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Numbers make the man - Barrichello prepares to rewrite history 06 Feb 2008

Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Honda Racing F1 Team.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Chinese Grand Prix, Practice Day, Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China, Friday, 5 October 2007 Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari arrives on the grid for his final race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 18, Brazilian Grand Prix, Race, Interlagos, Brazil, 22 October 2006 Riccardo Patrese celebrates his first and final victory of the year. Japanese Grand prix, Suzuka, 25 October 1992. World ©  Sutton. Ross Brawn (GBR) Honda Team Principal speaks with Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Honda Formula One Testing, Day Three, Valencia, Spain, Wednesday 23 January 2008. World © Bumstead/Sutton

In a sport where speeds, times and results count for everything, statistics are king and for many fans it’s these finer points that make up the very essence of Formula One racing.

And if statistics are king, then the king of statistics has to be Michael Schumacher, who set more fastest laps (76), scored more championship points (1369), clinched more victories (91) and won more titles (7) than any other driver in the history of the sport. Schumacher was so dominant, in fact, that when he retired only one feat still eluded him - that of longevity.

Before hanging up his Ferrari race overalls for the last time at Interlagos in 2006, the German had attended 250 Grands Prix. Unquestionably an impressive tally, but one which remained overshadowed by that of Riccardo Patrese, who entered 257 Grands Prix between 1977 to 1993. Patrese, however, won’t be top of the heap for much longer.

This season Rubens Barrichello is expected to knock the Italian off the top spot and become Formula One racing’s most experienced driver. Having already attended 253 Grands Prix - and with another season driving for Honda ahead of him - Barrichello will set a new record this year.

Exactly when the Brazilian should celebrate the milestone, however, is more difficult to pin down and the 36 year-old, who is believed to have commissioned a special helmet for the event, remains unsure at which event he should mark the occasion. Statistically speaking he will better Patrese’s record of 257 at May’s Turkish Grand Prix. However, the age-old debate over whether it’s Grand Prix entries or actual race starts that count is causing no end of headaches for Barrichello and his team.

Out of 257 entries, Patrese raced in only 256, after failing to start the 1979 Argentinean Grand Prix for Arrows. Schumacher, in comparison, started 248 of his 250 Grands Prix, missing the 1996 French race after his engine blew on the parade lap and failing to restart the 1999 British Grand Prix after breaking his leg during a first-lap accident.

Barrichello’s stats are slightly more complicated, with the Sao Paolo native failing to start four of his 253 Grand Prix, most notably the doomed 1994 San Marino round where he suffered a serious accident during Friday practice. With this in mind, Barrichello will beat Patrese’s number of race starts when he leaves the grid for June’s French event. Confusing yes, or perhaps just a reason to celebrate twice.

One thing is certain, Barrichello’s ‘reign’ is likely to last a season or two at least. His closest rival in the ‘elder statesmen’ stakes is Red Bull’s David Coulthard, currently more than 20 races behind, on 229 entries and 228 starts.