- Another would be World Champion. Close but no cigar unfortunately.

F1 Spotlight - Rubens Barrichello

This week's piece takes a look at one of Brazil's best drivers. He's also quite a nice chap.

32w ago

Rubens Barrichello was born on 23rd May 1972. The paternal side of his family originates from Veneto in the Treviso region of Italy, whilst the maternal side is of Portuguese descent. Both his father and paternal grandfather are also named Rubens, and Barrichello also shares his father's birthday. When he was young he was dubbed ‘Rubinho’ ("little Rubens" in Portuguese), which has become his nickname.

Rubens was born only a short distance from the famous Interlagos track, and as a result of growing up in a racing family, he was given his first kart at the age of six. Barrichello won five karting titles in Brazil and in 1986, aged fourteen, he was crowned South American karting champion. A year later he finished ninth in the world championships sponsored by Ayrton Senna.

In 1989, Rubens made the move up from karts to Formula Ford, before moving to England to pursue his dream of becoming an F1 driver. He started to race in the Formula Vauxhall Lotus series in 1990 and in his first year, Rubens won the championship. The following year he went on to win the British Formula 3 Championship, beating David Coulthard and also becoming the youngest racing driver to do so (later beaten by Nelson Piquet Jnr in 2004) before moving on to Formula 3000 in 1992. He finished third in the championship, and then joined the Jordan Formula One team for the 1993 season. Rubens’ dream became reality.

With looks like these, he can melt a cheese sandwich from across the room.

With looks like these, he can melt a cheese sandwich from across the room.

During this time, and also early in his Formula One career, Barrichello lived in Cambridgeshire in the UK and apparently has said of the time that, as he wasn't old enough to be driving on the roads, he used his father's driving licence to drive between races.

His first race was in South Africa in 1993. Then, in Barrichello's third race for Jordan, the European Grand Prix, he started from 12th place in very wet conditions but was fourth by the end of the first lap. He ran as high as second at one point, though was running in third, having passed both Damon Hill and Alain Prost in their Williams‘, before encountering a fuel pressure problem. The reliability of Barrichello’s car across the 1993 season was not good which led to him only finishing a few races.

As would prove to be the case for much of his early F1 career, Barrichello regularly outpaced his more experienced teammates, Ivan Capelli and Thierry Boutsen. At the French Grand Prix, he came close to scoring his (and the team’s) first Grand Prix point of the year but Michael Andretti passed him on the final lap for the sixth and final points-scoring position. However, at the Japanese Grand Prix he secured himself fifth place, ahead of his new teammate Eddie Irvine. These two points put him in 18th place in the standings. You’ve got to start somewhere and points, no matter how small, really make a difference.

1994 started with a fourth place in Brazil and a third place at Aida in Japan (now known as Okayama International Circuit) which was his first podium position. These results put him in second place in the drivers' standings, behind Michael Schumacher, who had won both of the races.

However, at the San Marino Grand Prix, he suffered a violent crash during Friday practice, approaching the Variante Bassa at around 140 mph, his car climbed the kerb which, in turn, launched the car into the air, before it rolled several times. The accident knocked him unconscious and threatened his life, with his tongue blocking his airway, his life being one of many that would be saved by track-side work of Sid Watkins.

He regained consciousness in hospital having sustained a number of injuries to find Ayrton Senna was by his bedside. Barrichello never saw his mentor again, as the three-time world champion died on the same track two days later. The race weekend saw a succession of serious accidents, which included the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna. Rubens was deeply affected by the deaths and considered quitting the sport for good.

Later in the season, he took pole position at the Belgian Grand Prix, and led some laps at Estoril. His pole position at Spa-Francorchamps set the record for the youngest driver to secure pole position at that time. He concluded the season with fourth place in Adelaide and he finished the season sixth overall in the Drivers' Championship with nineteen points, outscoring Irvine, who scored six.

During the 1995 season, Barrichello scored a second-place finish in Montreal, but the Jordan cars were less reliable than in 1994, due at least in part to the works Peugeot engine contract that Jordan had taken over from McLaren. Barrichello finished the season in 11th with eleven points, one ahead of Irvine.

Benson & Hedges, the cigarette brand, had joined as main sponsor of the team for 1996, giving the team hope for improvement. Barrichello was amongst the frontrunners in Brazil, the second race of the season, before spinning off after his brakes overheated. However, as the season progressed, Jordan became less competitive. Barrichello's relationship with team owner Eddie Jordan soured during the season and at the end of the year, despite having been linked to strong teams, including Benetton, he left the Silverstone based squad for a move to the newly formed Stewart Grand Prix.

Stewart's debut season in 1997 saw frequent reliability problems and Barrichello only finished three races. 1998 was not much better for Stewart, with two fifth places being the team's best results. Despite the poor reliability of the team, Barrichello consistently beat teammate Magnussen, which resulted in the latter being dropped at the French Grand Prix, replaced by Jos Verstappen, but Rubens beat him too. 1999 was a much better year for the Stewart team. Barrichello qualified third at his home race in Brazil, outpacing Michael Schumacher's Ferrari, and even led for awhile, until his engine let go. He later took pole position in the wet for the French Grand Prix, where he finished on the podium, as well as podium finishes at the San Marino and European Grands Prix. Again across the season he overall outpaced his latest teammate Johnny Herbert and, as a result, gained the attention of Jean Todt of Ferrari – who signed Rubens for the 2000 season.

"Michael [Schumacher] might have more skill than I had, but if you threw both of us into a jail with a tiger I might get out alive - I'm not sure about him."

Rubens Barrichello

In the Ferrari, Barrichello achieved his first Grand Prix victory at the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, when, having started from 18th on the grid, he and the team chose to stay on dry-weather tyres when it was raining on part of the circuit. This risky call saw him leap-frog the McLarens who chose to pit for wet weather tyres to win the race. It was Ruben’s 124th race, a new record no-one would want to beat, but he finally had his first win - the longest period any driver in Formula One history had waited for a maiden Grand Prix win. Barrichello had a consistent debut season for Ferrari, finishing most races on the podium. He finished the season fourth after supporting Schumacher as he battled and defeated Häkkinen for the Drivers' Championship, and helped Ferrari win the Constructors' Championship.

In 2001 Barrichello finished the season in third place, achieving a total of ten podium finishes. He nearly won in Monza but with a far from ideal pit crew for the race, he lost out. He ended the season without a win of his own but had again played a major supporting role to Schumacher which helped Michael win his second Drivers' Championship and Ferrari win the Constructors' Championship for the third consecutive year.

Staying with Ferrari, 2002 saw Rubens improve to a career-best second place in the Drivers' Championship, having won four races for the team. The year was tarnished though by the controversy of the Austrian Grand Prix. Here, Ferrari team principle Jean Todt (now head of the FIA) ordered Rubens to allow the trailing Schumacher to pass him on the final straight in order to take the victory. Barrichello wasn’t happy but after arguing his case he relented and moved over on the final straight, allowing Schumacher to take the win. Met with boos on the podium, Michael Schumacher was chastened and embarrassed by the reaction from the fans at the circuit and exchanged places with Barrichello at the podium ceremony, also giving Rubens the winner's trophy but Barrichello and Ferrari’s relationship was damaged beyond repair. Not a great moment in the history of the sport. To add insult to injury, both drivers were fined for disrupting podium protocol and Ferrari's blatant team orders led to the FIA banning team orders beginning in 2003.

Barrichello finished the 2003 season in fourth place, having taken wins at Silverstone and Suzuka, and again helping Schumacher and Ferrari win the drivers' and Constructors' Championships. In the 2004 season, Barrichello finished second behind Schumacher in seven of the first thirteen races, but he won both the 2004 Italian Grand Prix and the 2004 Chinese Grand Prix to clinch second place in the championship.

Racing for Ferrari at Silverstone in 2003.

Racing for Ferrari at Silverstone in 2003.

“Eventually I felt that the team was his.”

Rubens Barrichello

A change of tyre rules for the 2005 season meant that Ferrari lacked the pace of previous years - the Bridgestone tyres used by Ferrari were less effective than those of their competitors Michelin. Ironically tyres would feature in one of the most bizarre races of that (or any other) season at that years’ United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis, when all the Michelin-running cars retired after the formation lap, leaving only six cars in the race, Barrichello finished second. He was second in Melbourne too and ended the season in eighth place in the drivers' standing, his worst season with Ferrari and in August 2005 he announced that he would be leaving Ferrari at the end of the year to join Honda.

When he moved to Honda in 2006 he joined Jenson Button who, in an act of goodwill to welcome him to the team, gave Rubens the number 11 for his race car (11 is Barrichello's lucky number and was the number of his kart when he won his first race.) Initially the Honda car didn’t suit Rubens and he was outpaced by Button before adjustments were made which suited him better, making him more competitive. In Monaco, he nearly got his first podium with the team, but was given a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane and finished fourth. Though he lost a podium, it was the best result at the Monaco Grand Prix for Honda (as a team) or any Japanese team. He finished the season seventh in the drivers' standings with thirty points, twenty six behind Button.

Barrichello did not score any points during the 2007 season, because of the Honda RA107's lack of pace. His best result of the season came at the British Grand Prix where he finished in ninth place. He only once qualified in the top ten that year. Despite this, Honda signed him again for the 2008 season. This gave him the opportunity of making the five race starts he required to break Riccardo Patrese's record for the driver that has started the most Grands Prix, a record that had stood for fourteen years. The Turkish Grand Prix that year was Barrichello's 257th Grand Prix, breaking Patrese's record of 256 Grand Prix starts and becoming the most experienced driver in F1 history. There is some dispute as to the particular Grand Prix at which Rubens broke the record as he didn’t start some races, (e.g. the 2002 Spanish Grand Prix,) but Barrichello and Honda chose Turkey to be the location of the official celebrations.

In Monaco, he scored his first points since 2006 and in Canada he was in the points again, finishing 7th after starting 9th. He led some laps due to the appearance of the safety car, but fell back down the order towards the end of the race. At Silverstone, a track he says he considers to be his second home, he qualified 16th, outpacing Button and in the wet race through good use of an extreme wet tyre he finished 3rd - his first podium since 2005. He had mixed fortunes across much of the rest of the season and finished it in fourteenth place in the driver’s standings.

Then, on December 5th 2008, Honda announced that they were quitting F1 because of the economic crisis. This led to months of uncertainty as to whether a buyer could be found, and whether they would retain Barrichello.

Just weeks before the 2009 season opener in Melbourne, Ross Brawn and Nick Fry purchased the Honda team, renaming it Brawn GP and removed the threat of possible closure, though difficult times and a greatly reduced financial package meant that things would be somewhat different for the new team. It was suggested by some that Barrichello would lose his seat to Bruno Senna, but in the end Brawn kept Barrichello along with Jenson Button for the season ahead. At the final pre-season test in Barcelona both Brawn cars surprised the paddock (and themselves) with their competitive lap times, ahead of some others by as much as two seconds and giving a glimpse of the performance the team would display in the early races of their historic season.

In Melbourne, Barrichello topped the timesheets in the first two qualifying sessions, but qualified second on the grid behind teammate Button. Still, for a team and a driver that might not have even been on the grid that year, second place isn’t too shabby. Despite suffering damage when he was hit from behind by the McLaren of Heikki Kovalainen, pushing him into the Red Bull of Mark Webber, a late collision in the race between Sebastian Vettel and Robert Kubica moved Rubens back up the order and he finished in second.

Racing for Brawn in Belgium in 2009.

Racing for Brawn in Belgium in 2009.

In Monaco, at the end of lap 47, Barrichello surpassed Michael Schumacher's total of 13,909 laps and became the driver who had completed the most laps in Formula One history. In Valencia, Rubens took his 10th Grand Prix win, his first in five years and the 100th win by a Brazilian driver in Formula One, allowing him to move up to 2nd in the Championship. He paid tribute to injured compatriot Felipe Massa, who had been hit by a dislodged part from Barrichello’s car during qualifying in Hungary with a plaque on the top of his race helmet.

In Brazil, Barrichello claimed pole in a rain-soaked, qualifying session with title rivals Button and Vettel down the order in 14th and 16th respectively. A puncture cost him the chance of taking the title to the final race, as he failed to secure enough points, Button finished fifth to become champion. In Abu Dhabi he qualified and finished 4th, with Vettel winning the race, Rubens finished third in the championship with 77 points.

For 2010, Barrichello was offered a contract by McLaren though as he had already signed with Williams he declined the McLaren offer because he did not want to renege on his pledge to Williams. The McLaren seat went instead to Rubens’ 2009 teammate Jenson Button. On 2 November 2009, Williams confirmed Barrichello and Nico Hülkenberg as their official race drivers for the 2010 season. In Spain 2010, having started 18th, he benefited from Lewis Hamilton's late crash to finish ninth, scoring two points and equalling Senna's record.

In Valencia, the Williams team brought big upgrades and ran their version of the F-duct. Barrichello qualified ninth with the same time as his teammate Hülkenberg. He was running seventh when the safety car was deployed at the end of lap nine, and pulled straight into the pits. When the safety car pitted he was able to fend off Kubica to finish fourth, his highest finish so far of the season and he became the highest-scoring Brazilian driver in Formula One history, overhauling Ayrton Senna's career tally of 614 points.

Barrichello celebrated his 300th Grand Prix at the Belgian Grand Prix, but retired in damp conditions after colliding with Fernando Alonso's Ferrari on the first lap. Before the race, he was elected as Chairman of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association to replace the outgoing Nick Heidfeld. At Interlagos he qualified a strong sixth in variable conditions with teammate Hülkenberg starting from pole position. After a delayed pit stop, his traditional bad luck on home soil returned when he suffered a puncture after briefly colliding with Jaime Alguersuari, costing him any chance of scoring points. The man could not catch a break at his home venue.

Racing in Malaysia in 2010 for Williams.

Racing in Malaysia in 2010 for Williams.

On 15 November 2010, Williams confirmed Barrichello as one of the team's drivers for the 2011 season. His teammate in 2011 was the infamous Pastor Maldonado. Rubens’ start to the 2011 season was littered with car problems and it wouldn’t be until Monaco before he managed to score any points. He scored again in Canada, but he rarely troubled the points scoring positions across the rest of the season. Across the season, Williams secured only 5 points – Rubens scored 4 of them. His final race at the 2011 Brazilian Grand Prix was a quiet farewell where he finished 14th, ahead of former teammate Michael Schumacher.

On 17 January 2012, Williams confirmed that Bruno Senna would replace Barrichello for the coming season. Rubens left Formula 1. The total number of race starts Rubens has was 322, (Kimi Räikkönen, after the 2020 Belgian Grand Prix, is on 319 starts and is likely to surpass his record by the end of the season.

On 25 January 2012, American journalist Robin Miller reported that Barrichello was to test an IndyCar for KV Racing Technology with his friend Tony Kanaan and after a couple of test sessions across late January and February, he joined KV Racing Technology for the 2012 season. He went on to race in his first Indianapolis 500 on 27 May 2012, even leading for a couple of laps before finishing 11th and winning the 2012 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year title.

After the Indycar season was completed, Rubens took part in the Brazilian Stock Car Brasil racing series for the final three races of the 2012 season as a guest driver with one of the Peugeot teams. For 2013 he drove a Chevrolet for the Full Time Sports team, racing with number 111 as number 11 was already taken, he finished the season in 8th place.

In 2013 he started covering F1 race weekends for Brazil's TV Globo, interviewing drivers and team members on the grid and commentating during qualifying and race coverage. There was a suggestion that Rubens would be joining the Caterham F1 team as a replacement for Kamui Kobayashi for the final three races of the 2014 season, but this didn’t happen and the Caterham team went into administration. In February 2018, Barrichello was rushed to hospital after suffering headaches where it was discovered that he had a benign tumour which was later removed.

Continuing to drive a Chevrolet for Full Time Sports in 2014, Barrichello was crowned the 2014 champion, winning two races and securing a further 4 podium finishes. This was Barrichello's first championship since his 1991 British Formula 3 title. He has finished in the top 5 every year (to 2019) since. Alongside his racing, he also accompanies his son to his karting races and they sometimes compete in the same karting races together. Rubens says it keeps him fit and active.

What do you think of Rubens? Let me know in the comments below.

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Comments (8)

  • Some say he had rotten luck at times and that he should have been allowed to win that race in 2002, all we know is that he's a bloody nice bloke and he beat the Stig...

      7 months ago
  • Barrichello is a legend

      7 months ago
    • Completely agree.

        7 months ago
    • Whilst he never would have been a podium contender or anything like that, it kinda sucks that his planned comeback with Caterham in 2014 never happened because of the team going financially tits up.

        7 months ago
  • Barrichello of the year: Valtteri Bottas...

    Seriously though, Rubens was amazing. Just unlucky he had Schumacher as his teammate. I watched the 2003 British GP during lockdown and he was just brilliant!

      7 months ago
    • Bottas does seem to be a carbon copy of him at the moment. At least Rubens then got another proper chance to win the Championship with Brawn. Shame he couldn't make it happen but he was still a bloody great driver. Another World Champion driver...

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        7 months ago