Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler BlackJack’sBriefs
Such a list is not easy to compile, and it is even harder to be objective.
The way I reduced 830 F1 drivers to 20 is detailed in Part I. I wanted twenty top drivers (top No.2’s who might have been a team leader.) who had proved their ability to win – not drivers who showed talent but were unable to realise their potential, including drivers whose career was brought to an untimely end, for whatever reason.
. . . was born in 1972, in Sao Paulo, entered F1 at the age of 21 and departed (before his time…) in 2011, at the age of 39, after 322 race starts. Both his father and grandfather had the same name and Rubens was nicknamed ‘Rubinho’ (Little Rubens).
After excelling in karts and FFord in Brazil, Barrichello arrived in Europe in 1990, and won the Formula Vauxhall Lotus Championship… and in 1991 won the British F3 Championship (beating David Coulthard). For 1992 he moved up to F3000, finishing third, and 1993 saw him join the Jordan F1 team… but Jordan were plagued with reliability issues and Barrichello had eight retirements, with just one finish in the points – 5th in Japan, where the team was joined by Eddie Irvine. Despite this Barrichello had regularly out performed his more experienced team-mates and went into 1994 still as team-leader, usually with Irvine backing him and, with one podium finish and four 4th places, finished sixth in the Championship… despite eight retirements. Perhaps surprisingly he was running in second place in the Championship after the first two events…
In qualifying at the tragic Imola event Barrichello crashed badly and rolled several times. Unconscious, and with his tongue blocking his airway, he was always grateful to the fast-reacting Sid Watkins… who later stated it was his worst ever GP weekend… Barrichello regained consciousness to find his mentor, Senna, at his bedside. It was the last time they saw each other.
During that winter break I visited long-lost friends in Sao Paulo, prior to the opening round at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, where all F1 talk was still of the loss of Ayrton. I tried commiserating by mentioning that now they had Rubinho coming up, and everybody laughed… saying that he needed to at least finish a few races before he could be taken seriously. It seemed the Brasilleiros might never be able to take anyone but Ayrton into their hearts again.
1995 saw Barrichello finish in the points four times, including a surprise second in Canada (with Irvine third), but he also suffered nine retirements.
For 1996 Irvine (who had usually been slightly out performed by Barrichello) took the second seat at Ferrari, in exchange for whom Ferrari funded a new wind-tunnel for Jordan… and was replaced by Martin Brundle..
Neither Jordan driver had a season to remember and, after apparently falling out with Eddie Jordan, Barrichello moved to the new Stewart team for 1997… while Brundle moved to the BBC – to demonstrate he could talk faster than he could drive.
Sir Jock never seemed to get the Stewart team together and for two seasons Barrichello achieved a brilliant second place at Monaco, and a fifth in the second year, and twenty-four retirements – but always out-performed his team- mates.
In Stewart’s final year things started to come together, Barrichello had three podiums, to finish seventh in the Championship… five years after he finished sixth in his first F1 season… but Stewart sold out to Ford, who renamed the team Jaguar and forlornly soldiered on for another four years. Meanwhile Irvine had departed from the Scuderia, having been offered the chance of team-leader at Jaguar, and for 2000 Barrichello went to Ferrari… and, for Barrichello, life began at 28…
After seven dreadful years in F1 maybe nobody would have been surprised if Barrichello had called it a day, and gone home… and then, not only would he not have appeared in this list, he might now be largely forgotten. Certainly it has to be said that his earlier successes only rarely figure in the record books. Time after time, when having a good race, the car would break under him, or simply was no more than a mid-field runner, but Ferrari had finished third in 1994-95, second in 1996-97-98, and were champions in 1999. Though it could be understood why Irvine wanted to leave nobody in Barrichello’s position could have turned down the Ferrari drive.
And he didn’t waste the opportunity: fastest lap in the opening event (plus two more); Pole position for the fourth; and a maiden win in Germany (a record wait for a drivers first win), after starting eighteenth… plus eight more podiums… With three 1-2 finishes he supported Schumacher as intended, and took points away from the McLaren drivers, to place fourth in the Championship, and ensure Ferrari retained the Constructors title.
In 2001 Barrichello failed to win, but was on the podium ten times, to finish third in the Championship, with Ferrari way ahead of the opposition in the Constructors. Barrichello also managed to out-perform Schumacher a few times…
2002 was even better: three Poles; five fastest laps; four wins; and six more podiums, took Barrichello to second in the Championship – the best he could hope for, with only half the points of Schumacher… who had won eleven races, and was on the podium for all seventeen. Ferrari scored 221 points, with Williams on 92… However, the year was somewhat spoiled when the leading Barrichello (who had started on Pole, and led the entire race) was ordered to relinquish his place to Schumacher on the finishing straight in Austria – a very unpopular move with the fans – far more so than ‘Multi21’ – because the same thing had happened in 2001. The booing was worse than Vettel has had to put up with.
On the podium an allegedly embarrassed Schumacher insisted Barrichello take the top spot, and even handed him the winner’s trophy – a total shambles. The drivers and Ferrari were fined US $1,000,000 for disrupting podium protocol… and the FIA banned team orders from 2003 which, as usual, was just one more regulation too many, and was later rescinded…! And, as if that fiasco wasn’t enough, American fans watched bemused at Indianapolis as Schumacher handed the win to Barrichello as they approached the flag, later forlornly trying to assert ‘we’ had tried to orchestrate a tie… though Barrichello said he knew nothing of such a plan… Some you win – some you… er… don’t win.
Barrichello’s 2004 season was much the same, finishing second in the Championship, with four Poles, four fastest laps, and two wins. Ferrari again trounced the opposition, with 262 points to a surprised BAR with 119 points. Despite this success Barrichello never managed better than third in his home GP and even failed to finish eleven of his fifteen starts in Brazil. Playing an enforced second fiddle to Schumacher, and therefore never likely to be champion, perhaps also prevented the Brasilleiros taking him to their hearts as they did, and still do, with Ayrton.
2005 effectively marked the end of an era. Ferrari lost their dominance, because of a new tyre regulation, and new boys, Alonso and Raikkonen (in Renault and McLaren), took over. Ferrari won just one single, pitiful race, in America, when all but they, Jordan and Minardi boycotted the event.
Nobody seems to know if Barrichello was ‘pushed’ from Ferrari, in favour of Felipe Massa, or if he needed to do an ‘Irvine’ and move on… but he moved to Honda (ex-BAR) for 2006 to join Jensen Button and finished seventh in the Championship… after several stirling efforts throughout the year… such as qualifying third in China, ahead of Schumacher and Raikkonen… But 2007 was a reliability and performance disaster – Honda finished eighth in the Constructors Championship ahead of Super Aguri and Spyker…
For 2008 Barrichello remained with Honda and, in Turkey, started his 256th GP, breaking Ricardo Patrese’s fourteen-year-old record. Ross Brawn came out of his Ferrari sabbatical, and joined Honda, with the intention of producing a decent car for 2009. In the meantime Barrichello produced a great drive to finish third in Britain, and place (whisper it) fourteenth in the Championship – Button was in eighteenth, and Honda dropped to ninth, ahead of Force India (ex-Spyker) and Super Aguri and so… after much soul-searching, pulled out of F1 altogether.
Honda leaving F1 at the end of 2008 caused a lot of headaches, and put a lot of people out of work… but in March 2009 a partnership led by Brawn managed a buy-out (allegedly for One-Pound-Sterling), and created Brawn GP.
In their first event Button and Barrichello locked out the front row of the grid, and went on to finish 1-2, which hadn’t happened on a debut since Mercedes Benz in 1954… and to finish 1-3 in the Championship, with Brawn winning the Constructors – in their first and only year in Grand Prix racing. Button won again in Malaysia, the first time a new team had won it’s first two races since Alfa Romeo in 1950. The Head Honchos at Honda must have been deeply dismayed.
Much has been written elsewhere how Brawn’s, much criticised, ‘double-diffuser’ gave them an advantage, until the others caught up, around mid-season. Button won six of the first seven races, with Barrichello right behind him three times, but finished on the podium only twice in the other ten. However… Barrichello won two of the last seven races, beating Button on a few other occasions, and taking Pole in Brazil – if he hadn’t proved his abilities with Ferrari he certainly did with Brawn.
For 2010 Brawn became Mercedes, and Barrichello moved to Williams… where he became the only driver in F1 history to start 300 races… finally ending with 322 and, with the way drivers now seem to appear and disappear with almost terrifying rapidity, maybe this record will never be broken.
But Williams were now a sad shadow of their glorious past, and going nowhere. For 2011 they were forced to accept Maldonado’s sponsorship monies and elected to drop Nico Hulkenberg, in favour of Barrichello’s experience. To his credit Barrichello said at the time, if he had been team-manager he would have retained Hulkenberg.
And so, after nineteen seasons, and six teams, in F1, Rubens Barrichello was finally obliged to take his leave, at the age of 39, with arguably another year or two left in him. He achieved 11 wins, 57 additional podiums, 14 Pole positions, and 17 fastest laps. He came 2nd in the Drivers Championship twice… and 3rd twice… and 4th twice. Even when he was clearly driving as a No.2 he often showed an ability to out-perform his ‘leader’. What else must a man do to qualify for a position in this list…
When Barrichello moved to Ferrari some questioned whether he was mentally tough enough to cope with Schumacher as a team mate. After leaving Ferrari Barrichello ‘responded’: “Michael might have more skill than me, but if you threw both of us into a cage with a tiger I might get out alive – I’m not sure about him.” I think this is intended to be allegorical…
Unwilling to quit racing Barrichello gave IndyCars a try in 2012 but, although winning Indy-500 Rookie of The Year, he returned home for 2013 to compete in the Brazilian Stock Car Series, and finished eighth in the Championship.
During his time in F1 Rubens was GPDA Chairman for 2010-2012. He was also the youngest Pole Sitter (1994, Spa), and recorded the fastest ever qualifying speed of 260.4 kph (2004, Monza).
He now lives in Sao Paulo with Silvana, Eduardo and Fernando.
to be continued, next week…