At the Turkish Grand Prix Rubens Barrichello will set a new record as the driver who has started the most Grand Prix, with 257 starts eclipsing Ricardo Patrese’s monumental 265 races.
In many respects Barrichello and Patrese have had rather similar careers. Both enjoyed meteoric rises to F1 courtesy of some stellar performances in junior formulas. Barrichello’s sparring partner from Formula Opel in 1990 and Formula Three in 1991 – David Coulthard – has also gone on to become one of F1’s elder statesman.
Both made a huge impression on F1 during their debut seasons.
Barrichello’s almost-fourth-place in the wet at the European Grand Prix marked him out as a future star.
Likewise Patrese came very close to a podium in his debut Grand Prix at Kyalami. The beginning of his career was later marred by his involvement in the accident which killed Ronnie Peterson at Monza, although with hindsight it is arguable that he was cruelly scapegoated by the established drivers of the day.
But neither driver ever truly showed the promise suggested in the junior formulas. Patrese suffered from inconsistent form and some dodgy cars when he should have been at his prime. Likewise Barrichello, when he was still young and hungry, never had a car to do his abilities justice.
However when the stars aligned both showed well enough to justify their place on any F1 grid.
Patrese (pictured below in the 1992 South African Grand Prix) had some strong performances for Brabham in 1982, but really came good from 1988 onwards when he was instrumental in driving Williams back to the front of the grid. History is quick to forget that the Italian was the pre-eminent Williams driver for the first half of 1991 and often had the measure of Nigel Mansell.
Barrichello likewise had his moments. Taking Stewart onto the podium in their debut season at Monaco was career enhancing and his performances throughout 1999 were enough to earn him a call up to Maranello to partner Michael Schumacher in the Ferrari.
In his seasons driving for the Scuderia Barrichello was firmly the number two driver although his pace suggested he could have won more if allowed. Being made to step aside at the Austrian GP in 2002 was perhaps the nadir of the Maranello years, although Indianapolis in 2005 was another equally hollow second place.
The move to Honda has, in my view, seen the Brazilian coasting, adding little of value to the team, during what have been three uncompetitive seasons, where arguably for 2008 his seat may have been better filled by a young charger.
But both have achieved something remarkable in reaching 256 race starts. Patrese managed to weather 16 seasons of F1 in an era when drivers were hurt or worse on a reasonably regular basis, without sustaining serious injuries.
Barrichello on the other hand has been an F1 regular in an era where the sport is massively scrutinised and rookies get dropped after six races – to survive for so long in that environment is impressive.
Neither Ricardo Patrese nor Rubens Barrichello will ever top anyone’s list of the greatest F1 drivers of all time. However both have brought a great deal to the sport and achieved a huge amount, clocking up many wins and podiums. Both drivers have been fixtures throughout seminal eras in the sport’s history.
It will be interesting to see which of the current crop of young drivers will go on to challenge their records.