Rubens Barrichello says that he has no intention of quitting Formula One any time soon, even though this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix is being tagged as his 300th.
The Brazilian, who made his debut as an F3000 racewinner in Eddie Jordan's team in 1993, is easily the most experienced driver in F1 history, denying former Ferrari team-mate - and Hungaroring combatant - Michael Schumacher at least one record, and insists that he is still finding the whole grand prix experience a lot of fun.
"Mentally, I am probably better than at any other time," he insisted to Reuters
, "You have your body getting used to F1 as well and that's part of what I say. I just feel better today than I used to. I am so competitive [that] I cannot imagine myself without a racing car. I will definitely race as long as [Schumacher] races."
The Brazilian has now figured in more than a third of the 832 races that have featured in the F1 world championship since its inception in 1950, and is now approaching the final stages of his 18th season in the top flight. Each time he appeared to be reaching a natural end to his career, however, he managed to find a way of remaining on the grid, most notably by making the most of a late reprieve to remain at Brawn GP last season, where two race wins made his a viable commodity for 2010, where he now drives for Williams.
"The highs in my career have been overcoming the problems and smiling at them and getting on," he noted, "I think it's going to be a hard decision to say I'm going to stop, but an easy one from the fact that I've been so honest to myself that the day I don't feel such a big pleasure on taking the corners, I will know exactly what it means."
"My wife is terrified - she thinks I'm going to race forever. The last time I woke up at four o'clock [in the morning] to go down to the gym, she said 'you're damn crazy', but that's the feeling."
When Bernie Ecclestone was asked to name F1's biggest stars at the end of 2003, he put only Schumacher - then a six-time world champion - and champion-in-the-making Kimi Raikkonen ahead of Barrichello. Back then, Rubens had completed 180 races - some way short of the milestone he celebrates at this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix.
“Rubens is a good driver and he's been around a long time,” Ecclestone explained, “The fans like him because he symbolises longevity.”
Technically, this weekend's race is Barrichello's 301st appearance at a grand prix, but he doesn't include the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix in his count, as he didn't qualify for that fateful Imola race because he fractured his arm and broke his nose in a hefty accident during Friday practice. Except for that one anomaly, the Brazilian has been a permanent fixture on the grid for nearly two decades, during which time he's knocked up 68 podiums, eleven race wins, 17 fastest laps, 869 laps in the lead and 637 world championship points.