28 November 2011
Homage to F1’s nicest guy
Rubens Barrichello may have found himself eased into retirement after the 2011 Brazilian Grand Prix. Zoltan Karpathy looks back over his storied career.
The doomsayers 'retired' the amicable Rubens Barrichello ahead of the 2009 F1 season already, yet he scored two wins (Valencia and Monza) that year and came third in the championship, helping Brawn GP to claim their only constructors' championship.
I remember seeing a certain R. Barrichello being confirmed just a few days prior to the 1993 South African F1 race as driver number 14 in the Sasol Jordan Team. In that distant pre-internet age, I had to rely on sport dailies focusing 99 per cent on football news to find out anything about the sport I fell in love as a teenager. I didn't have a clue then who this Brazilian was and where he came from. But he certainly impressed at the wheel of the Jordan-Hart, when he briefly ran in a podium position in the rain-soaked Donington GP in the very same debut year. His (and Jordan GP's) first pole position also came in spectacular fashion and venue, on a drying Spa Francorchamps in 1994, in that tragic year, when two great drivers lost their lives at Imola, after Rubens' own huge accident in the Variante Bassa. Ayrton Senna's death caused a big scar on him and, confidence-wise, he was struggling, as Brazil was suddenly expecting Senna-esque performances from a young guy driving a car which, on its best day, was in the middle of the field.
Two less successful years spent at Jordan were followed by three 'study-seasons' at Stewart-Ford, in which Rubens learned a great amount from charismatic team founder and F1 legend, Sir Jackie Stewart. First of all, he learnt patience. This was mastered by JYS and later on by Alain Prost and it helped Rubens to achieve some great results: Stewart GP's first and only pole position, as well as those fine drives with Ferrari between 2000-2006. His name will forever be associated with the 2002 Austrian race, when he moved over in the last lap to allow team-mate Michael Schumacher another win, but he had to do what was required. Otherwise he would not have been an F1 (and certainly not a Ferrari) driver for long.
The Ferrari years came to a bitter end, moving on to the BAR team, in the process of morphing into Honda F1. In 2006 he had some fine drives, although he never came close to victory, unlike his team-mate Jenson Button, but in the painfully slow 2007 car he outraced the future British world champion. I was lucky enough to witness the race in which he became the driver with most starts in the history of F1: in Turkey 2008, Rubens started his 257th Grand Prix. It was a great feeling to see that such a nice guy was able to write his name in the history books.
All stories have to come to an end and maybe Rubens ran his last (and 322nd) grand prix at his home circuit, with a Williams, sporting the famous 'Senna S' on the front wing. Having driven for other illustrious teams as Jordan, Stewart, Ferrari and Honda in his F1 career, Rubinho can look back with pride and absolutely no regret to his F1 career. He did what he had to do and he did it well. I certainly will miss him on the F1 grid.
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