APRIL 24, 2008
Rumours from America
The American racing media is getting excited about the possibility that Rubens Barrichello may move to Andretti Green Racing in 2009, and that his place at Honda Racing F1 would be handed over to Marco Andretti.
There is no doubt that Barrichello would be a useful recruit for the US team. It would help that Rubens is a close friend of team member Tony Kanaan. The two have in the past worn one another's helmet designs in races and are also partners in the Instituto Barrichello Kanaan, a charity organisation. They are very close.
Barrichello will this weekend equal Riccardo Patrese's record as the F1 driver with the longest career. It is safe to say that his chances of continuing in F1 in the longer term are slim. Going to America makes a lot of sense. With the support of Honda such a deal is possible.
However the rumours about Andretti switching to Formula 1 do not add up for a number of reasons. The 21-year-old has tested for the Honda F1 team twice in the past, but according to our sources he has not made a huge impression. He has won only one IRL race - at Sears Point back in 2006 - and while he has come close on other occasions, he has yet to establish himself as a star who might be able to translate US success on to the international scene.
Leaping straight into F1 with no European experience would be a very risky move and, as his father Michael discovered in the early 1990s, that can do serious damage to a driver's career. If Marco wants to be make it in Formula 1 it would be wise for him to go through a number of preparatory steps in GP2. This is probably not something that he would want to do. Having said that, if he jumped into a competitive car, he could make an impact in F1, if he did sufficient testing, as Jacques Villeneuve did with Williams in 1996.
Andretti is under contract to his father's IRL team until the end of the season, but he is currently only 12th in the standings. He may blossom as the season goes on but for the moment he seems like a driver in the doldrums.
The idea of an American in F1 is one that makes sense for Honda and Andretti is a powerful brand. It would be an important move for F1 in America as the World Championship needs a star US name to make more of an impact. What it does not need, however, is an American name not doing well. That would be disastrous for Andretti himself, for Honda and for F1.
Given the current performance in the IRL it would be wiser for Honda to try to sign up Danica Patrick, which would have massive publicity value in America and around the world. This is not likely to happen until Patrick shows better performance in road races, although she is still keen on the idea of one day racing in F1 if the right opportunity presents itself. She too has won just one race and so has other goals to be achieved in the US before a leap into the unknown in F1.