2011 will be Rubens Barrichello’s 19th season in F1 and, on day 19 of Badger’s Advent Calendar, we’re taking a look back at the evergreen Brazilian’s previous 18 years in motorsport’s top flight.
When 20-year-old Rubens Barrichello made his F1 debut at the South African Grand Prix of 1993 no one could have predicted that the young Brazilian would go on to become the most experienced driver in the sport’s history. Except perhaps Patrick Head, who when he’s not overseeing the engineering side of the Williams team is a fortune teller of some renown. He just doesn’t mention it in interviews.
Rubens was welcomed in to F1 by Eddie Jordan (just as soon as his sponsorship cheque cleared) and eventually became so chummy with the ebullient Irishman that in 2009 he happily hung out with him – on TV – wearing only some tiny swimming trunks. On-track he didn’t get much in the way of results, scoring his first points at the penultimate race in Japan.
We can’t make jokes or be light-hearted about 1994, Rubens second season in F1, as it was the year that he suffered a horrible crash at Imola during the same weekend that he lost great friend and mentor Ayrton Senna. But the Brazilian also did superbly on track, scoring regular points, taking his maiden pole position at a soggy Spa and finishing the year sixth in the championship. It was perhaps his finest season in the sport.
1995 wasn’t quite the step up hoped for as Rubens dropped to eleventh in the championship, though he did take a second place finish in Canada. In 1996 he was driving a car that was vaguely the colour of sick and powered by a Peugeot engine – no young racing driver’s dream. It was to be his final year at Jordan and saw several points finishes but no podiums. He ended the year eighth overall and switched to the new Stewart team for 1997.
A podium at Monaco was great but 1997 was generally a tough year. On the positive side Rubens did discover that he: A. looks good in tartan and B. can understand one in every seven words Jackie Stewart says.
1998 brought a rubbish car and next to no results. He beat team-mates Jan Magnussen and Jos Verstappen but that’s like shooting fish in a barrel shaped like a fish with a gun that homes in on fish. At this stage his career was seemingly going nowhere.
Then came The Re-Birth of Barrichello Part One, or 1999 as it’s more commonly known, which saw the Brazilian finally presented with a quick Stewart car. Podiums at Imola, Magny-Cours and the Nurburgring left everyone impressed, not least Ferrari boss Jean Todt, who handed him a contract for 2000.
Ferrari was a mixed bag for Rubens. On one hand it allowed him to win nine races, twice finish second in the world championship and no doubt earned him lots of lovely money.
But on the other hand he was permenantly frustrated by playing second fiddle to Michael Schumacher. Rubens didn’t want to play second fiddle, he wanted to play lead. He wanted to do fiddle solos on his knees and wow the crowd and… well, you get the idea.
His first win came at Hockenheim 2000, a mad race that saw Rubens come from 18th on the grid to take victory after a crazed ex-Mercedes employee invaded the track. He cried on the in-lap; the F1 community let out a collective ‘aww’.
2001 saw ten podiums but no wins on his way to third in the standings. The next season brought three victories and runner-up in the championship but also saw Rubens forced to move over for Schumacher at the final turn of the Austrian Grand Prix. The relationship would never really recover.
He raced for the team for three more years – winning four more races – but was never truly happy and split with the Scuderia a year early at the conclusion of the 2005 campaign.
Rubens’ Honda career started well enough with a solid 2006 season. There were no podiums but ten points scoring finishes meant he ended the year a credible eighth overall.
But in 2007 it all went wrong for the Japanese manufacterer. The ’07 car was a pig, and saw Rubens score no points for the first time in his career. 2008 was another bad year but at least Barrichello was back on the podium doing his silly Norman Wisdom dance at Silverstone. We thought it’d be the last time we saw it – how wrong we were.
The condensed version of Rubens’ 2009 campaign:
“Blah blah blah – won two races – blah blah blah – career revitalised – blah blah blah – wish I’d got up to speed as quick as Jenson though, might have won the title – blah blah blah – still, I’ve got a Williams contract for 2010, at least there I won’t hear a load of blah blah blah.”
At a Williams team who view him as team leader Barrichello enjoyed a solid if unspectacular 2010 season, doiing more than enough to earn himself a 19th year in F1. He was in Q3 regularly and scored a good haul of points to end the year tenth in the standings. We’re sure it hurt him when team-mate Nico Hulkenberg took pole in Brazil but overall he had the upper hand over the young German all season. For 2011 he takes on another rookie in the shape of Pastor Maldonado, and you have to feel he’ll come out top again.
How long will he go on for? Badger confidently predicts that he will compete until Formula One becomes an obsolete format and people take to racing hovercraft-style machines as seen in the popular computer game F-Zero. Or maybe he’ll call it a day after the 2012 campaign. It’s hard to say, really.