Brazilian drivers usually have a good time at their home race. Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna, and Felipe Massa each won their home race twice, and Carlos Pace took his only F1 win here in 1975. However despite racing in a whopping 19 Brazilian Grand Prix, Rubens Barrichello’s best result in his home race was a single third place, in 2004.
Plenty of times he was in strong positions only for the car to fail, the weather to intervene or, sometimes, he’d just make a mistake. Here are five times which show that ‘Rubinho’ was perhaps never destined to win his home race.
1996 – Qualified 2nd; Spun off
A magnificent performance in qualifying saw Barrichello put his gorgeous Jordan 196 on the front row for his home race. It wasn’t a fluke however – the race started out wet, and he spent much of it battling with the likes of Michael Schumacher and Jean Alesi. He ran second at half distance, but dropped to 4th when he had to make an extra tyre stop in the drying conditions. He was still quick though, and whilst trying to pass Schumacher to get back on the podium he span into the gravel at turn four, and was out.
1999 – Qualified 3rd; Engine failure
Now with Stewart, Rubens was still putting in brilliant qualifying performances at Interlagos, and lined up third on the grid behind the two McLarens. This became second at the start after Coulthard stalled, and on lap four he took the lead when Mika Hakkinen’s McLaren suffered a small glitch. The crowd – and the commentators – went mad, and Barrichello pulled out a lead.
He was on a less favourable two stop strategy though, and after his first stop he fought his was back up to third place. Again, it wasn’t to be though, as on lap 42 the Ford engine in his Stewart went pop, and that was that.
2003 – Qualified 1st; Fuel system failure
The 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix was an absolutely insane race. The wet conditions caught out many drivers, including Michael Schumacher and Juan-Pablo Montoya, both of whom went off at turn 3. Barrichello lost the lead at the start but fought his way back to the front, putting in a string of fast laps along the way. Surely with a fast reliable Ferrari and several of his main competitors suffering issues he could take the win, right? Wrong. On lap 47 a problem with the fuel system brought his car to a grinding halt and he had to watch the rest of the race from a marshal’s post.
The race marked a ninth consecutive retirement in Brazil for Rubens, and his 10th from 11 races – his only finish at Interlagos up to this point was a brilliant 4th for Jordan in 1994.
2004 – Qualified 1st; Finished 3rd
The championship was decided. The Ferrari F2004 was one of the most dominant F1 cars of all time. Schumacher was way back on the grid after an engine penalty. Barrichello had won two of the last three races and he was on pole at home. This would be the best chance to get the win he so desperately wanted.
Of course, it wasn’t to be. The track started off wet and Rubens lost the lead to Kimi Raikkonen, but by lap four was back in front. Conditions were quickly drying however, and a lap later most of the field came in for slicks – most of the field except Rubens, that is. After another lap he came in but it was too late. He’d dropped behind several cars and while Montoya and Raikkonen battled for victory, Rubens could only manage a distant third for what would be his only podium at Interlagos.
2009 – Qualified 1st; Finished 8th
After a few years in the doldrums with Honda, the incredible story of Brawn GP gave Barrichello an unexpected year back running at the front. Although Jenson Button had stolen the show early in the year, Rubens was clawing into his championship lead with some impressive mid season performances.
Although it was a long shot, a strong performance at Brazil and a poor one for Button could have taken the title to the final round in Abu Dhabi. With Barrichello on pole (the 14th and last of his career) and Button down in 14th, that was a definite possibility.
It all started out well enough, with Barrichello leading until the first round of stops. Webber jumped ahead during the pit stops, and from then on the Brazilian’s pace just seemed to disappear. Robert Kubica’s BMW Sauber got past, as did the one-stopping Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. Barrichello continued to slide down the order and eventually came home a lowly eighth; by finishing fifth Button wrapped up the championship.
That would turn out to be his last points finish in Brazil, as his races there with Williams yielded just a pair of 14th places and the planned comeback with Caterham in 2014 never materialised.