INTERVIEW

Rubens Barrichello

Rubens Barrichello doesn't look like a racing driver. He is short and rather tubby. He has sleepy eyes, a big nose and a huge lop-sided grin. Like most 22-year-old men his favor film star is Julia Roberts and his ideal dinner date is Cindy Crawford.

One can blithely write that Barrichello is young. He arrived in F1 at the age of 20, but the point doesn't really come across until you consider that when he arrived in Formula 1 was racing against 39-year-old "veteran" Riccardo Patrese. Riccardo began his F1 career on the day before Barrichello's fifth birthday...

A year later Barrichello (aged six) was sat in Emerson Fittipaldi's Copersucar. At 11 his uncle gave him a go-kart and in the next five years, inspired by Ayrton Senna's exploits in F1, Barrichello became a big star in Brazilian karting.

At 17 he packed his bags and headed to Europe as Senna had before him. The difference was that Rubens had the massive financial power of Brazilian food company Arisco behind him.

In March 1993 the fan from Ayrton's home town of Sao Paulo arrived in F1 and found himself racing against his hero. He was star-struck.

"I couldn't race against Alain Prost and Senna," he says. "They were idols."

But - once behind the wheel of his Jordan-Hart - he overcame that sense of awe and, in just his third race, in pouring rain at Donington Park he found himself dicing with his heroes. That day he outraced Prost and ran second to Senna until his engine died with just a few laps to go.

"Things were different after that," he says.

His progress continued. He scored his first points at Suzuka in October and this year - despite still being the youngest man in F1 - he took his first podium at the Pacific GP at Tanaka International.

Two weeks later Barrichello's dream career was badly shaken. In Friday qualifying at Imola he crashed violently.

"I remember exactly the moment before I touched the barrier - waiting for the crash," he says, "and then everything went into darkness. The next thing I knew I was in the medical centre with Senna standing alongside me."

Two days later Senna was dead and Barrichello was badly shaken.

"You can see from my performance two weeks later in Monaco that I wasn't ready to race again," he admits. "I didn't do very well. I had a fortnight off to recover and I got stronger.

"Things happen in life and there's not much you can do about it. You have to put them out of your mind.

"I see Ayrton as an angel now. Alongside God and looking after us. Down here he was fantastic but he had to go, and so now me and Christian (Fittipaldi) are trying to give Brazil something in F1.

"It is impossible to be like Senna. He was different. He was the kind of person that everyone loved. Everyone in Brazil wants to do something for him. The guys in the World Cup team say they want to win for Senna. I saw in the paper that one girl - I think it is more than that actually - killed herself because she had to be with him."

You can tell that Rubens is still affected.

"Sometimes I get home and Ayrton comes into my mind and I get bogged down," he admits. "I'd like to see him again. I miss him, because he was part of my life. I used to come to the races and say: 'Oh good I'll see Ayrton again'. And suddenly I cannot do it anymore."

But he is over the worst and making tremendous progress of his own.

"I have this feeling that it is time to do more and more. In Barcelona I was fifth on the grid - my best ever - and I said: 'Oh, my God, that's good.' Since then I have been sixth and seventh, but now I will be happy if I qualified 11th. In Brazil this year I qualified 14th and would have been delighted to have been 11th. Things change.

Has he changed?

"I will not change," he says. "That was part of my education. If I changed the first person to be very upset would be my father. Sometimes you have problems. Sometimes you crash and too many people are talking to you and you have to keep cool, keep talking, keep giving autographs.

"I know when I was younger I would have liked to get the autograph of my idol and if I had had the chance to be beside him and he had refused to give me his autograph I would have been very upset.

"I have to behave how I would like people to behave with me.

One change that has helped Rubens comes - ironically - as a direct result of Senna's death.

"The rule changes have made the gap between us and the big teams closer," explains Rubens. "And compared to some others our car is a little better as well. If the car is well-balanced you can say right the car is good and you can try that bit harder and give a bit more from yourself."

That has impressed many people and there are constant rumours that Rubens is to join an established top team.

"Jordan has done a tremendous job since last year," he says. "The car and the engine really improved. If they can do the same thing for next year they will be in a very good position. The question is: "Can they get the right package to win?" If they can I will keep going here. We are learning together. We are a very happy team. They are very professional and very good to me and I like it.

"But," he adds, "we shall see. It is my plan to be World Champion and I am trying very hard for that. Things are going well, I am learning quite quickly and I think I'm doing a pretty reasonable job."

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