Good-bye Barrichello? The Brazilian's past, present and future 26 Nov 2011
It's 1993. Bill Clinton has been inaugurated as the 42nd President of the United States. Jurassic Park is the top-grossing film in cinemas. Apartheid is being gradually dismantled in South Africa. The very first internet search engines are being devised. And in Formula One, Williams are dominating with their innovative FW15, whilst young Brazilian hopeful Rubens Barrichello finds his feet at Jordan.
Now fast forward to 2011. Barack Obama is the first black President of the United States. The last of eight Harry Potter films is the top-grossing film. Google processes over a billion internet search requests a day. And in F1, Red Bull are dominating with their innovative RB7 whilst Brazilian stalwart Rubens Barrichello struggles to get the best from his Williams.
Nineteen seasons and 325 Grands Prix may have come and gone, 10 new world champions may have been crowned and countless others have tried to make a name for themselves, but Barrichello has remained - a constant presence in Formula One. We take a look at some of his highlights, lowlights and what's in store for the veteran Brazilian after this weekend's race...
After winning the Formula Opel Lotus Euroseries championship in 1990 and the British F3 title in 1991, Barrichello tested and then signed for the Jordan team and made his debut at the (now defunct) South African Grand Prix. He beat the odds to score his first points with fifth place in Japan. A second season with Jordan was a hit and miss affair. Deeply affected by a serious accident and the death of his friend Ayrton Senna over the same Imola weekend, he nevertheless scored his first pole position in Belgium and his first podium finish with a third place at the Pacific Grand Prix. Two more seasons with Eddie Jordan's squad saw him rapidly overshadowed by new kid on the block Eddie Irvine and he was eventually replaced by Ralf Schumacher at the end of 1996.
After being ousted from Jordan Barrichello made the brave move to new start-up Stewart. Although he kept qualifying well, the car proved largely disastrous on a Sunday and he finished just two races all season thanks to woeful reliability. The cloud's only silver lining was his spectacular second-place finish in a wet Monaco race. Though the following season garnered much less, he was back on the podium on three occasions (third places at San Marino, France and Europe) in 1999 to make it his best season for the team.
Itchy feet plagued Barrichello once again for 2000 and, impatient for his first victory, he moved to Ferrari as second driver, replacing Irvine alongside Michael Schumacher. Although he struggled to match his illustrious team mate, he did manage to rack up his inaugural win that same season in Germany after a punchy fight from 18th on the grid. It remains one of his finest performances. The following five years at the Italian team brought Barrichello more points and wins (a further eight) than he could have imagined at any other team and he twice finished second in the drivers' standings. But Schumacher ruled the roost and more often than not Barrichello's races were dictated by the demands of the German. This was never more apparent than at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix where, despite dominating the race, he was asked to move aside on the final lap to boost Schumacher's championship hopes. There were bright spots, such as the 2003 British round where he kept his head in very tricky wet conditions to take a memorable victory. But by 2005 he had tired of the Faustian pact he had made and with an ascendant Renault pushing Ferrari down the order, looked to pastures new.
For 2006 Barrichello decided to head to Honda to partner Jenson Button. Though he initially struggled in his new surroundings - and new machinery - he eventually found some form and clinched a fourth-place finish at Monaco and a not-too-shabby seventh in the drivers' standings, albeit 26 points adrift of his younger team mate. But the team's 2007 car, the RA107, proved a massive disappointment and, through pretty much no fault of his own, Barrichello failed to score a single point. He fared little better in 2008 although his superb third place at another wet Silverstone race boosted his points tally. After a disappointing season and amidst worldwide financial uncertainty, Honda withdrew from the sport and Barrichello's future looked in doubt.
All was not lost, however. A management buyout saw Honda become Brawn for 2010 and an innovative design saw what would have been the Japanese manufacturer's RA109 become the grid's strongest, fastest car. Once again Barrichello was in contention for a drivers' title, but despite his two wins and further four podiums, it was team mate Button who claimed the championship. A philosophical Barrichello didn't feel hard done by and instead thanked his team for returning him to winning ways.
Although Brawn didn't want to keep him in their line-up after they were bought out by Mercedes, the 2009 season had worked wonders to revitalize Barrichellos reputation in the paddock. So much so that Williams hired him to join their race line-up for the 2010 season. As well as becoming the first man to start more than 300 Grands Prix, Barrichello enjoyed a consistent season with the British team, with his fourth-place finish in Valencia excellent reward for his efforts. 2011, however, has been much more difficult. The FW33's performances have been mediocre at best. He has failed to qualify in the top ten all season and has finished in the points just twice. With Williams purportedly looking to sign Kimi Raikkonen, and several much younger (and well-funded) drivers also looking to take his place, Barrichello's time at the forefront of motor racing may be up. The 39 year-old, however, remains unfailingly passionate about the sport and unfailingly optimistic about his place in it. He is certainly working very hard behind the scenes to secure his Formula One future and his legion of fans - and much of the paddock - will be hoping he manages it.
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