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. KNF (@knf) said on 18th January 2012, 15:36

    One of the great sportsmen in motorsport, although his chances of becoming champion are over… Hope he gets called back in some sort of advisory or mentorship role, although historically that’s usually not well received by drivers.

  2. ferrari4life said on 18th January 2012, 17:39

    AWWWW Rubens :( We will miss you buddy…..Everything you did for ferrari will be remembered, that win from dead last in germany, just epic, will never forget that day, so many mixed feelings :( :(

  3. Joey-Poey (@joey-poey) said on 18th January 2012, 18:04

    As sad as I am to see him missing and as big of a fan I am of Ruby, there’s a bit of relief in knowing his career is up. I honestly do feel he got a farewell race with the BBC feature they did with him and Eddie. I’m not a fan of stories going on forever without a clear ending and I want to see Rubens reach a definitive end. I’m proud of what he’s achieved and his unwavering sense of character. Instead of mourning, we should be holding aloft what has been a fantastic career from a truly wonderful person and saying “See? This is how you can do it right without selling your soul.”

  4. Matty No 2 (@mattynotwo) said on 18th January 2012, 20:45

    Rubens should have retired when he finished up with Brawn.

  5. UKFan (@) said on 18th January 2012, 23:11

    Like i’ve said before it was time to leave but no one deserves to get thrown out like Rubens was stabbed by a fellow countryman, unfortunately the world is not led by kindness.

  6. dodge5847 (@dodge5847) said on 19th January 2012, 1:24

    Everyone is talking as though he died, there is still a seat going at HRT, plus I can not think of a season where all the drivers stayed the same, he could get given a contract again for some reason.

  7. wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 19th January 2012, 3:18

    That’s sad indeed,a driver who had gone a lot under him didn’t get farewell in the end.Not sure what he will do for 2012 but I don’t think getting in HRT is a good enough job.The best thing will be joining in any type of Endurance Racing or even DTM where lots of F1 driver from the past has gone wont be bad. Another option for him is to go to Indy!.

  8. Younger Hamii (@younger-hamii) said on 19th January 2012, 9:54

    were first made clear at Austria in 2001

    Typo there Keith,Shame Rubens left with a turbulent season.Wish him all the best for the future,Maybe being a Team Principal for a team in the future could be on the cards.

  9. spankythewondermonkey (@spankythewondermonkey) said on 19th January 2012, 16:12

    an RB auto-biography. now that is one book i most definitely WOULD buy.!

    shame to see reubens go out in this way, but better to call it quits now than spend a potentially miserable season with a team that probably has little chance of success. oh, hang on, that was last season as well ;-) (before flaming me, i’m a williams supporter and hate seeing how bad they’re doing at the moment)

  10. antonyob (@antonyob) said on 20th January 2012, 16:32

    its not quite as simple as that. when MS went to ferrari they hadnt won a WDC for 20 years and had become a bit of a shambles. Once MS had a contract that stipulated him as clear no 1 and all that went with that you couldnt then put the genie back in the bottle. you couldnt say right thanks for the WDC MS we are now going to revert back to how it worked before. plus they were then winning, why change it?

    Plenty of teams operated a clear number 1. No one speaks badly about Jim Clark and Lotus but thats exactly what went on there. Same when Andretti drove for them when Peterson was at least as quick. Same with Stewart at Tyrell. Mclaren are a great example of letting their guys race..and paying the consequences.

    People forget motor racing was a business first, and a pastime for the rich. Only in the modern era could it be described as anything approaching a sport. whatever that is suppsed to mean.

  11. Nikos (@azwris) said on 22nd January 2012, 13:35

    Rubens WILL return!

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