SAO PAULO, Nov 26 (Reuters) - Rubens Barrichello tuned out any talk of retirement on Saturday after Sebastian Vettel led tributes to a Formula One stalwart who has been racing for as long as the world champion could remember.
Williams have yet to announce their line-up for 2012, with their 39-year-old Brazilian fighting — seemingly against the odds — to stay on for a 20th season in the sport he first entered in 1993.
“I think it would be a shame to lose Rubens for the future because he belongs here,” said Red Bull’s Vettel, who was only five years old when Barrichello made his F1 debut in 1993, after taking a record 15th pole for the season in the Brazilian finale.
“The inspiring bit is that he loves what he does.”
The Brazilian, who qualified 12th for what could be his final home race at Interlagos, said he was honoured by the compliments but ruled out any farewell to the fans after Sunday’s season-ender.
“People are now talking about retirement...I just hope that next year I am definitely racing because you have Michael (Schumacher) and (Pedro) De la Rosa and they are much older than me. So I am the kid on the block,” grinned the former Jordan, Stewart, Ferrari, Honda and Brawn driver.
“It would mean a great deal for me to have 20 years (in F1) when I’m 40 but it has to be the right combination. I think Williams have that combination for next year,” he added. “I can help them grow. I would love for that to happen.”
Barrichello, who spent six seasons at Ferrari with Schumacher and has won 11 races with that team and Brawn, said he was talking to others and was also seeking financial backers to make the decision easier.
The Brazilian said he was not too proud to do that, despite a career that has seen him start more races than any other driver — a record 322 out of the 857 held since the championship started in 1950.
“People say Rubens would feel embarrassed to ask a sponsor. Look, if that’s what it takes for me to have a competitive car I’m surely even more powerful for doing that,” he declared.
McLaren’s Jenson Button, Barrichello’s team mate at Honda and then Brawn where the Briton won the 2009 championship, hoped to be racing the Brazilian again next year.
“It’s great that he still wants to race,” he said.
“I really hope he gets a drive next year, I hope he’s racing next year because otherwise we’ve missed a really big party on Sunday night.”
Red Bull’s Australian Mark Webber agreed Barrichello, who has scored just four points in Williams’ worst ever season, would be missed when he did call it quits.
“Rubens has been an amazing man for our sport,” said Webber.
“He’s been through incredibly difficult times, particularly 1994 (when compatriot and mentor Ayrton Senna died) and had some great moments as well.
“I think seeing him crying on the podium at Hockenheim after that amazing drive from the back of the grid (to take his first win with Ferrari in 2000) is how we always love seeing Rubens and that’s how he genuinely is anyway.
"Obviously this year he hasn't had a very competitive car but it would be great to have him around again next year." (Editing by Dave Thompson; For Reuters sports blog Left Field go to: blogs.reuters.com/sport)