Rubens Barrichello: Sometimes nice guys finish first

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Rubens Barrichello, Mika Hakkinen, Hockenheimring, 2000

A jubilant Barrichello celebrates his maiden win at Hockenheim in 2000

The news that Bruno Senna will drive for Williams this year appears to spell the end for the career of the most experienced F1 driver of all time.

Rubens Barrichello’s near-two decades of service in Formula 1 and seemingly insatiable passion for racing have won him many admirers. Even as he nears his 40th birthday, he retains his appetite for competition.

That much was clear when I asked Barrichello about his passion for racing last year: “I’m so enthusiastic about my job,” he said. “I’m so excited about going flat-out in the car.

“If you only have experience, you don’t have the will to do it. I’m running with the young guys and I don’t care, I’m going flat out, I’m enjoying myself.”

Just thinking about getting back behind the wheel was enough to crack a broad grin across his face. But his reputation as the ‘nice guy’ as Formula 1 hasn’t always served him well on the track – and never more so when it came up against the cynicism of Michael Schumacher-era Ferrari.

Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello, A1-Ring, 2002

Strained faces on the podium at Austria in 2002

Ferrari’s insistence that Barrichello support Schumacher’s title ambitions were first made clear at Austria in 2001 when he was told to surrender second place to his team mate. Afterwards he insisted the team would not order him to do the same if he was leading the race.

At the same race 12 months later this claim was exposed as being utterly false. To a chorus of boos, Barrichello was once again ordered to yield to Schumacher, this time giving up victory. It mattered not that Schumacher had almost double the points of any other driver on his arrival at the A1-Ring.

Barrichello’s reputation was stained by his willingness to play the number two role. He received particularly scathing criticism at home, where to some his actions made him an unworthy successor to the likes of Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet and the venerated Ayrton Senna.

When Barrichello left Ferrari at the end of 2005 – with questionable timing given that Schumacher followed him 12 months later – it seemed he would never again be a championship contender. Better days lay ahead, but they were some way off.

He spent three seasons with Honda, but in that time the team produced two supremely woeful cars. Nonetheless in 2008 an inspired drive by Barrichello in dire conditions at Silverstone put the RA108 – a car which didn’t even belong in the top ten – on the podium.

1993: With a young Rubens Barrichello in his first F1 season

Barrichello with Senna in 1993

Wet conditions often brought out the best in Barrichello: whether it was holding a podium position in his third F1 start at Donington Park in 1993 before his Jordan ran out of fuel, or clinching an emotional second place for Stewart at Monaco in 1997, or his even-more-emotional first win in the drizzle at Hockenheim in 2000.

It is likely that, had Honda continued in 2009, Barrichello would have lost his seat to Bruno Senna then instead of yesterday. But Honda pulled the plug, Ross Brawn and Nick Fry staged an 11th-hour rescue of the team, and Barrichello was retained as a safe pair of hands alongside Jenson Button.

There were times in 2009 where Barrichello seemed to sense he was getting the number two treatment again. He was infuriated by the team’s strategy at Barcelona and the Nurburgring. But at times he proved a match for Button, ending a five-year victory drought in Valencia, and out-racing his team mate at Monza.

Barrichello’s best hope of starting a 20th season now rest with HRT, where the last ‘official’ place for 2012 remains. He and Pedro de la Rosa could give the squad a driver line-up with a combined age of 80 come the season-opener at Melbourne.

But a career that has spanned over 300 starts and 11 Grand Prix wins does not need a depressing coda featuring him circulating at the back of the pack, even further away from the front runners than he was with Williams last year.

Rubens Barrichello, Williams, Interlagos, 2011

Last year's Brazilian Grand Prix may have been his last

At last year’s season finale in his home city of Sao Paulo, Barrichello made few concessions to the possibility that it might be his final race.

A conspicuous exception was the donning of a helmet in the colours of his friend and idol Ayrton Senna. By a strange quirk of fortune, it is Senna’s nephew who has replaced Barrichello at Williams.

“I wish my friend all the best,” said Barrichello on Twitter after the news was announced. A nice guy to the last.

If the name ‘Barrichello’ is missing from the entry list for round one for the first time in 20 years, his absence will be felt.

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126 comments on Rubens Barrichello: Sometimes nice guys finish first

  1. djdaveyp85 (@djdaveyp87) said on 18th January 2012, 12:44

    I “Trulli” hope he replaces Jarno at Caterham. Barrichello is the nicest driver in F1 and he’s pretty quick too. Petrov can take his money to HRT where it is needed and they have a car that suits his pace.

  2. nivek252 (@nivek252) said on 18th January 2012, 13:00

    I reckon Rubens will have at least one more race as a super sub during 2012, if another driver is ruled out for any reason for any race.

  3. realracer (@realracer) said on 18th January 2012, 13:01

    About you saying Brawn giving preferential treatment to Button, I would have to say I agree, there were definitely strings being pulled behind the scenes, I don’t think Barrichello’s out-bursts came out of nowhere.
    But it would make Button look bad so no one would bring it up.

    • Klon (@klon) said on 18th January 2012, 13:36

      I don’t think so, really. If anything it could be said that Brawn as a team was just half-***** and just didn’t bother solving Barrichello’s earlier troubles with the car since Button was winning which was good enough.

      Perhaps if they had known that Button would drive the second half of the season the way he has always driven in his career – mediocre – and almost lose a sure-fire championship they would have bothered with his issues earlier. Well, what could have been…

  4. jonathan102 (@jonathan102) said on 18th January 2012, 13:07

    I really hope that Venezuela money dries up and Maldonado get replaced by Rubens.

  5. Sangeen Khan said on 18th January 2012, 13:58

    I bet Rubens wouldn’t have minded schumacher moving over for him if he had double the points of schumacher.Truth is Rubens just wasn’t fast enough to mount a title challenge and that is why he was relegated to a supporting role at Ferrari as well as Brawn.

  6. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 18th January 2012, 14:01

    As many have said, I do believe Rubens has robbed himself of a grand exit. As much as he (and we) want him to go on racing, he has to take a look at it realistically; a man of his age is always going to be out of favour against the younger generation.

    I think he should have treat Brazil as he last race (all the more so considering it’s his home GP) and if he did manage to get a seat this year then it’s a bonus!

    That said, he’s had a brilliant career. His year at Brawn was a breath of fresh air for him and F1 and that is what i’ll remember him for.

  7. electrolite (@electrolite) said on 18th January 2012, 14:15

    This man is no worse than the current crop of drivers we have at the minute. He has so much to offer, and it’s not going to be the same place without him. I don’t care what anyone else says about ‘his time is up’. He’s 40 years old, not 80.

    If he ends up at HRT alongside Pedro it will give us a great perspective of how good or bad their past drivers have been. If they then begin to beat Virgin comfortably we’ll have our answer.

    At the same time, I think Barrichello’s better than that!

  8. It’s easy to say it’s sad that Rubens didn’t get a real send off but I find it better to think that he got a few extra years in the sport as it looked like he was retirement bound at the end of 08. However, since then he’s became a championship contender and driven for one of the most prestigious teams that has ever been in F1. I’d say those few years were a great goodbye.

  9. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 18th January 2012, 14:24

    Won’t miss him. Was a good B-tier driver in his prime but those days have gone. I’m not overjoyed at his replacement, but at least there’s a possibility Senna might start doing well from here on in. Ruben’s top goal would have been merely to stop looking past it.

    If you are sentimental about Rubens, then a wish to see him stay is maybe the worse of the two scenarios. Far better that he not decline even further and drive for a team that’s a shadow of its former self, or the grid’s running joke.

    F1 waits for no man. For every character and style that passes out of the sport, there is a new one to be fascinated by. I can only hope that the next time an old face disappears it’s to make way for a genuinely new one.

  10. d3v0 (@d3v0) said on 18th January 2012, 14:32

    Damn article almost had me in tears.

  11. celeste (@celeste) said on 18th January 2012, 14:38

    I´m gonna miss Rubens… he is one of my favorite pilots and I have been hearing of him since I was like 5 years old… Hopefuly he will still be around F1, and not only in Brasil…

  12. I like Rubens, he has contributed a lot to Formula One but the title of the article is hardly accurate is it?

    11 wins in 326 races, that’s more like very rarely nice guys finish first. I am more upset Sutil and particularly Alguersuari are not on the grid than Barrichello.

  13. By a strange quirk of fortune, it is Senna’s nephew who has usurped Barrichello at Williams

    Usurp is a harsh word on Bruno tbh.

    BTW, good riddance of a bad driver. Young talents are waiting on the line and the line is damn long.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 18th January 2012, 14:58

      You know what – you’re dead right. I just looked it up and I never realised it meant to “wrongfully” take someone’s place, which certainly isn’t what I meant. Have changed it. Thanks for pointing it out.

  14. Richard (@dream28) said on 18th January 2012, 15:18

    I wish you all the best Mr. Barrichello in whatever endeavour you choose to pursue. I thought that it was extremely unfair that you were asked or told to relinquish the lead you held so that Michael Schumacher could assume the lead you had, through the strength of your driving, established for yourself. (I believe that was the reason Eddie Irvine left F1 and racing. Mr. Irvine didn’t wish to play second fiddle to Michael Schumacher).

    I am not alone in the pack of F1 Fanatics who will miss your presence on the upcoming 2012 F1 season.

    It would be great if you could secure a seat in Le Mans Prototype racing. It would, in my opinion, be a fitting position for a racing car driver of your skill and experience.

  15. The Limit said on 18th January 2012, 15:19

    Great article! For me personally, I think Barrichello is the only driver in the current era that I truly admire. He was never a prima donna like some of his peers, and he had the talent to win grands prix and win them with style. I must have been very difficult for him at Ferrari, watching Michael Schumacher win championships year after year, with the knowledge that to Ferrari he was nothing more than Michael’s number two within the team. To be honest, I was surprised that Rubens tolerated it for as long as he did despite the fact that he was earning a good wage. The events of Austria 2002 not only embarrassed Ferrari but embarrassed F1 as a sport. It made Hockenheim 2010 look like very small potatoes.
    Yet through all that, Rubens has maintained his dignity throughout. You never here anything bad being said of Rubens Barrichello, either from other drivers or the fans. Everyone only has good things to say, and he always came across well in interviews and on television.
    Its a sad moment, but I think it is time. He may not have been an F1 champion, but sometimes class is not measured by silverware alone!

    • Alain (@paganbasque) said on 18th January 2012, 15:43

      In my opinion Hockenheim 2010 and Austria 2002 are equally embarrasing. Yes, in 2002 Michael had the championship in his hands but at least I can say that team orders were legal in that time, which is not the case in 2010.

      Anyway, both days were terrible for F1´s prestige.

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