And now for something completely different, this is a special episode for the Feijoada Friday/Samba Sunday series. Instead of telling the history behind a car today I’m telling the history of one of Brazil’s greatest racing drivers: Rubens Barrichello.
The idea for this post came when DeAgostini introduced a new collection of Brazilian racecars from our Stock Car championiship. But, in the same sense that neither NASCAR nor DTM stock cars are really stock (pôr em itálico), our racecars are radically different from the truly stock models, with crazy aero appendages and featherlight fiberglass bodies. It wasn’t always like this. The Stock Car Brasil series started in 1977, and used to be strinkingly similar to their “civilian” counterparts until the early 2000's, when new fiberglass bodies began to be designed with aerodynamics in mind.
But enough of Stock Car history for now. If you’re interested, I can prepare another special episode for this on the future, when I buy some more of those racecar models. This is a post for Barrichello’s legacy!
Coming from a family involved with motorsports, it isn’t hard to understand why Rubens chose this carreer. His uncle is the owner of a South American Formula 3 team and his cousins of a kart team. He got his first kart when he was only six, and by his own words he could only “play with it” after school and only if he had good grades! Fair enough, in my opinion.
On his first official races he got excellent results. On the first, second and third races he finished third, second and first, respectively. Not bad at all! Such good results right on his first three official races were what he needed to get support from his parents to dedicate himself to karting. On the next years, still as a child, Barrichello raced karts for 8 years, won the Brazilian and São Paulo’s championiships five times and got three second places on these championiships.
Still on karting, he earned international recognition by being the South American kart champion in 1986 and achieving a 9th place of the kart world championiship of 1987. When he raced on the world championiship he was tutored by Ayrton Senna himself. Two years later, in 1989, Barrichello made his debut on formula cars on the Florianópolis (where I live!!!) road circuit, winning his very first race:
He almost could not race here in ‘89. As Rubens says on his homepage, his family only had money to buy an used Formula Ford, a not a very good one. When the car was being transported to Florianópolis for the race by the series administration it somehow fell from the truck and got completely destroyed! This unfortunate event being not responsibility of Barrichello’s team, the event organization gave him a brand new racecar. On his first year racing Formula Ford he managed a very good 3rd place!
Rubens greatest dream was to race on F1, so in 1990 he left everything in Brazil and went to Europe to race in Formula Opel, by Team Draco. Not surprisingly, he won his first championiship, with six races won, seven pole positions and seven fastest laps! Being a rookie and winning a championiship on his first year, he was invited to race on the British Formula 3 by the West Surrey Racing team in 1991, also winning this championiship. On this year a certain David Coulthard also raced Formula 3s, so it was the first of many times Rubens and Coulthard battled for positions on track, a rivalry (on the good sense) that would repeat itself years later on Formula 1.
Not only he won the 1991 British Formula 3 championiship, he was also the youngest driver to ever win this championiship. This record was beaten in 2004 by yet another Brazilian race driver, Nelson Piquet Jr.
With such an impressive carreer start with open wheelers, in 1992 he was invited by the IL Barone Rampante team to race on Formula 3000. With a plethora of problems in this car, including even changing the engine supplier in the middle of the season, Rubens managed to squeeze a 3rd place overall with a car that wasn’t as competitive as the others.
Finally, in 1993, with only 20 years he achieved his dream, and got an invitation to race on Formula 1 by the Jordan Team, with his first race on the Kyalami circuit. A bit shadowed by the amount of mechanical failures of his Jordan car, with 8 breakdowns in 16 races, he won the Indoor Trophy, a special event on the Bologna track with an indoor race. On his first season on Formula 1 he managed to score two points in the Japan Grand Prix, not shabby at all for a rookie on a car with so many failures!
Barrichello raced for Jordan for the next few years, until 1996. But right on the next year, in ‘94, he got his first podium finish with a 3rd place in the Aida circuit, the second race of the year and only his 18th F1 race!
His next race wasn’t good: Rubens Barrichello suffered his first serious accident, in Imola. He crashed into the tire wall and rolled twice, fracturing his skull, right arm and nose. He says on his biography that one of his fondest memories of this weekend was to be with Senna on his room when he woke up at the hospital.
Due to the injuries, he wasn’t in condition to race that weekend, so he watched the race on TV. This was exactly that dreaded Imola race that took the life of both Senna and Ratzenberger. Rubens went to Europe, as we say in Brazil, only with his face and his courage (com a cara e com a coragem), and Senna was his safe harbour, his mentor on F1. Even with the trauma of his first serious crash and the death of his mentor, he got excellent results on the next races and finished the championiship in sixth.
Fast forward to 1997. The contract with Jordan had ended, and the negotiations with Benneton weren’t going very well, and Barrichello seriously considered moving to Indycar. However, Jackie Stewart founded the Stewart team, and invited Rubens to be the first driver and to help develop the new car. It would be a whole new world, the Stewart team was bigger and more well funded than Jordan, and they had support from Ford themselves.
In theory. Ok, the car ran fast, but broke in 14 of the 17 races of that year. Still, Barrichello got a 3rd place in Argentina and a 2nd in Monaco. ‘98 wasn’t much better, with a 5th place on Canada being his best result of the year.
But, oh boy, the next year. Stewark worked out the car, and with a reliable machine Rubens Barrichello got three podium finishes (3rd in Imola, Magny-Cours and Nürburgring), a pole position on France and 23 laps in 1st place in Interlagos. His excellent carreer up to this point caught the attention of the big dogs, and both McLaren and Ferrari offered millionary contracts to hire him.
He was at his peak. With what was easily the best car of the season, Barrichello consistently got great results, getting two vice-championiships. His first victory came in Hockenheimring, on his first season with Ferrari, under a heavy rainfall. In the next year, 2001, Rubens and Silvana got his first son, Eduardo (in my opinion, a great name, and I don’t think that only because my name’s Eduardo too!). His second son, Fernando, came in 2005, which was also his last year racing for Ferrari.
During this period, Rubens got nine victories, 25 second places and 21 thirds, an amazing result showing a rock solid consistency as a racing driver! In 2006 he was hired by Honda, to race side-by-side with Jenson Button. 2007 was a year to forget, the first season where Barrichello didn’t scored any point. 2008 was a bit better, with a single podium, again under rain (Barrichello was a master in driving in the rain) on the British GP.
But with the financial crisis of 2008 and with Honda retiring from F1, 2009 started in uncertainty. Fortunately, Ross Brawn assumed what remained of Honda and kept both Barrichello and Button as the drivers. That new Brawn car was a monster! On the first race of the year both Brawn cars finished 1st and 2nd, and on this year he scored two 1st places, three 2nds, and a third, finishing 3rd overall.
Between 2010 and 2011, Barrichello raced for Williams, a team he admired since he was young. Williams, however, was developing a new Cosworth-powered car, and Rubens did good part of the development work hands-on, only managing two 4th place finishes. In 2011, still with a bad car, he scored 4 of the only 5 points Williams scored that year.
New opportunities appeared for 2012. After some tests with the KV Racing team and with a little help from his close friend Tony Kanaan, Rubens Barrichello was hired by this team. Again, proving his consistency, on his first and only year at Indycar he finished in 12th, better than some other great drivers like Takuma Sato (14th), Justin Wilson (15th), Marco Andretti (16th), Mike Conway (21st) and Bourdais (25th).
Later this year, the confirmed his participation on the last race of the Stock Car championiship, by the Medley Full Time Sports team, racing with the car number 111. In december, Medley announced Barrichello would race the entire 2013 season of the series.
No victories in 2013, but a podium with the second place on the Salvador race. Totally understandable, after so many years racing with openwheelers, the transition to stock cars isn’t so straightforward. His first win would come in 2014, on the Corrida do Milhão (Million Race, in reference to the price of R$1 million, a little less than $300k USD).
It’s often said that a winning a race gives you the front page, but consistency gives you the championiship. Rubens proved this once more by winning the 2014 championiship with a 3rd place in Curitiba. In 2015 and 2016, still racing by Medley, Rubens got a 4th and a 3rd place on the seasons.
For me Barrichello is one of the best, if not THE best Brazilian racing driver that ever was. With an impressive carreer, he got great results anywhere he raced: Formula 3, Formula Ford, Formula 3000, Formula 1, Indycars, Stock Cars, kart... You name it. And did all this with that unbreakable smile and good will.
And that’s it! I hope you liked this special episode. Talking a bit about the model, it’s a 1/43 model of his Medley Full Time Sports Chevrolet Sonic, from the 2016 season, from a new Stock Car collection by DeAgostini. They nailed the details on this one. The decals are perfect, and the bazillion aerodynamic appendages are spot on! So, enjoy some extra photos!
Por hoje é só, bom final de semana e se cuidem!!!
If you’re having problem with those nasty triangular French screws, I found that you can unscrew those with a flat screwdriver: