Three-time F1 champion Nelson Piquet, BAR sporting director Gil de Ferran, team boss Peter Sauber and even F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone have suggested that Rubens Barrichello is destined to leave Ferrari at the end of the year.

Three-time F1 champion Nelson Piquet, BAR sporting director Gil de Ferran, team boss Peter Sauber and even F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone have suggested that Rubens Barrichello is destined to leave Ferrari at the end of the year.


At the start of Formula One's unofficial silly season in Hungary last weekend, many F1 insiders believed that Barrichello had signed a two-year deal to drive for BAR-Honda from next year, ostensibly as a replacement for Briton Jenson Button, who, in turn, is contractually obligated to drive for Williams in 2006.


Piquet apparently told the Brazilian press that his countryman's next move - after six years as Michael Schumacher's subordinate at the Scuderia - was sealed. And De Ferran, who is also a Brazilian and has known Barrichello since childhood, didn't deny the rumour: "It's always nice to work with old friends".


Barrichello is officially contracted to Ferrari for 2006. "If that's the story," Barrichello reacted in Hungary, "then Piquet should stick to his son's career. The fact is that I have nothing to add."


However, the Brazilian media reported that Ecclestone had all but confirmed Barrichello's departure from, and Sauber and former Ferrari test driver Felipe Massa's arrival at, Maranello.


Sauber said it was "too late" for BMW, the new future owners of the Hinwil-based team, to retain Massa for next year. The Swiss boss more or less implied the young Brazilian's departure.


Massa didn't deny that he would likely become Schumacher's new team-mate at the Scuderia. "It wouldn't be a problem," the Brazilian, who is managed by Ferrari principal Jean Todt's son, Nicholas, told . "If I beat him, then it would mean I'm on my way to (becoming) a champion."


It appears Ferrari will not prevent Barrichello from leaving the team at the end of the season. As speculation of a BAR switch heated up in Hungary, Jean Todt said he would stage an urgent meeting with the Brazilian driver "to make him happy".


"If Rubens tells me he would be happier somewhere else," said the Frenchman, "then I want to make him happy."


Todt hinted that resolving the "Barrichello situation" was a priority for him. He added: "It will happen in the coming days."


Barrichello told that Piquet's comments at the Hungarian Grand Prix "created problems in the team". And Todt's response was: "I give priority to things that make us win - I'm not interested in pressure and tension."