Rubens Barrichello: Celebrating 19 Years In Formula 1

His last victory in the sport came at Monza, 2009, in the Brawn
I have had an interesting “relationship” with Rubens Barrichello as a Formula 1 driver.  You see, I became interested in the Formula 1 experience when I was living in Spain in 2005.  The country was absolutely alight with Fernando Alonso’s path to a World Championship in a Renault against the might and history of Schumacher’s red demon Ferrari.  Granted the true battle was with McLaren’s Raikonnen, but with 7 titles, nobody ever counted out the German and his prancing horse.  Barrichello played the Fisichella role in the Ferrari team, quick in his own right, but always the bridesmaid playing second fiddle…or something like that. My disdain for Schumy somehow grew to include anyone wearing red.  Jean Todt, Ross Brawn, and their band of merry men became the scapegoats on which I hung the blame of the decline of a sport I had never heard of prior to that year.  This disdain was not held back when it came to Mr. Barrichello.
The red sea of mediocrity. Forever in Schumy's shadow.
As I became a student of the sport, however, I quickly learned how vital Rubens was to the world of Formula 1.  His story, and the story of F1 have been intertwined for the vast majority of my life.  His important days are the important days in F1 past, as well as the present.  The diminutive Brazilian has now lived 19 years inextricably linked with the highest rung of the international open wheel ladder.  The news came out yesterday that Williams Grand Prix had neglected to renew Barichello’s contract in favor of promoting youngster Bruno Senna (now there’s a bout of irony for you…).  One side of me argues that Williams needs nothing more than an injection of young talent combined with an injection of zeros found on Senna’s checks.  The other side takes a more nostalgic approach.  Rubens is not “past his prime”, he is “experienced”.  He could do a team with more money and a better car a lot of good.
Racing for Sir Jackie at Monaco. Taking the faulty Stewart to a second place finish.
Eddie Jordan gave the kid his big break in Formula 1 at the ripe age of twenty.  Driving for Jordan in 1993, Rubens did a bang up job of proving he belonged in F1.  Proving to be exceedingly quick is all well and good, but when the car fails you in eight grand prix in a year, you aren’t going anywhere.  Reliability plagued the Jordan through his entire stay with the team, and yet, when the car stayed together, Rubinho managed to collect all the points he could, even netting the team a pair of podiums before leaving for upstart Stewart Grand Prix. The newly minted Stewart Ford would prove to be even less reliable for Rubens, netting him 27 retirements in the following three seasons.  In 1997, when he did manage to wrestle the car to the finish in Monaco, he made it work, scoring a second place in the municipality.  1998 would be fruitless, finishing no higher than fifth all year.  1999 would add a trio of third place trophies to Rubens’ mantlepiece, and little more.
Wrestling the terrible 2008 Honda around Magny Cours
Following his best year at Stewart, the team folded to become Jaguar, and Rubens was left without a drive. Jaguar’s new team boss, Bobby Rahal, hired Ferrari’s #2 driver, Eddie Irvine, away.  With Barrichello recently unemployed, and Ferrari having a recently vacated seat, the fit was perfect.  A match made in heaven, Barrichello sat under Schumachers tutelage for a six season stretch.  Finishing second to Schumy twice in the drivers standings, scoring nine grands prix victories, and learning much about racecraft, Barrichello departed the team at the end of 2005.  Growing increasingly tired of being a number 2 driver, even at a team as good as Ferrari, Rubens decided to try his hand at being the de facto number 1 driver at Honda.

Likely not his best decision, Rubens’ stint at Honda was fraught with what some call the downfall of Japanese management finding a way not to work.  The Honda style of managing a Formula 1 team is very different from that engendered by a Ferrari or a McLaren.  Throwing more money at the problem does not make it go away, and they found that out the hard way.  After British American Tobacco left the team in 2007, Honda had no corporate sponsors and was forced to rethink sponsorship in F1.  “Sponsoring” themselves, Honda continued with the effort through the end of 2008 when they lost interest and pulled out in the interest of “green initiatives”.  Having already invested heavily in the new rules of 2009, the team was effectively gifted to team leader Ross Brawn in order to make the problem go away. 2009 was likely Rubens’ best year in Formula 1.  He was happy, he was competitive, he was winning, and he was loving life.  Many times, he was not quite as quick as teammate Jenson Button (who would have thought those words would ever be typed prior to 2009?), though many other times, the Brazilian came out higher on the time sheets.  It was a great title fight, and it went down to the wire.  Barrichello barely lost out to Sebastian Vettel for second in the championship as the Red Bull team got progressively quicker over the course of the season, while the Brawn chassis was relatively stagnant.  Jenson Button, coasting on six early season victories won the title in Rubens’ sister car.

When Ross Brawn sold his controlling interest in the team to Mercedes Benz, the Brawn team disbanded.  Button defected to McLaren, possibly the best decision of his career, while Rubens moved to Williams, likely the worst decision of his.  The former championship team is now a shell of it’s former self.  In 2010, Williams scored 6th position in the teams championship on only 69 points, up to that point, it was one of the teams least competitive seasons.  If 2010 was bad, 2011 was worse.  Barrichello teamed with paid driver “Nobody’s-Faster-Than-Pastor” Maldonado this year, and the pair scored a grand total of 5 points.

I feel a little bit like the teacher in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”.  FOUR?  How can you have scored just four points Rubens?

Rubens leaves the world of Formula 1 with little more than a hopeful tweet “twitter friends..I won’t be driving the Williams car this year.I wish my friend @BSenna all the best..the future is wide open”.  Your future certainly is wide open.  I would much rather see his talents gracing the seats of sportscars than tumbling down the Formula 1 grid and ending up in a team like HRT.  You are better than that Rubens, and you know it.  So long, and thanks for all the…everything. As a reminder of better days, here is a little video of Rubinho setting the track record at Monza.  The record, set in 2004 with a lap of 1 minute and 21 seconds, still stands today.  That’s right, Rubens holds the track record at one of the most impressive circuits in the world. [youtube][/youtube]

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