With the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500 now complete, the month long saga of two former Formula One drivers with more than five hundred Grand Prix starts between them has come to a somewhat expected conclusion. With so much experience between them, Rubens Barrichello and Jean Alesis came to Indy as rookies, completing the orientation program alongside drivers half their age. Now the duo have left with new experiences and, undoubtedly, much respect for the famous two and a half mile oval.
From his 10th spot starting position, Rubens Barrichello drove a smart and consistent race. He stated after the flag that he spent the first half of the 2012 Indy 500 just learning how to deal with the traffic and turbulence that the track and large filed bring. His patience paid off, as the rookie briefly led the race, albeit during a succession of green flag pit stops among the leaders.
Barrichello stayed in the Top 10 for much of the second half before finishing strong in 11th. With the nearest first timer coming hope in 16th, Ruben’s performance garnered him the coveted Rookie of the Year Award, adding his name to a list which includes Nigel Mansell, Jacques Villeneuve, Mario Andretti, Jackie Stewart and Jim Clark.
At the other end of this story is Jean Alesi. The 1995 Canadian GP winner struggled through the month of May with a Lotus lump which should probably never been allowed to compete. Along with Simona de Silvestro, the two Lotus entries had been running well off the pace of the other 31 cars for the entire month, resulting in Alesi qualifying last in the 33 car field.
Though he got around Simona at the green flag, Jean’s race was short lived. For obvious safety reasons, IndyCar regulations state that all participants must maintain 105% of the leader’s speed. Mercifully Alesi was shown the black flag on Lap 9, followed by de Silvesto a lap later. It was not what the popular Frenchman had expected from his first trip to the Brickyard, but he immediately vowed to return next year for another try. He does appear to retain the fighting spirit that he showed in over a decade in F1.
The quarter of a million dollars that last place at Indy pays might not have hurt, either. I just hope that Jean Alesi is the official ambassador for either Chevy or Honda next year and will have long since left Lotus behind. I would like to see him at least have a competitive chance to complete the race, while Rubens could very well be pouring a bottle of milk over his head come May of 2013.