Ferrari have re-signed the Brazilian driver Rubens Barrichello until the end of 2006, ending rumours that he might be the replacement for Juan Pablo Montoya when the Colombian leaves BMW-Williams at the end of the year.
Barrichello and his management could not agree terms with Williams, leaving the way clear to negotiate a new contract with Ferrari worth around $12m (£6.5m). In 2003, Barrichello often got more out of his Ferrari F2003-GA than his illustrious team-mate, Michael Schumacher, and a dominant victory in the season-ending Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka was instrumental in securing the German his record-setting sixth title.
The former Ferrari driver and triple champion Niki Lauda said "When he is faced with a 'funny' car, Rubens can get more out of it than Michael," meaning the Brazilian is better at setting up a difficult machine.
Since joining Ferrari in 2000, Barrichello has won seven races, taken nine pole positions and set 11 fastest race laps, confirming himself as Schumacher's most successful partner.
"Rubens is always underrated," the Ferrari technical director, Ross Brawn, said. "But he is always a valued member of the team. Many times Michael has adopted Rubens' set-up. The short practice before qualifying in 2003 obliged us sometimes to have the drivers following different paths, and then we chose the best one. Rubens' contribution was even more important in 2003 and we have always been totally confident in everything that he's done."
Sir Frank Williams must now look elsewhere to replace Montoya as a team-mate for Ralf Schumacher, who is likely to stay. "We are not giving the question of 2005 too much thought right now," Williams said. "We are alert, but I'm not standing on the street corner keeping a look-out."
Williams' prime targets - Jenson Button and Mark Webber - are contracted respectively to BAR-Honda and Jaguar. Button's contract has a tough performance clause, while Webber is tied in the long-term to Flavio Briatore at Renault. Williams are due to give further test drives to sons of famous fathers, Nico Rosberg and Nelson Piquet Jnr, but might also look again at the Italian former karting world champion Vitantonio Liuzzi.