BUDAPEST // "He's been away for three years, but he hasn't changed." Rubens Barrichello spoke calmly in the immediate aftermath of yesterday's Hungarian Grand Prix, but inwardly he was seething about the conduct of Michael Schumacher, his former Ferrari teammate who squeezed the Brazilian towards the pit wall at 300kph as the cars ran side by side along the main straight.
"I was clearly quicker," Barrichello said, "and Michael had been driving dirtily for the previous few laps while trying to keep me behind. There was no way, though, that I was going to back off." Schumacher forced Barrichello to put his Williams-Toyota's right-hand wheels on the dirt before finally moving across and giving his rival room to breathe. "I gave him enough space," the German said. "But obviously I wanted to make it difficult for him to pass. The situation might have looked worse on TV than it did when you were sitting in the car."
The stewards hauled both drivers in for a chat and found Schumacher guilty of obstruction, for which he has been docked 10 grid positions at the next race in Belgium. That seemed a weak punishment for what most of the paddock - Mercedes apart - regarded as a reckless manoeuvre. "I couldn't back off once I was alongside," Barrichello said, "because I was right against the pit wall and had nowhere to go. If I had lifted off we would have interlocked wheels and the result could have been horrible. I actually feel quite glad that I'm able to stand here and talk to you about it. I'm lucky the pit wall ends where it does. It was one of the worst bits of driving I've experienced."
Barrichello eventually took 10th place, although his race was badly hurt by his decision to start on the harder Bridgestone tyre. When the safety car appeared, on lap 15, it was thought to be too early to make the mandatory change to the less durable super-soft. Only strategic necessity later dropped him behind Schumacher, a driver he had outpaced all weekend. The Mercedes team was in the dock after the race, too - they and Renault were both fined $50,000 (Dh183,600) for releasing cars unsafely from the pits. Renault dispatched Robert Kubica just as Adrian Sutil was entering the neighbouring Force India pit and the subsequent collision forced both drivers to retire. Nico Rosberg was sent on his way with a loose right rear wheel, which worked loose and bowled over Williams employee Nigel Hope. Fortunately, he was not seriously hurt and soon returned to duty.
"After I heard that it hit big Nige," Rosberg, the former Williams driver, said. "I was more concerned about my wheel." @Email:email@example.com