Rubens Barrichello has revealed that he never lost faith over the winter months that he would still be a fixture on the Formula 1 grid in 2009 – despite persistent and 'absurd' suggestions that the most experienced driver in the sport's history would be replaced by rookie compatriot Bruno Senna.
With 267 grand prix starts on the board – yielding nine victories, no fewer than 62 rostrum finishes and a staggering 530 career points – no driver since the official inception of the F1 World Championship back in 1950 can claim to have spent more time in the cockpit than the veteran Brazilian.
It was widely believed, however, that the season-ending 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix in front of his adoring home fans at Interlagos – to whom he has become over the years something of a demi-God, being revered almost as much as the late, great three-time world champion Ayrton Senna – would be Barrichello's last, and repeated rumours over the 'off' season regarding Senna's 25-year-old nephew seemed only to confirm this.
When Brawn GP finally rose from the ashes of the former Honda outfit, though, it was indeed Barrichello who was announced alongside Jenson Button, rather than Senna, extending his F1 career into its 17th year and his partnership with the Briton into its fourth. The decision, he revealed, has only served to vindicate his confidence – and his undiminished hunger for success, even after all this time.
“These last four months I preferred silence,” the 36-year-old wrote on his official website. “People said I was done, that nobody wanted me, and there was one who wrote that Bruno Senna had already signed for three years with the team, an absurd story where the desperate [reporter] tried to get a beat without having any basis or source.
“The important thing is that during this period of hard times I kept my faith, worked my body out hard and kept quiet, speaking only to the team's personnel. To say that I was sure when I declared at the Brazilian Grand Prix that that race was not my last one would be too much, but something told me it wasn't.”
Indeed, he may have been out of contract with the Brackley-based concern following the São Paulo finale, but his strong relationship with new team owner Ross Brawn – developed during their days spent together at Ferrari and subsequently Honda over the past decade – and the raft of wide-reaching technical and aerodynamic changes being brought into force in the top flight this year undoubtedly played in his favour.
That, allied to the new ban on in-season testing, has shifted the emphasis onto experienced drivers once more, and if he admits that there remains precious little time available to Brawn GP to put its new car through its paces before the 2009 curtain-raiser in Melbourne at the end of the month, he is adamant that he is driving better than ever.
“I start the year very anxious,” Barrichello reflected, “because we'll have only a few tests before the first race, but with a car that will be fast and with a very good Mercedes motor behind us. I'm looking forward to it.”