Rubens Barrichello dedicated his victory in the European Grand Prix in Valencia this weekend to his injured countryman Felipe Massa – as the man many had written off as a has-been heading for retirement vaulted himself back in to genuine championship contention courtesy of as aggressive and determined a drive as he has produced all season.
Trailing Brawn GP team-mate Jenson Button by 26 points entering the meeting, Barrichello knew Valencia was effectively a last-chance saloon for his title aspirations – and in one fell swoop, he has cut that deficit by practically a third. Quicker than the Briton for the majority of the weekend, third place in qualifying was achieved despite carrying nigh-on ten kilograms more fuel aboard his car than the two front row-sitting McLaren-Mercedes' of Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen ahead of him on the grid.
That marked the veteran Brazilian out as race day favourite in many observers' eyes, and he did not disappoint. Whilst Button fell down outside the points in the initial phase of the grand prix, Barrichello maintained a steady gap to Kovalainen in second throughout his opening stint, and by virtue of a succession of three supremely fast lap times after the Finn had made his first pit visit, successfully jumped the second of the two MP4-24s during the stops.
Following that, he went on to wage a cat-and-mouse duel with leader Hamilton, and when the reigning F1 World Champion found himself delayed at his second stop by his tyres not being ready, the wily old cat pounced. Almost five seconds ahead when the stops had all shaken out, Barrichello went on to preserve and occasionally extend that advantage all the way to the chequered flag for a supremely popular success and his nation's 100th triumph at the highest level.
“What a fantastic day!” enthused the 37-year-old São Paulista after bringing to an end an 85-race drought and registering the 100th Brazilian grand prix victory. “I am so delighted with the win after what was a really tough race out there. It's just amazing and a weekend that I will never forget. Even after five years, you don't forget how to win and the feeling is so good!
“Although we were fuelled heavier than the McLarens, I knew that I would have to push really hard throughout the race. My engineer Jock [Clear] was great today; he really encouraged me and helped me to maintain the pace, and the team did a fantastic job with two excellent pit-stops.
“I want to thank everyone who has supported me, and this victory is dedicated to the whole of Brazil but particularly to my great friend Felipe Massa. I've been with him last week and he truly deserves a sort of dedication like this, and I hope the whole of Brazil is hoping for his best recovery. I just hope he is back racing against me soon.”
Barrichello's flawless performance also drew effusive praise from Brawn GP team principal Ross Brawn, who will now face the unenviable decision of whether to put the brakes on the sport's most experienced competitor of all time in order to focus solely on Button's chase of the crown, or let both of his drivers continue to duel it out until season's end, possibly to their own detriment.
“That was a fantastic performance from Rubens today to take his first and Brawn GP's seventh win of the season,” remarked the Englishman, whose team prior to this weekend had not won since the Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul back in early June. “We knew that having a heavier fuel load would give us an advantage over the cars in front, but Rubens had to drive at his absolute best to have a chance of victory.
“He pushed exactly where he needed to. When we got on the radio and told him that he had to put in some quick laps, he delivered. It was a great performance and an extremely well-deserved victory. We're all delighted for him. Thanks and credit is also due to everyone at the track today and at the factory in Brackley for all their hard work over the past couple of weeks, and to our colleagues at Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines in Brixworth for their dedication and the performance of our engine.”