Brazil always had top class Formula 1 drivers. Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna were the World champions but many others left a deep mark in the most popular racing series and Rubens Barrichello surely was one of them.
He was an F1 vice-champion two times, in 2002 and 2004, and scored 11 F1 victories and 68 podiums, but his greatest achievement is a record which still stands with 326 entries and 322 starts in the Formula 1 World Championship.
Hooked on the racing
Rubens Gonçalves Barrichello was born in May 1972 in Sao Paulo, in the neighborhood of famous Interlagos circuit, to the family of Italian origin and that’s why pronunciation of his surname always caused confusion among TV commentators and the fans around the world. Even Barrichello once stated that both Italian and Portuguese version of pronunciation are correct.
Rubinho, what is Barrichello’s nickname, was hooked on the racing from his childhood. He once said that he used to jump over walls of Interlagos circuit to watch the races. First steps in racing Rubens made in karting when he was nine years old.
Two years later, Rubens won his first of five titles in the Paulista and Brazilian national karting championship. It was obvious that kid has a talent so the decision to set his sights on becoming professional racing driver was logical despite his father wasn’t delighted with his son’s ambitions. Still, over the years, his father became Rubens’ biggest support.
World karting champion in 1987
In 1987, Barrichello became a world champion in karting and, interestingly, his quest was sponsored by Ayrton Senna, his idol and later great support when Rubens entered the Formula 1 world. Climbing the top in karting, Rubinho was set for the new challenge. In 1989, he has competed in the Brazilian Formula Ford, driving an outdated car but still took 3rd place in the final standings. It was clear that he outgrew local boundaries and he was ready for new quests.
Departure from Brazil and two titles in two years
In 1990, Barrichello had to leave Brazil to pursue his greatest dream of becoming Formula 1 driver. Short of money, he went to Europe alone and had to overcome many obstacles. As he was underage at the time and unable to get a driver’s license of his own, he had to use father’s driving license because his father and Rubinho sharing the same name and were both born on the same day, May 23. Despite all troubles, Rubens impressed in his first year across the ocean. He has won the title in the Formula Opel Lotus Euroseries and also had a stint in Formula Vauxhall Lotus, all with Draco Racing team.
The youngest ever British F3 champion
Just as he has adapted to the new environment in Italy, the country of his ancestors, Barrichello had to make a new change in 1991. He moved to the UK to compete in British Formula 3, driving for West Surrey Racing team. If he suffered to adapt to the new lifestyle, Rubens easily adapted to the new competition. He has won the title that year, winning 4 out of 16 races and having another 4 podium finishes. Barrichello became a youngest ever champion of the series and his record was beaten by his compatriot Nelson Piquet Jr in 2004.
After he has won two titles in two years, Barrichello was invited to take a part in European Formula 3000 Championship. Return to Italy was good for the Brazilian who felt more comfortable at the Apennines. He became a driver of Il Barone Rampante team and had a very good season in which he finished third overall and caught the eye of big guns from the top racing series.
Start of the Formula 1 career with Jordan team
In January of 1993, Barrichello awaited his big day. He was called by Jordan F1 team to make tests at Silverstone. The things went smoothly and the Brazilian quickly made a deal with Jordan team, despite having other offers, too. It was dream come true for Rubens who managed to score two points in his rookie season after he has finished 5th in the Grand Prix of Japan.
After he has scored his first goal, winning the points, Barrichello’s next aim was to climb on the podium in 1994. Still as a driver of Jordan team, the Brazilian reached the goal in the second race of the season, Pacific Grand Prix at Aida Circuit in Japan, where he won the third place, behind Michael Schumacher and Gerhard Berger. Until the end of the season, Rubinho finished fourth in the Great Britain, Italy, Portugal and Australia, scoring a total of 19 points. That was enough for the respectable 6th position in the Drivers’ championship.
Hard crash during 'Black weekend' of Formula 1 at Imola
One of the moments which Barrichello will remember is definitely the huge crash he has survived at San Marino Grand Prix at Imola. He has hit the curb in a way that threw him onto the tire blockage. He had been diagnosed with a head trauma, right arm fracture, severe contusions on his spinal cord and on the right side of the thorax, a fractured nose and face, as well as mouth swelling.
Video - Barrichello's horrible crash at Imola
The year of 1995 wasn’t so good for Rubens, even after he has scored his best race result, finishing 2nd at the Canadian Grand Prix. At the end of the season, Barrichello was 11th after he has failed to finish 9 out of 17 races. The following year was his last with Jordan team and was a much better than the previous one. Rubens scored points in seven races to finish 8th at the end of the year.
Move to Stewart team was a mishit
Before the end of 1996 season, Barrichello accepted an offer from Stewart team believing that they will be competitive as the team had a huge backing by Ford. But, the truth was that the car was very unreliable. Rubinho in those circumstances finished only three out of 17 races but managed to claim the 2nd place at Monaco Grand Prix, losing by Michael Schumacher. If that year wasn’t successful on the track, out of it was very nice because Rubens married Silvana who was his support and backing throughout the rest of career.
The season of 1998 was just a slightly better. The car still was unreliable, but Barrichello pulled maximum out of it to finish twice at fifth place. Huge improvement followed in 1999 when Barrichello regularly won points but still couldn’t take a win. He was third thrice, finished 7th in the points and earned a contract with Ferrari where he drove alongside Michael Schumacher. As he said once, he wanted to drive for a team which can allow him to win the races and Ferrari definitely was one of those teams.
Racing with Ferrari
The pressure was bigger now but Barrichello fought it well. His driving skills were fully expressed and he regularly finished in Top 5. More importantly, he finally won the race, the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim. That success was even bigger knowing that he has started from 18th position. He also finished in second place in four races, four times he was third and claimed 4th place in the Formula 1 World championship.
Rubens’ second year with Ferrari ended without a win, but he has progressed to 3rd position in the Drivers’ championship after finishing as a runner-up in five races and also having five 3rd places. In 2001, Barrichello became a father for the first time. "Eduardo’s birth has been an event that has brought me a lot of peace of mind to continue fighting for my goals," said Barrichello remembering of those days. Four years later, Rubens became a father for the second time after another boy, named Fernando, was born.
Barrichello twice was Formula 1 championship runner-up
The year of 2002 was the best in Barrichello’s career, even after the start of the season was horrible. Rubens was forced to retire from the opening three races, but when he switched to the new Ferrari F2002 the things improved significantly. Barrichello won four races that year (Nurburgring, Hungaroring, Monza and Indianapolis), finished second at Imola, A1 Ring, Silverstone, Spa and Suzuka to take vice-champion title while his teammate Michael Schumacher became the champion.
After finishing fourth in the championship in 2003 and taking two wins (Silverstone and Suzuka), Rubens in 2004 again was the championship runner-up. In that campaign, the Brazilian was much closer to the champion Schumacher in the points. Rubinho won the races in Italy and China and had plenty of second places confirming that he is definitely one of the best drivers of that time.
The following year wasn’t that good as Ferrari’s F2005 couldn’t parry to Renault and McLaren. Barrichello had three podiums in 2005 and finished 6th in the standings. That was his last year with Scuderia from Maranello which has won five Constructors’ titles with Barrichello in the team. He needed a new challenge and had a wish to improve things he already had.
Disappointing results with Honda and flash with BAR team
In 2006, Rubens Barrichello became the driver of the ambitious Honda F1 team. In his first year with a new team, Rubinho had many Top 10 finishes and took 7th position in the championship with an ambition to improve results in 2007. Unfortunately, the following year was a total disaster. Barrichello hasn’t scored a single point even after he has finished 15 out of 17 races that year.
Honda team ceased F1 operations after 2008 in which Rubens improved his results. He even finished third at Silverstone, scored points in Monaco and Canada, but the future was uncertain. Luckily, Honda’s Chief of Engineering Ross Brawn took over the team for 2009 campaign and that proved to be a very good season. Jenson Button won the title for the team while Barrichello finished third after he has won races in Valencia and Monza. Those wins were Rubens’ last triumphs in the most popular racing series.
Driving for Williams was dream come true
His last two years in Formula 1 Barrichello spent with Williams, the team he had admired since he was a kid. The first year with the British team wasn’t perfect but still there were some good moments. Rubens earned points in 10 races and at the end of the season he took 10th place. In 2011, his last season in Formula 1, Barrichello couldn’t score more than 4 points and finished 17th overall what was a pretty inglorious end of the Formula 1 career after 19 years. During his career, Barrichello started 322 Formula 1 races what is still the record.
Stock Car Brasil - first title after 23 years
Retiring from Formula 1 wasn’t a retirement from racing. Rubens signed with KV Racing Technology to compete in IndyCar Series. In his only season in the series, the Brazilian did relatively well and finished 12th in the standings after he has scored 289 points.
After sting in the American open wheels series, Rubens returned home to Brazil and entered popular Stock Car series. As a driver of Full Time Sports team’s Chevrolet , Barrichello was crowned as the series champion in 2014. That was his first title after 23 years.
Overall podium at 2016 Daytona 24 Hours
Rubens still competes in the Brasilian Stock Car. In the meantime, he competed occasionally in sports car endurance events, making a debut at Daytona 24 Hours in 2013 with Dener Motorsport and a debut at Le Mans 24 Hours in 2017 with Racing Team Nederland.
He raced two more times at Daytona 24h, not finishing the race in 2015 with Starworks Motorsports and reaching podium in 2016 with Wayne Taylor Racing. He finished in the second place in the #10 Chevrolet Corvette DP, sharing a car with Max Angelelli, Jordan Taylor and Ricky Taylor.