Interview Part One: Rubens Barrichello – Still a Rookie
Ten minutes will always turn into 40 with Rubens Barrichello. It’s tough in this business to not have favourites, but Rubens is one of mine. He, like just a handful of others, has not changed at all since I first met him, and an interview with him always turns into a humorous chat…
By Andy Hallbery
I first met Rubens Barrichello when he was 17 on Jan 7, 1990. How do I know that? That’s because he reminded me when we sat down at Long Beach in April for a fascinating interview for MotorSport Retro. Since 1990 he and I have been karting (on tarmac and ice), we’ve been 10-pin bowling, we’ve played computer games at his (then) house in Cambridge, and I’ve seen him win for Ferrari in Formula One at Indianapolis in 2002. He even wanted me to split the money I won betting on him getting a podium finish at the Nurburgring in 1999 with Stewart Grand Prix (which I didn’t!).
This weekend, the freshly turned 40-year old is racing at Indianapolis again. This time as a rookie, as he takes on the Indy 500 from 10th on the grid. But the guy’s passion and emotion for racing is second to none. I personally wish him all the best this weekend.
Let’s start with the not-so-serious stuff… As I feel it will get quite deep later! Have you ever searched yourself on YouTube?
“Yes, and you will laugh. I put in ‘Rubens Barrichello’ on YouTube and it came up with a tribute and I couldn’t stop crying! It was unbelievable. I had no idea they even existed. That first one I found was so emotional because music makes you emotional and just the victories and all the clips together, it was… It was funny, I couldn’t stop crying!”
You are a rookie again at Indy! So what’s your best rookie Opel Lotus memory from your first year in Europe?
“Well I guess the fact that I won the Opel Lotus title in 1990 one race before the end of the championship,” he says. “I needed a combination of factors… I needed to win the race and Vincenzo Sospiri couldn’t finish better than third. That’s what happened and my family was there, my dad was there, my uncle was there and it was such a good thing because it was right in front of Formula One as well, so… It was a dream. As a kiddo I’d already put myself years ahead sitting in the Formula One car, so I just wanted to win that championship there at Jerez, because I think the last race was at Hockenheim, and not in front of the F1 people. It was really good.
“I remember that day too because you interviewed me, and I couldn’t speak English so well and Gil de Ferran had to translate for me. I felt so embarrassed. I said to myself ‘this is the last time… I’ve got to learn the language.’ Today I speak five languages: Portuguese, Spanish, English, Italian and French.”
He may speak five languages, but not Scottish! Again Rubens laughs. “Even 22 years on, it is still hard for me to understand David Coulthard!”
And with that, we were off down Memory Lane, funny stories aplenty. His days in the EFDA Opel Lotus Euroseries are remembered with fondness.
“You know, to see my interviews from then… ‘How was the car?’ “I’m happy.” “De-ne-ne.” “I’m happy.” That was all I could say!
Then there was his team, Draco Racing. “We had Adriano Morini who had this team that was very small. We all lived in a house with the mechanics and the mechanics at 6:00am went to the factory… The dog hated me in that house! I had to run faster to get to the gate then I did when I was training outside,” he laughs. “So really I got fit because of that bloody dog chasing me!”
What was your most satisfying race whether you won it or not?
“I think when I won 2003 Silverstone Grand Prix with Ferrari. That was a very satisfying moment. There were a lot of critics about everything and Ferrari ‘this and that’, and that was a great moment.”
What, if any, was the first race car you bought with your own money?
“With my own money? Haha… Well I didn’t… I went to buy one Ferrari because I want a Ferrari – but they were asking for so much money. I said I don’t need the engine. I just want that car on the wall but it was so much money. So I never did it. I have a Jordan and I have a Honda, but they gave it to me – or Eddie gave it to me because he couldn’t pay me – so he gave me the car!”
Where are the cars now? Are they in Brazil?
“It’s funny. The Honda’s still at William’s because I had to send it somewhere, so I need to sort that out, but the Jordan’s in Brazil. I have tried to find my Formula Fords and my things like this. Morini has the Opel Lotus car.”
Who was your fiercest rival and why? (This may be a stupid question as I think I know the answer).
“My fiercest rival? I tell you… I had so much rivalry with Christian Fittipaldi that carries on up to today. People just remember that. I was on the pages of a newspaper because I ‘beat a Fittipaldi.’ He beat me many times as well, but it was just the fact that I was racing against a Fittipaldi, so I call that the rivalry of my young childhood.
“But I know where you’re coming from with your question because it would be Michael (Schumacher). Michael was… I couldn’t say that he was a rival because if he was given equal treatment then that would have been a rival. It was almost like I wasn’t racing with him on the same team.”
Which car, that you you driven, is your favourite?
“The Brawn 09, that’s been the favourite car ever.”
Beyond what you’ve raced, what’s the greatest racing car ever built?
“Easy, and I had the pleasure to drive it. It was that Lotus 79 I drove at Goodwood in 1999. That was just a heck of a car. I couldn’t drive fast at Goodwood, but that’s the first car I remember in my mind but what a car.”
Which racing car would you most like to own?
“I don’t know. I like my race cars. My first thing Formula One, I remember watching Gilles Villeneuve in a Ferrari without the nose in Canada… It’s things like this and that. Keke Rosberg here in Long Beach doing the 360, that Williams is… That is a car that I would like to own, that Williams is just great.”
Was racing better then or now?
“Racing always gets better. It depends how much you love it. I just love it. It’s … that’s what I’m still doing. I mean when I was 20 years old I told my dad, ‘Daddy, I’m not enjoying this, because this is … the cars are doing something very, very tricky at high speed, I cannot have control of it or something,’ he said, “You know, you are in control of it, it’s just you’re too young. Give time for yourself.” I gave time for myself and I’ve enjoyed it ever since, more and more.”
And it’s still growing especially with Indy?
His positivity is infectious…
What was your closest shave or your ‘holy shit’ moment?
“I tell you that easy. I don’t know if that answers anything, but it was the day I crashed at Imola in 1994. I can only remember myself saying, ‘Shit!’ That’s the only thing I remember before I crashed and then I passed out. I know now that I entered the corner a touch too quickly and then I said, ‘Shit.’ So it was… that was as far as it went, so that’s the answer!”
Rubens has plenty more to say, so come back for part two, where he talks about Francois Cevert, growing up at Interlagos, and meeting Mario Andretti in 1978, when he was five years old. And… well, come back and see!
Very special thanks to Rubens Barrichello for the time and the memories. Follow him on twitter (and cheer him on too) @rubarrichello
Also huge thanks to Tony Di Zinno for the portrait pictures. Check his site. www.dizinno.co.uk
And thanks to The Cahier Archive