At the end of 2003, Bernie Ecclestone was asked to name Formula One’s biggest stars. Michael Schumacher, then a six-time world champion, was at the top of his list and Kimi Raikkonen was second. Next up was Rubens Barrichello.
“Rubens is a good driver and he’s been around a long time,” said Ecclestone. “The fans like him because he symbolises longevity.”
Back then Rubens had completed 180 races: way short of the milestone he celebrates at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix. On Sunday he becomes the sport’s first triple centurion when he makes his 300th grand prix start.
“When I started in Formula One,” says Barrichello, “I never dreamt I’d still be here 300 races later. I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved; it’s been an amazing journey. I’m enjoying my job more than ever with AT&T Williams, so here’s to the next 100 races!”
Technically, this weekend’s race is Rubens’ 301st appearance at a grand prix, but he doesn’t include the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix in his count. He didn’t qualify at Imola ’94 because he fractured his arm and broke his nose in a hefty accident during Friday practice.
Except for this one anomaly, Rubens has been a permanent fixture on the grid for 18 seasons. During that time, he’s knocked up an impressive array of statistics: 68 podiums, 11 race wins, 17 fastest laps, he’s spent 869 laps in the lead (which works out at 4252kms/2642 miles) and he’s attained a total of 637 World Championship points.
As Bernie suggests, he symbolises longevity. Here are the high points of his career to date.
1993: Jordan Grand Prix
- Rubens makes his F1 debut at the age of 20 in South Africa. He immediately demonstrates his aptitude for the top echelon by qualifying 14th, one place ahead of Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari.
- He is on course to finish second in the wet European Grand Prix – only his third race – until his Jordan runs out of fuel with six laps to go. “It would have been wonderful to be on the podium with Ayrton,” he says.
- Fifth place in the Japanese Grand Prix gives Rubens the first points of his F1 career.
1994: Jordan Grand Prix
- Third place in the Pacific Grand Prix gives Rubens his first F1 podium. “The look of pleasure in Ayrton’s eyes when I saw him after the race almost meant more to me than the podium itself,” he says.
- Desperation at Imola. A practice accident forces Rubens to sit out a tragic weekend in which Roland Ratzenberger and his mentor Ayrton Senna are killed. “Ayrton’s was the first funeral I’d ever been to,” he says.
- Rubens takes his first pole position at Spa-Francorchamps, scene of his 300th grand prix this weekend.
1995: Jordan Grand Prix
- Just the one podium finish this year, a second place at the Canadian Grand Prix.
1996: Jordan Grand Prix
- A front row start in Brazil is the highlight of a disappointing year, at the end of which Rubens decides to leave Jordan. “My time at Jordan taught me how to develop a boy’s speed into a man’s speed.”
1997: Stewart Grand Prix
- Rubens shines in the wet at Monaco to finish second, giving the team its first podium finish. “Rubens is like a fine wine,” says Jackie Stewart. “He keeps getting better and better.”
1998: Stewart Grand Prix
- Two fifth places (Spain and Canada) are the highlights of a disappointing year. “That Stewart was the worst car I’d ever driven and was instrumental in me leaving the team at the end of 1999,” says Rubens.
1999: Stewart Grand Prix
- 100 Not Out in Monaco.
- Pole position at Magny Cours results in Jackie Stewart giving Rubens a new Rolex as a present. “He threw his old one at me as he drove down the pitlane,” says Jackie.
2000: Ferrari - Rubens wins his first grand prix in Germany after out-witting his rivals in a wet-dry race. “I have two ‘best’ races in F1,” says Rubens. “They are this first win in Germany 2000 and my last race for AT&T Williams in Hungary. I got the maximum from the car in both races and my move on Michael [Schumacher] a month ago was a good one…”
2001: Ferrari - No wins for Rubens, but 10 podiums (5 seconds, 5 thirds) give him third place in the drivers’ championship – his best finish to date.
2002: Ferrari - How can we review Rubens’ 300 grands prix and not mention Austria ’02? He is asked by Ferrari’s management to hand the race victory to Michael Schumacher. “I thought it would strengthen my position inside the team,” says Rubens. “But I was wrong. I never got back what I gave away.”
2003: Ferrari - “The F2003 was a great car,” says Rubens. He wins two races, at Silverstone and Suzuka, and gets a vote of confidence from Bernie Ecclestone. “The fans like him,” says Bernie, “because he symbolises longevity.”
2004: Ferrari - Rubens ends the season strongly with two wins and he breaks 100 points in a season for the first time when his final tally totals 114.
- Michelin are the dominant tyre supplier, so the Bridgestone-shod Ferraris struggle. They fail to win a race, except for the six-car US Grand Prix at Indianapolis.
- 200 Not Out. Rubens knocks up his double ton of starts at the Spanish Grand Prix.
2006: BAR-Honda - After six seasons at Ferrari, Rubens heads to BAR-Honda for a new challenge. He scores points in his first race for the team, but the best he can manage in year one is a couple of fourth places.
2007: Honda Racing F1 Team
- A disappointing season in which Rubens fails to score a world championship point. Looking on the bright side, Ross Brawn arrives at the team in November, giving everyone hope for the future.
2008: Honda Racing F1 Team
- The highlight of another difficult year with the team is third place in the British Grand Prix.
- At the Turkish Grand Prix Rubens surpasses Ricardo Patrese’s record of 256 F1 starts.
- Honda announces its immediate withdrawal from F1 at the end of the season, leaving Rubens out of a job.
2009: Brawn Grand Prix
- Ross Brawn rescues the team at the 11th hour and offers Rubens a drive on the eve of the season-opener in Melbourne.
- A thrilling year results in a couple of race wins (Valencia and Monza) and third place in the world championship standings.
- AT&T Williams snaps him up for 2010, making the announcement on the eve of the last race in Abu Dhabi.
2010: AT&T Williams
- “I’ve always wanted to drive for Williams,” says Rubens. “I have a lot of respect for Frank [Williams] and after looking around the factory and meeting all the people I didn’t speak to anyone else. We have a mutual goal, which is to make Williams win again.”
- Fourth in Valencia, fifth at Silverstone and a great comeback drive to 10th in Hungary are the on-track highlights so far this year. “We can finish on the podium before the end of the year,” says Rubens.
- At Spa-Francorchamps Rubens celebrates his 300th grand prix. “As long as I continue to enjoy what I do,” he says, “and as long as I can pass my infectious enthusiasm onto the team, then I will continue. It’s inevitable that we’ll all face problems in our lives, but to be defeated is optional.”