Rubens Barrichello believes that Formula 1 needs “a little cuddle” in order to rediscover some of its romanticism that has been hurt by an influx of pay drivers on-track and a lack of fan engagement off-track.
Barrichello raced in F1 between 1993 and 2011, making a record 322 starts and twice finishing as runner-up in the drivers’ championship.
The Brazilian spent a year in IndyCar before moving into his national Stock Car championship in 2013, where he continues to race, and made his debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans last weekend.
Barrichello remains a keen observer of F1, and expressed his dismay about the influx of pay drivers to the sport who bring large amounts of financial backing to secure a seat, having lost his drive with Williams at the end of 2011 as a result.
“It was difficult to adjust [to life after F1] because I wasn’t expecting it to be honest with you. And it is the story of Formula 1 nowadays,” Barrichello told reporters in Le Mans last week.
“There are just drivers there that are using their balloon and package of money to get in. This is a little bit less romantic in my opinion. Whenever I lost my place, it was to that.
“t was difficult for the first couple of days. I ended up signing for IndyCar and it was a good decision. I should have waited another 10 days to actually talk to all of the teams, because I just went in, boom, I got the first offer and I said OK I’m racing.
“It’s almost like it was the girlfriend just gives you a no and then you just get the next one that gives you a yes. It was that kind of thing.”
Barrichello went on to say that he believes F1 should work harder to be closer to the fans, having seen first hand in Brazilian Stock Cars how much interacting closely with his followers can mean.
“I think Formula 1 needs to be closer to the public. What they made last week with the [Senna] helmet in the middle of the chicane, that’s already closer,” Barrichello said.
“To be honest with you, in Stock Cars, we have an hour of signing before the race. All I hear is: ’Rubens I’ve been after you for 19 years, I could never get close to you’. And I have a chance to hug them, I have a chance to say thank you very much. So this is great.
“And that’s what Formula 1 needs, a little cuddle, people together a little more. Because Formula 1 is almost a ‘no’. ‘Can I have a pass?’ ‘No.’ It’s not that we need the whole paddock full of people, but we need a little more together.”
Barrichello is confident that Ross Brawn, his former team boss and F1’s new sporting managing director, has the ability to bring some of the romanticism back to F1 in the coming years.
“I think Ross has what it takes to bring that back to Formula 1,” Barrichello said.
“I saw a picture on Instagram the other day. It was James Hunt inside of Niki Lauda’s Ferrari, just for fun.
“Somebody would have a fight if that happened nowadays! ‘Get the f**k out of there, rah rah rah!’
“So for sure, it’s less romantic, but Formula 1 is getting back. What I saw from Lewis [Hamilton in Montreal], I really enjoyed.”