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Rubens Barrichello

Rubens BarrichelloFull name: Rubens Gonçalves Barrichello
Date of birth: 23/5/1972
Place of birth: São Paulo, Brazil

First race: 1993 South African GP
Previous teams: Jordan, Stewart, Ferrari, Honda, Brawn
Current team: Williams
Current car number: 9

Highest championship position: 2nd (2002, 2004)
Wins: 11
Podiums: 68
Career points: 607
Pole positions: 14
Fastest laps: 17

The beginning

At the outside of the Interlagos circuit, a young kid watches the cars lapping around the circuit, mesmerized by the race happening before his eyes. But he wanted to be closer, he wanted to be inside that world – so he jumped over the fences to get free access to the circuit. But it still wasn’t enough for the little Rubens Barrichello, he wanted more, he wanted to be a part of that world. Thanks to his grandfather, who gave him his first kart, Rubinho could finally achieve that.

Rubens’ career seemed to be in danger from the beginning – his father wasn’t keen on the idea of his son becoming a racing driver, and said that he would only continue racing if his scores at school were high. His mind changed, however, when Rubens finished his first race in third, his second race in second and his third race in first. After that his father became his greatest ally, and karting success was to follow: in eight seasons, Rubinho was crowned Brazilian and Paulista champion for five times, and finished as runner-up in the other three seasons. In 1986 he became South American karting champion and in the following year he finished the World Championship in ninth. In 1989, he moved to single-seaters.

Lower formulae

Rubens began his single-seater career in the Formula Ford championship. As the man himself recognizes, “things were still hard”, as he only had money to buy a used car (which wasn’t really good), but luck was with the young Brazilian nevertheless – before the first official practice seasons, Rubens sent his car to the circuit by the competition’s official logistical service. Inexplicably, his car fell from the truck and was destroyed. As a result, he was gifted with a brand new car by the event’s organization, and with that machinery he was able to win his very first race. He ended the championship in 3rd place.

In 1990 he moved to Europe, to race the Formula Opel championship. Barrichello was 17 years old, spoke only his native language and couldn’t afford to bring any relative with him – a tough time for the Brazilian. In the beginning, Rubens even had to compete with his father’s license – that was only possible because both have the same name and where born in 23rd of May. The price for the sacrifices were paid, however, when Barrichello was crowned champion in his first season.

By this time he was already speaking italian, but in 1991 he had to learn another language: english. In that year he moved to the British Formula 3 Championship, with the West Surrey Racing team. Again, Rubens became champion in his rookie season, beating David Coulthard to the crown. He also became the youngest champion of the series, an honour that was taken away from him in 2004 by Nelson Piquet Jnr.

With two titles in a row, Barrichello was invited to race in the European Formula 3000 championship by the Il Barone Rampante team for the 1992 season. The car wasn’t much competitive and they even had to change their engine supplier during the season. Rubens still managed 3rd in the standings though.

In January 1993, Rubens Barrichello’s day arrived: a test for the Jordan F1 team at the Silverstone circuit.

The Jordan years

All the deals were set out quickly and, although Rubens had offers from other teams, he signed with Jordan.

Rubens’ own target was to score at least one point in his first season. Something much better than that was looking likely at the third round, the European Grand Prix at Donington Park: a podium finish. Considered by some as the perfect first lap, rising from fourth to first in a inferior car, Ayrton Senna had everyone on the edge of their seats during the race. That feat left Rubens Barrichello’s first lap in the shadows – few remember that he rose from 12th to 4th in the first lap at the wheel of an unreliable Jordan. Barrichello was battling against the Williams-Renault of Alain Prost and Damon Hill, when disaster struck him with six laps to go: a fuel system problem forced the Brazilian to retire while in second position. Joy was to come in that season though, when he finished 5th in the Japanese Grand Prix, scoring his first two career points.

For 1994, Jordan kept Barrichello. That season started in a much better fashion than the previous, with Rubens finishing 4th in the opening round in Brazil and scoring his first ever podium in the next round at the Pacific Grand Prix at TI Aida, but according to Rubens, “the most important thing in that weekend was to look into Ayrton’s eyes, when he came to greet me, and said that not even himself would do that in such conditions. That was much better than the podium itself.”

But the race weekend after that was one to forget – Rubens Barrichello almost became the first death of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. He entered the Variante Bassa too fast, and was catapulted in the air and into the tyre barrier by the kerbs. His car rolled over twice and came to a halt in the grass. At the hospital, with diagnosis of head injury, right arm and nose fracture and other minor injuries in his body, Rubens woke up, with Ayrton Senna by his side…

He left the hospital in the following day, and headed for his home in England. The feeling of tragedy was lurking in the air, with the death of Roland Ratzenberger, but another hero was to lose his life during the race. The death of Ayrton Senna was almost too much for Barrichello to bear. The lost of his mentor meant that Rubens was left in doubt if he wanted to race again. He faced his fears however, when he sat in the cockpit of the Jordan 194 for the Monaco Grand Prix, and proved that the trauma did not affect his speed by snatching and incredible pole-position at Spa Francorchamps. He finished that season with 19 points, in sixth position.

During the years ahead, Barrichello had to live with the pressure of being the “substitute” of Ayrton Senna for the Brazilian population. Even though Brazil already had two world champions before Senna, it was Ayrton who popularized the sport in that country – waking up in the Sunday mornings to watch him race and (likely) listen to the Victory Theme became more of a habit for some. But Barrichello never was in the level of Senna, and had much inferior cars than the Ferraris, Williams, McLarens and Benettons of his era. Due to bad results (which were more a cause of car unreliability than poor driver performance), Barrichello was earned the nickname “Rubinho Slipperfoot” (Rubinho Pé-de-Chinelo, a pun with his surname).

He stayed with Jordan for two more seasons, and scored another podium with a second place at the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix. For the 1997 season, Barrichello moved to Stewart.

Twenty-seven retirements

Barrichello and the unreliable SF01

Barrichello and the unreliable SF01

Out of fourty-nine races. That’s Rubens Barrichello’s record with Stewart Grand Prix. Barrichello believed that, being backed by Ford, Stewart was a good promise. But the first car wasn’t competitive and failed to finish the races for a record 14 times during the 1997 season. He achieved a podium though, driving the car to second place in a completely wet track at Monaco. That would be his only points finish of the year.

In 1998, things weren’t better – the Stewart SF02 of Rubens retired nine times. He finished the Spanish and Canadian Grand Prix in fifth, scoring a total of 4 points throughout the season.

But for 1999, the team improved a lot. The reliability issues were addressed, and Barrichello was able to score three podiums and 21 points at the end of the season – that fact was shadowed by the fact that it was Johnny Herbert who gave the team its first and only win at the European Grand Prix. His highlight of the year was the French GP, where he took pole position and finished in third place.

Such good season prompted Barrichello to the radars of the big teams: Ferrari, McLaren and Williams. In the end Barrichello signed with Ferrari, and then began his most victorious, yet darkest days in Formula 1.

Signed to be second driver

Barrichello in the ultra-dominant F2002

Barrichello in the ultra-dominant F2002

Barrichello’s career seemed to have taken a late lift, but inside Michael Schumacher’s feud, he could do little. No, Barrichello couldn’t beat Michael to the title fairly, but he was indeed deprived of some wins.

He came to the Scuderia to fill the role of the departing Eddie Irvine, who, for four years, raced only for the team rather than for himself. The question now was either he was going to challenge Schumacher or follow obediently Ferrari’s orders. “I’m not the second driver, I’m the 1B driver”, he replied, in one of his most infamous statements. But like it or not, that was his role in the team.

Rubens first victory came in the uncanny race of the year: the German Grand Prix at Hockenheimring. Starting from 18th, Rubens chances were slim, but when Michael Schumacher crashed with the Benetton of Giancarlo Fisichella in the very first corner of the race, the Brazilian had all the attention from the team. Rubens quickly rose up the order, thanks to the powerful engine of his Ferrari, but when he got to P3, it seemed unlikely that he would catch up with the McLarens of Mika Häkkinen and David Coulthard. His fortune changed, however, when an ex-employee of Mercedes ran into the track to protest against the German car maker. The Safety Car was deployed and the Brazilian could catch up with the leaders, but that wasn’t enough for the win – another outside factor was needed. That factor materialized in the form of rain, but only in the Stadium sector of the circuit, leaving the long straights inside the forest completely dry. As the McLarens pitted for wet weather tyres, Rubens Barrichello took the gamble to stay on dry tyres, and it paid off. The dry section of the circuit meant that Mika Häkkinen wasn’t able to catch Barrichello, and after ten laps, Rubens received he chequered flag. The Ferrari team – including Schumacher – was overflowing with joy. At the end of the season, Rubens collected 62 points and was placed fourth in the standings – nothing less than his obligation, considering that the Ferraris and McLarens were the only force that year.

The 2001 saw no improvement from Barrichello – while Schumacher won 9 races, Rubens won none, but he improved in the standings, finishing 3rd. That year saw Rubens Barrichello giving up his second place to Michael Schumacher in the last second of the Austrian Grand Prix, but something much worse was to follow…

The 2002 season came, and along with it a dominance never before seen. Ferrari won all but two races that season, and Rubens won four races then – the most he ever managed in a single season. But in that year, his career low-point took place. At the Austrian Grand Prix, Rubens dominated, setting pole position, fastest lap and leading most of the race. But again in the last lap, Rubens let Schumacher by, this time not for the second place, but for the win. A legion of Ferrari fans present at the A1-Ring were disgusted with what happened, and a booing never before seen in F1 came from them, while even their fellow drivers looked at them with contempt – Ralf Schumacher, for an example. And if that wasn’t enough, another farce happened at the podium ceremony, when Schumacher places Rubens at the top spot… to listen to the German Anthem. Ferrari showed little respect with the value of a win when, trying to amend the mistake, Schumacher lets Barrichello by in the last gasp of the United States Grand Prix that year – so close they finished that no-one known who won until it was displayed on the screens. That would prove to be a major blow to the United States event. Barrichello became then championship runner-up for the first time.

The 2003 season wasn’t controversial for the Brazilian, but he couldn’t repeat the previous performance. He won twice, at the last round in Japan and in dominant style at Britain – a race which most claim to be the best in Rubens’ career.

In 2004 the Scuderia was back in dominant form, and Rubens could amass more than a hundred points. Thirteen podium finishes, including back-to-back wins in Italy in China was all Barrichello could manage, helping the Scuderia to claim its 14th constructors title.

But in 2005, Ferrari was off the pace, lagging behind the Renaults and McLarens. The team suffered particularly of tyre issues, a consequence of the “no tyre change” rule. His best results were a second place in Australia (where the team was using its 2004 car) and in United States, the farcical race with six cars. Rubens had the option to extend his contract with Ferrari for the 2006 season, but he opted not to, probably tired of playing second fiddle to Schumacher. He moved then to Honda, where he was hoping to find a fair competition with Jenson Button.

A new home found at Honda

Rubens believed that he could fight at the top with the Honda team – he was wrong. It took a while for him to get used with the Michelins, and in the end he was dominated by team mate Button. He finished the championship in 7th, with 30 points, to 56 of Button.

But it was much worse during the 2007 season. For the first time in his whole career, Barrichello would finish a season without scoring a single point. The car, run with a distinctive “globe” livery, was a disaster, suffering from both engine and aerodynamic problems.

For 2008, Ross Brawn was aboard the team, and they hoped to at least score more points than in the previous season, but unfortunately, it wasn’t Brawn who designed the car. Although it was a bit faster than the RA107, it was doomed as a disaster as well, and the team gave up on the project in May that year, to focus all resources on the RA109. Rubens still achieved a podium finish with it, in the rainy British Grand Prix, where a gamble with tyres paid well. For Rubens, and for the team, that third place felt like a victory.

But at the end of the year, Honda announces it would pull out of the sport. Many believed that would put a full stop on Rubens career, and even him feared to be out of the grid. His only chances would be with the new owners of the team, if there was going to be one…

A relived career at a relived team

Barrichello wins again at Monza

Barrichello wins again at Monza

After weeks of speculation on who would buy the remaining of the Honda team, it was announced that Ross Brawn and Nick Fry led a management buyout of the team. Shortly afterwards the team announced Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button as it’s drivers, and, in the first day of March, the car hit the track at Silverstone. From the beginning, Rubens and his team mate felt at the pace was good. That feeling was just an underestimating of the car, however, when they clocked times that were 7 tenths faster than anyone on the first collective test.

That was it – for the first time, Barrichello could fight fairly in a championship contender car. But he struggled too much during the first half of the season, while his team mate won 6 out of 7 races. Barrichello was notably angry in Spain, where he believed the team strategy ruined his race, and in Germany, the stage of the comical “blah, blah, blah” episode.

It was reported that Rubens was having trouble with his brake material, which prevented him from using wheel rims at the rear wheels. That problem would be addressed after the Turkish Grand Prix, and then he began beating Jenson Button constantly, but could do not come close of this team mate points tally.

His high moment of the season came in the European Grand Prix, where he put the drive of his life, beating the KERS-equipped McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen to the chequered flag, conquering his 10th and Brazil’s 100th win. He would also win at the Italian Grand Prix for the third time, with a gamble on a one-stop strategy. Never ever he was so close to the title.

But his title hopes ended at his home Grand Prix in Interlagos. After snatching the pole-position, to the delight of the fanatic Brazilian crowd, Rubens had a tough race and, while running in P3, suffered a puncture which made him fall back to P8.

Six podiums, including two race wins – a fantastic season for someone who was considered “dead” to the Formula 1 world. But that didn’t mean his season with Brawn GP was his last – during the Spanish GP, a reporter told Rubens that a British team was interested in him. He asked which team, but the reporter only told his it wasn’t a new one. It could only be McLaren or Williams. McLaren contacted Barrichello indeed, during the Brazilian GP, but at this point Rubens was already signed for Williams.

“I admire them since I was a little kid”

That’s Barrichello’s feelings towards his current team. He came close to signing with Frank Williams’ squad, most notably at the end of the nineties, but only now, with 37 years of age and 17 seasons of Formula 1 under his belt, he is heading towards Grove, in a mission to lead the team back to its winning days alongside his “pupil”, the promising rookie Nico Hülkenberg.

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