F1 » Rubens Barrichello
One of the many Brazilian drivers to have been hailed as the new Ayrton Senna, Rubens Barrichello's only lasting mark on Formula One looks likely to be his record number of starts, despite putting in some fine performances.
A product of the Sao Paulo kart scene, Barrichello came to the attention of many F1 managers in 1990, as a 17-year old competing in the GM Lotus Euroseries. Six victories clinched the title at the first attempt, and Barrichello moved swiftly into Formula 3.
Success followed success as Barrichello won the British F3 series in his first season. Driving for the ultra-successful West Surrey Racing team, he edged out rival David Coulthard courtesy of four wins and nine pole positions.
Continuing his meteoric rise towards Formula 1, Rubens signed for the grandly named Il Barone Rampante team to contest the International F3000 series. Still only 20 years of age, the young Brazilian performed consistently to finish third overall.
His performances in the junior formulae attracted much attention, and Barrichello found himself in the top flight having spent just one season in each of the lower levels. His grand prix debut came at Kyalami after team boss Eddie Jordan gambled on the combination of Barrichello's speed and prodigious talent.
Just three races into his F1 career, Rubens stunned his rivals - and the crowd at a soaking wet Donington Park - by running as high as second in the European GP. Although fuel pressure problems saw him retire from the race, young Barrichello had confirmed Jordan's belief in him.
Senna's death at Imola in 1994 left Barrichello shouldering much of Brazil's expectation. A poor season with Jordan that year - in spite of a wet weather pole at Spa - was followed by more of the same in 1995-96, and Barrichello left to join the new Stewart team for the 1997 campaign. An impressive performance at Monaco - like Donington, in appalling conditions - netted second position, confirming that he had not lost any of the talent, which had propelled him into F1.
Barrichello continued as team leader with Stewart throughout 1998, as the team entered the traditionally difficult second season period. Promising results in both Spain and Canada - where Barrichello took fifth places - failed to lead to anything better and the Brazilian found himself partnering Jos Verstappen as well as original team-mate Jan Magnussen.
Rubens stayed loyal to Stewart for 1999, where he was joined by Sauber refugee Johnny Herbert. The Brazilian hoped, successfully, that Herbert's arrival, and that of former Jordan designer Gary Anderson, would lift the mood in the team, and raise Stewart to new heights. Sadly for Rubens, however, it was Herbert who brought the team its first F1 win, at the Nurburgring in September.
Although he was slightly overshadowed by a resurgent Herbert towards the end of the year, Barrichello was still Ferrari's first choice to replace the departing Eddie Irvine for 2000. Being teamed with Michael Schumacher might not be every driver's cup of tea, but Rubens maintained that it was the best indicator of his own talent. The highlight of his first year with the Scuderia came at the German GP, when he ended his win drought with a well-judged wet-weather success.
Again paired with Schumacher for 2001, Barrichello showed well throughout the season, even if a second career victory didn't come his way. The Brazilian came close, however, being thwarted by problems on more than one occasion, although seldom bad enough to prevent him from finishing in the points en route to third overall in the championship.
2002 finally saw Rubens win again - indeed the Brazilian took victory on four occasions, winning at the European GP, Hungarian GP, Italian GP and at Indianapolis. He also secured second overall in the Drivers' championship notching up 77 points - a good effort considering the team is built around Schumacher and Rubens always has to play second fiddle.
Rubens once again played a supporting role in 2003 - however he managed to knock up two more wins, following impressive drives at the British GP and in Japan. The Brazilian finished the year fourth in the drivers' series with 65 points.
Barrichello's fifth season with the Scuderia in 2004 was again positive, and having signed a contract until the end of 2006, the Brazilian helped ensure that Ferrari won the Constructors' championship for the sixth year running.
Although Michael Schumacher again took much of the limelight, Rubens had a more than solid year, scoring points in 16 of the 18 races, including 14 podiums, two of which saw him on the top step in Italy and China. His reward was second in the drivers' championship, having notched up 114 points, 34 less than Michael, who again took the title, but 29 more than Jenson Button, who was third.
In 2005, Barrichello was expected to again play shotgun as team-mate Schumacher battled for the title, but it soon became apparent that it wasn't to be Ferraris season.
Although he finished second to Fernando Alonso in the opening race of the season in Australia, it was a result that was proved to be the exception rather than the norm as - despite a run of three podium finishes in the middle of the season - Barrichello was only able to wrack up 38 points to finish the season in a disappointing eighth place, well short of his expectations at the start of the year.
Shortly after the Hungarian Grand Prix it was confirmed that Barrichello would be leaving Ferrari at the end of the year despite having a contract in place for the 2006 season. With Felipe Massa coming into replace him, Barrichello endured a troublesome end to the season, in much the same way as team-mate Schumacher, scoring only seven points in the final eight races of the year.
For 2006, Barrichello lined-up alongside Jenson Button at Honda and the Brazilian had a pretty tough start to the season, scoring just two points in the first four races, when he finished seventh at the Australian GP.
As the year progressed though Rubens felt more and more at home and the results, while not especially spectacular, certainly improved and he finished on something of a high, taking five points finishes from a possible six in the last third of the season. His best results throughout the year were two fourth places - one at the Monaco GP and another in Hungary.
In the end he took seventh in the drivers' championship having accumulated 30 points, one spot behind his team-mate although, disappointingly for Rubens, out-scored by a massive 26 points.
Still, it meant that, at the end of the 2006 season, Barrichello had started 249 races, scored nine wins and amassed 519 points over the course of 14 years. However, 2007 would go down as the worst season of his career.
There was no change to those 519 points from the start to the end of the season after a dismal campaign that started rumours that the dissatisfied Brazilian would be about to announce his retirement.
Saddled with a car that was so poor that its 2006 predecessor, run by minnows Super Aguri, was regularly quicker, neither Honda driver was able to make a permanent mark on the points and, although it was the same for team-mate Button, it was more embarrassing for Barrichello as he would produce his first pointless year in 15 seasons of F1.
Qualifying inside the top ten just once, the Brazilian really struggled with the handling of the RA107, the low point of the season undoubtedly being when he was passed and out-raced by Adrian Sutil’s Spyker in Hungary.
Confounding the speculation, however, Barrichello remained put for 2008, probably in the knowledge that it could not possibly get any worse. Buoyed by the arrival of former Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn as team principal, he entered the new campaign no less determined and, with the prospect of becoming the most experienced F1 driver of all time looming early in the year, hoping to break Riccardo Patrese's mark on more of a high note.
That he did so is indisputable, but the race in which he passed the Italian’s marker – the Turkish Grand Prix at Istanbul in mid-May – would sadly yield no better than a 14th-place finish, albeit from one of Rubens’ better grid positions of the season.
Whilst he largely out-performed highly-rated team-mate Button in both qualifying and race circumstances – gamely plugging away with Honda’s unloved RA108 as the Briton tended to more readily throw in the towel – the fruits of Barrichello’s labour were few and far between, so poor was the car’s general pace. For the unstinting efforts he put in, just three points-scoring finishes throughout was poor reward indeed – but, tellingly, that was two more than the driver in the sister car managed.
The unquestionable highlight of the São Paulista’s year was his inspired charge to the bottom step of the rostrum in the rain-lashed British Grand Prix at Silverstone, mastering the increasingly treacherous conditions to absolute perfection with his deft touch in the wet and a bold but well-informed decision to switch over to Bridgestone’s ‘extreme’ wet rubber as the rain worsened in the closing stages.
It was a reminder that the sport’s most experienced competitor still had plenty left to give even a decade-and-a-half on from his debut in the top flight – and his continuing hunger for success and desire to compete doubtless played a large part in securing him a 17th consecutive season in Formula 1 with the now re-named Brawn GP outfit in 2009, risen from the ashes of Honda, who had put the team up for sale at the beginning of the winter.
Having kept quiet over the off-season as most assumed his time at the pinnacle of international motor racing was up, Barrichello seemed to surprise everybody but himself when it was announced that he would again be partnering Button in 2009 – and with the new BGP 001 stunning regular paddock observers by tearing up the timesheets in testing, it suddenly appeared that maybe, just maybe, there was one more chapter still to be written in the history of ‘Rubinho’, F1’s new elder statesman..
The stellar start to the season proved to be no mirage, and Brawn opened its maiden campaign with six wins in seven races as its controversial double diffuser and long lead time paid dividends. Sadly for Barrichello, however, it was team-mate Button doing all the winning, en route
to the world title. The Brazilian, however, remained in title contention until the late stages of the season as he racked up a string of points finishes, including six podiums, but again he seemed to attract the worst of the team's scant ill-luck. A rant against Brawn's tactics at the German GP appeared to weaken his position, but Rubens bounced back with his first wins since driving for Ferrari as he claimed top spot in both the European and Italian GPs. He ended the season with 77 points and third in the championship but, like Button, departed Brawn before it became the Mercedes works team - avoiding a potential reunion with one Michael Schumacher - and wasted little time in joining Williams.
There was no avoiding Willi Weber-managed German talent for Barrichello, as he was partnered with GP2 champion Nico Hulkenberg at the Grove equipe
for 2010 but he was clearly the senior partner, charged with helping maintain Williams' slow climb back to the sharp end of the field.
It may not have yielded the success of 2009, but 2010 again allowed the popular Brazilian to be the first to reach 300 F1 starts, at Suzuka in October, and underlined his worth as a development driver. The FW32 was another solid product, allowing both Barrichello and, latterly, Hulkenberg to show well against recently stronger midfield opposition. Points in three of the opening five races was a solid start for the Brazilian, before the season peaked midway through with back-to-back fourth and fifth places in Valencia and Silverstone, but Barrichello remained a points threat until the final two rounds, leaving him tenth overall - and only losing touch with old nemesis Schumacher in the closing stages.
With Hulkenberg coming on strong in the second half of the year, many feared for Barrichello's position in the line-up, but it was the expected Brazilian who was retained to partner another rookie, Pastor Maldonado, in 2011. Again, the wise old head would have to prevail if Williams was to continue to make progress, but things did not go the Brazilian - or Williams' - way.
After a couple of years of moving up the constructors' standings, the Grove team slipped badly in 2011, with a haul of just five points, four of which went to Barrichello courtesy of back-to-back ninth-place finishes in Monaco and Canada. The team ended up just ahead of the three 'new' operations and led to a clear-out of backroom staff. While Maldonado's position was relatively safe for as long as his Venezuelan oil money continued to pour in, Barrichello's seat remained up for grabs, with a long list of candidates - including Bruno Senna, Adrian Sutil and Vitaly Petrov - all being linked to it.
A 20th season in the top flight remained a distant dream until Senna was eventually confirmed - in an ironic twist that mirrored Barrichello's confirmation at Brawn which deprived Senna of a chance to partner Button in 2009 - and Barrichello appeared destined for retirement until a call from lifelong friend Tony Kanaan led to him switching to the IndyCar Series for 2012.
Despite his lack of familiarity with the US race scene, and the oval circuits that populate its calendars, the veteran acquitted himself admirably, but a series of top ten finishes was not enough to attract the sponsorship he needed for a second season, and Barrichello decided that it was time to head home. He will race in the Brazilian stock car series in 2013 after receiving several offers of paid drives.