Has brilliant Barrichello bowed out for good? 19 Jan 2012
Brazilian loyalties were torn asunder earlier this week. After the news that Bruno Senna had secured a drive with Williams there was celebration but also commiseration within the South American country. Sennas opportunity at the British team means that compatriot Rubens Barrichello - a great friend of Brunos late uncle Ayrton - is left without a Formula One seat for the first time in two decades.
After 19 seasons and 326 Grands Prix, Brazils veteran hero had been forced to make way for his countrys brightest hope - a theatrical twist, which could spell the end of Barrichellos lengthy career. Since first gracing the grid back in 1993, Barrichello has remained a constant presence in Formula One racing.
Born within earshot of Brazils legendary Interlagos circuit, he was in the right place to fulfil his schoolboy dreams. After tiring of jumping over the tracks walls to watch races for free, a young Barrichello began to nag his father to allow him to compete. In exchange for studying harder at school, Barrichello Senior eventually agreed to his sons demands.
From then Barrichello scarcely looked back. After finishing third in his first kart race, second in his second and first in his third, it seemed his progression through the karting ranks was as natural as his talent. Over the next eight years, Barrichello racked up five Brazilian titles, was named the 1986 South American champion and came ninth in the 1987 world championship - beating Juan Pablo Montoyas father at the finish.
After attracting the attention of Ayrton Senna, Barrichello secured some much-needed funding. But friends in high places could only help so much and it was Barrichellos growing reputation which brought him a Formula Ford drive in 1989. The following year he left his family behind to move to Europe, winning the 1990 Opel Lotus Euroseries and then, aged just 19, the 1991 British Formula Three championship. After finishing third in the 1992 Formula 3000 series, all that remained for the ambitious Brazilian was Formula One racing.
His test with Jordan in 1993 went so well the squad offered him a race seat and though he retired nine times in his debut season, Barrichello beat the odds to score two championship points - a worthy entrance. The next year he stayed with the team, but his serious accident at Imola, combined with the tragic death of friend and mentor Senna the same weekend, knocked his confidence. He did, however, score his first podium finish that season with a third place at the Pacific Grand Prix.
Though he stayed with Jordan for another two years, his rate of progress slowed and he lost his next big thing mantle to new rookie Eddie Irvine. In 1997, with very little regret, Barrichello was usurped by the incoming Ralf Schumacher and left Jordan for new start-up Stewart. He now had the hopes of Brazil resting on his shoulders - a win was what he wanted.
On a three-year deal, Barrichello was there for the long haul and keen to make a name for himself and the new team. Great qualifying performances, however, yielded little as the Stewart proved highly unreliable in race trim. In all, Barrichello finished just two Grands Prix in his first season with Stewart, though one did earn him six points - a spectacular second place in Monaco.
As he rode out of the rest of his contract, Barrichello was rewarded with very little in terms of pace or reliability. His last year with the Stewart team was the best in terms of points, but with no sign of a win he was growing impatient. Frustrated and, at 26, increasingly at risk of missing the boat, Barrichello made the move to Ferrari for 2000 to team up with Michael Schumacher - a decision many believed would be catastrophic for his credibility.
Of course, being paired with Schumacher was no level playing field but Barrichello and the German worked well together. Yes, he struggled to match Schumachers pace and often fell victim to team orders, but Barrichellos switch to Ferrari did pay some dividends when looked at dispassionately. In 2000, he won his first Grand Prix, in Germany - a fitting reward for a good drive. It was an achievement he would repeat a further eight times in his six years in scarlet overalls.
As a Ferrari driver, Barrichellos races often seemed to be dictated by Schumachers requirements (like at the 2001 Austrian Grand Prix, when he was forced to hand over the lead with less than 25 laps to go), but at the same time he was rewarded with a championship-winning car and a points haul he had only ever dreamt of at Stewart - twice he finished runner-up in the drivers championship. Overall, Barrichello adjusted well as Schumachers number two and, when allowed, flourished.
Barrichello did, however, eventually tire of the thankless task of playing second fiddle. With Renault in the ascendancy, 2005 was a tough year for Ferrari and Barrichello headed to Honda for 2006. Though he initially struggled in his new surroundings, he found his feet in time to clinch a fourth place at Monaco and seventh in the drivers standings. Despite finishing 26 points adrift of younger team mate Jenson Button, Barrichello remained very much on the money in qualifying and was expecting a brighter 2007.
However, fundamental flaws in the design of Honda's troubled RA107 conspired against him and for the first time in his career he finished a Formula One season without a point. Things improved slightly in 2008, but not much. His 11 points were thanks largely to an excellent wet-weather drive at Silverstone and when Honda withdrew from Formula One at the end of the year, it looked like time had finally been called on Barrichellos F1 career. But in an unexpected twist, a management buyout of the team put him back on the grid for 2009 with Brawn GP.
It was a new start, and an opportunity that he grabbed with both hands, especially when he was in the cockpit of the grids fastest car. Two race wins and a further four podiums saw him push team mate Jenson Button all the way as the pair battled it out for the drivers' title. At the close, it was Button who claimed the championship but a philosophical Barrichello didn't feel hard done by and instead thanked his team for returning him to winning ways.
And while he may have ultimately lost out to the Briton, and 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 first year with the British team, with his fourth-place finish in Valencia an excellent reward for his efforts. 2011, however, was much more difficult with the FW33's performances mediocre at best. He failed to qualify in the top ten all season and finished in the points just twice.
As the season reached its climax it looked increasingly likely that Williams would opt to replace him with younger and better-funded drivers, but Barrichello remained characteristically positive, forgoing any end-of-career celebrations and even using TV appearances in the paddock to tell the world - and paddock movers and shakers - that his appetite for success was as great as ever.
While ultimately this hard sell didnt persuade Williams to re-sign him, the 39 year-old remains unfailingly passionate about motorsport and unfailingly optimistic about his place in it. But with just one vacant seat left at HRT, it looks likely Barrichello will be absent from the paddock for the first time in 20 years. One certainty, however, is that he will continue racing. On his official Twitter page on Wednesday he said racing is in my blood, so followers and fans can surely expect to see the name Barrichello on an entry list for another series sometime soon.
Any grid would be lucky to have him.
For tickets and travel to 2012 Formula One races, click here.
For Formula One and F1 team merchandise, click here.