Nice guys sometimes finish second
By By Jim Litke / AP Columnist
Nice guys don't always finish last.
Sometimes as happened Sunday to Brazilian race car driver Rubens Barrichello they finish second.
And other times as happened to Barrichello last year they finish third.
Lots of guys get asked to take one for the team. Barrichello is at two, and counting. For two years running, he was leading teammate Michael Schumacher in the closing moments of the Austrian Grand Prix when he got a call over the radio from Ferrari team leaders. The order was simple: Let Schumacher pass.
Last year, that meant slowing down enough to yield second place. This time, it meant letting go of the lead in the final straightaway so the German could take the checkered flag. In both instances, the story line was similar enough to crush a man's pride, if not his spirit.
It was a team decision and I have to respect it. I did as I was told even if I would have preferred not to have been asked to move over,'' Barrichello said.
Today's event has not affected my determination,'' he added. I feel I am going through a good time in my life and driving better than ever. I feel my time is coming and there is no point in complaining or arguing.''
The meek may still inherit the earth someday, but the only day that apparently concerns the Brazilian right now is payday.
Late last week, Barrichello had his contract extended until 2004 by the Ferrari team, which is the Formula One equivalent of the New York Yankees. The signing was supposed to squelch rumors that he was unhappy being the No. 2 driver on the team. But who knew he'd be asked to take another loyalty oath so soon?
I take no joy from this victory,'' Schumacher said.
That put him in good company, at least temporarily.
Fans at the track booed fiercely, TV announcers piled on and Patrick Head, technical director and part owner of a rival team that employs Schumacher's younger brother, Ralf, as a driver, called it the most disgusting thing he'd seen in 22 years in the business. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the president of Brazil, issued a statement simply calling Barrichello the winner.
In Italy, devotees of the Ferrari team said the decision had humiliated both Barrichello and Schumacher. Those with a few lira on the outcome demanded their money back.
But once Schumacher got over his initial disappointment, just like the bookies, he was in no hurry to give anything back.
Barrichello has exactly one win in his nine-year F-1 career. By contrast, this win was Schumacher's fifth in six races this year, the 58th of his career and it gave him at least one win at every stop on the circuit. More important, it may have helped him cement his bid for a record-tying fifth F-1 title. That's the only important mark in the sport of which the German, already one of the most popular and highest-earning athletes in the world, doesn't already own at least a piece.
Schumacher was so grateful, he let Barrichello share the top stop of the podium for a few moments during the victory celebration, handed him the trophy and told him to keep it.
Surely, this wasn't the way I wanted to win the race, but I have to thank him for the 10 points,'' Schumacher said.
And it's all perfectly legit.
Few sports allow tanking, even by teammates, but auto racing happens to be one of them. Any time the outcome of a race can influence the season-long championship standings, just about anything goes. That's why Ferrari team officials insisted afterward that Schumacher will continue passing Barrichello until the German has enough points to put the championship out of reach.
In the past we lost the title in the last race three times in a row and we have to make the most of every situation,'' Ferrari chief Jean Todt said.
At some point in the season, the strategy makes sense. At this early juncture, though, all it does is make everybody else fans, rivals and even Barrichello if he ever gets around to admitting it mad. There was already grumbling that Schumacher's dominance was threatening to make the season boring.
I know the decision is not popular, but imagine if we had lost the championship by this number of points at the end of the season the team would look stupid,'' Schumacher said.
No need for Ferrari officials to worry.
They've accomplished that much already.