans and helping the media. She spent the meat weekend whacking walls and yapping at her teammate, Cole Whitt, after a no-fault get together.

At Phoenix, she went cold on the track and after finishing off the pace, ditched the media. Very much like Kyle Busch did a couple years ago when he got up in middle of press conference and left when asked a question he didn’t care for. At PIR, no less.

Except, he then came back.

A lot of people are pulling for Danica – to be as successful as the Busch brothers on the track and less like them off of the track.

So, what’s the deal with tequila? Fancy blue bottles, stoppers that pour out their own measured shots, smarmy slugs doing TV commercials every four minutes? Maybe it’s just me, but I only care about not going blind when I drink it.

Cars from a major racing series are back on the track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend for the first time since Dan Wheldon was killed there during the final IndyCar Series race of last year.

While the cars are different, and the series is different and the personality of the of racing is different, at least one driver has Wheldon on his mind at Vegas this week.

“I was thinking about that when we were coming here – if we were going to be the first race on the track since the accident,” Sprint Cup driver Greg Biffle of Roush Fenway Racing said Friday. “I don’t pay attention to what other series they run here, but I don’t really know of a big race that has run here since then. It was devastating. I thought about it when I drove through the tunnel last night coming here. We all think about it because what we do is a dangerous sport.

“That’s an underlying factor we know that can happen with what we do, so you try and be the best prepared you can be when you go into all these races and anytime you get in the car, so that’s what I concentrate on is just being prepared inside and outside the car for what can happen.”

Here’s hoping for a safe, smooth weekend at Vegas.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, March 9 2012
One Comment

One Comment »

  • A racing fan says:

    I thought I’ve come to read a Barrichello news item on a serious news blog. However, upon further inspection, “early thoughts” of the author soon became a shower of insults on a legend like Mansell, with Rubens playing as a vehicle for the unexplained bitterness by the editor.
    It’s a fact(which was ignored here) that Mansell had been the catalyst for the rise in popularity of the CART series in Europe, and still to this day, even fans in the U.S. speak fondly of the contribution he made to American motor racing reputation. Barrichello as good as he is, is no top racer in the form of Mansell, Prost, Schumacher and Senna. He chose to be a number 2 for most of his career and whined about it like many other number 2s in the past. So, no class, grace or dignity in his conduct. The only reason he’s coming to IndyCar now is because he’s no longer needed in F1. He begged for a seat and was willing to pay millions. Nevertheless, Bruno Senna was picked at Williams.
    “Some felt used, others abused” – really??? “abused”? really? I can’t take this article seriously when putting that word in this context. Mansell volunteered as Special Constable for the Isle of Man, Devon and Cornwall police force for many years and saw firsthand what is crime and “abuse” in the real world. He’s been involved with different charities for decades, and today operates as the president of UK Youth ( a contribution for which he received a CBE honoree last month).
    I watch Formula 1 and other forms of motorsport, preferring to read serious websites that deal with facts and not “settling scores” with people. I don’t think I’ll return to visit here if it’s your approach to figures who gave us, motorsport fans, the passion to watch and enjoy hours of unforgettable races.

    Just another motor racing fan….