Monday, December 21, 2009

Forever Young, Rubens Barrichello

One look at Rubens Barrichello and you would never know that his first F1 race was in 1993, the last connection to the era of Prost and Senna; not to mention future title winners Damon Hill and a young Michael Schumacher. In a span now running on 17 years Barrichello has shown that he is as good and as quick as ever with little signs of letting up.

At age 20, Rubens debuted during a period where it was not very common to have such a young driver on the grid, and conversely he has managed to hang on in the current era where drivers are getting increasingly younger and 19 or 20 years old drivers is not so out of the box. Currently he is the most experienced Grand Prix driver and holds the record for the most F1 starts. Moreover, Barrichello is a driver that has shown he is mentally stronger and more disciplined than anyone would probably give him credit for. He is as physically fit as ever, which is needed to battle the laws of physics and punishing G-forces as well as the much younger drivers.

There have been moments where people thought he should have retired. After 2007 where he failed to score points for the first time in his career could have been an opportunity to drop him. During the trauma at Honda with their eventual departure, it is was a very real possibility that the nephew of the late, great 3 time World Champion Ayrton Senna, Bruno Senna would replace him for 2009. However, Ross Brawn stuck with the proven, known variable.

Well respected for his ability in variable weather conditions and good technical understanding of car development, Barrichello has proven his worth over his long career. By in large, his technical attributes were understandably overlooked during his time at Ferrari where he partnered one of the great car developers in Michael Schumacher. When Barrichello first arrived at Honda in 2006 it was expected that he would contribute to the car development side. However, seemingly his skills were not as appreciated. Examples of where his skills were challenged or outright ignored ranged from the traction control, brakes, to the data that was being collected by the wind tunnel.

With the addition of Ross Brawn for the 2008 season, there was no doubt that his experience would be properly utilized. The most recent confirmation of his abilities is from the 2009 F1 World Champion and now former teammate, Jenson Button. He remarked that "Rubens has a fantastic understanding of what makes a car work, better than any other driver I've seen; and quite often that has helped me." Although the performance of the Brawn race car can be attributed to the controversial double diffuser, the development work done in 2008 helped to make the BGP 001 a race and title winner. Rubens solidly played a role in that.

In 2010 Barrichello will be driving for Williams partnering a young but talented Nico Hulkenberg, and no doubt "the driver that needs no introduction" (the words of team principal Frank Williams) Rubens will be the lead driver in trying to develop the car's package. Williams over the past several years have gotten off to good starts, but then fade a bit during the season as other teams develop their cars. With the addition of Barrichello we should look to see if that changes. However, one thing that will not change for the foreseeable future is we will have Rubens Barrichello driving in another Grand Prix.

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