With 11 wins from 322 Grand Prix over 19 seasons, Rubens Barrichello is fondly remembered as one of the quickest and most highly respected drivers in the history of Formula One.
However, as 2020 stutters along amidst the seemingly endless Coronavirus pandemic, Barrichello – now a stock car racer in South America – is more than just a competitor; he is also a sporting father, as he tells World in Motorsport
There is an ill-founded propensity for some motorsport followers to assume racing finishes outside the boundaries of Formula One; but even the world feels like it has stopped, on one Thursday morning in Brazil, Rubens Barrichello is a busy fellow.
Despite the long list of cancelled racing activities globally, Barrichello is still a popular interviewee. With slots booked either side of my time with Sao Paulo native, it is for a good reason, for Barrichello can talk easily and at length, without forsaking the listener’s attention, such is the wealth of his knowledge and experience in motorsport.
Having recently turned 48-years-of-age, Barrichello shows no signs of stopping and if anything, is expanding his racing commitments, with his stock car racing programme expanding to include campaigns in Brazil and Argentina.
In the meantime, Barrichello is experiencing one of the happiest periods of his life, especially since embracing the mantle of ‘Racing Dad’. “I had heard that people got into depression and [get] really ill, because all they had known was racing,” Barrichello observes. “I never had that, because although it did feel that I was racing a lot less, my kids were racing go-karts and I started to race back home in go-karts.” This all proved useful for the motorsport veteran, who had enjoyed a brief stint in IndyCar following his departure from Formula 1, before taking up a drive with the Chevrolet-powered Full Time Sports entry in Stock Car Brasil.
While his children Eduardo and Fernando raced, Barrichello joined them on occasion, eventually catching the karting bug. “I started to race shifters. In 2015, I went to Peru to have a chance to qualify for the world championship in Rotax and I qualified in the senior final in Portimão and finished 4th in the world championship.
“I had people calling me, like [Giancarlo] Fisichella and [Jenson] Button… people who were just amazed by that and that showed that I was still so competitive regarding racing and I truly have a passion for it.”
Through Eduardo’s karting and early forays of car racing, the elder Barrichello has been keen to offer some guidance to his son, but knows also that the time has come to begin to withdraw and allow Eduardo to make his own path, as Barrichello relates. “My problem is that I don’t want to be there the whole time, because I know I’m in the middle of a conversation with the engineer and I know that a click of rebound on the rear damper might do the job, but I need to leave him alone. Emotionally, I want to keep on doing, but I need to leave the kids alone.”
Of course, Barrichello’s advice has not always been merely technical. “Once, Eduardo came to me at the beginning of his career and he said, ‘Dad, the kid behind me, he’s giving me so many bumps before the start that it’s taking my attention away.’ I told him, ‘Look, you are in 6th position, so take the guy running in front of you and whenever [the guy behind] bumps you force 1, you give force 2 to the guy in front.’
“He said, ‘Dad, this is not right, the guy in front is nothing to do [with me]’ and [I told him] ‘Just do it.’ After the race, he came to me and said, ‘Dad, it worked – I had a great start, but why did it work?’ I said him, ‘You changed your focus. You were not worried anymore about the guy behind; you were worried about the guy in front.’”
Having recently moved to the US, Eduardo will be competing in his 2nd season of USF2000 this year and Barrichello’s feelings of excitement and anxiety are clear. “I am the worst, because I suffer, I suffer emotionally. I cry a lot, I know what’s going to happen – not that I know what’s going to happen, but I have a feeling for it.”
Eduardo was preparing to compete in the opening round of his campaign – only for the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic to see the event cancelled after first practice – at a time when Rubens was in Melbourne to take part in a Grand Prix-supporting Formula 5000 event. “I woke up at 2.45am in Australia to watch his times on the first practice and if I could have opened champagne, he was 1st in practice, I would have done that,” beamed a delighted Barrichello.
Whereas Eduardo has embraced motorsport through his teenage years, Barrichello’s youngest son, Fernando, declared to his father of his desire to play football instead. “When [Fernando] was 13, he came to me and said, ‘Dad, I love karting, but you know how much I love soccer – would you mind if I tried for some time to be a soccer player?’ I said, I don’t mind. I think it’s so courageous, because it’s a different thing.’
“The Barrichello family were all players, they were all soccer players,” he remembers. “It’s not difficult to believe that Fernando would try that and as long as you play sport, I am very, very happy, so I was super happy for him to try that. He raced with us in the 12 Hours here in Brazil and he was so competitive, but I want him to follow the love that is in his heart. I think that’s more important than anything else.”
The pair enjoy football practice at their home, allowing them to connect in a similar way that Barrichello had done with his own father many years beforehand. “I’m doing something that my Dad did with me without knowing,” says Barrichello. “What my Dad with me, for example, the first time when it rained, I had no money to buy wet tyres and he sent me out on slicks, and I became one of the good drivers in the wet maybe because of that.”
Although Barrichello acknowledges that he lacks knowledge or experience of football, the detailed methodology and philosophy that made him such an asset in Formula One still has a part to play. “I don’t have the knowledge of soccer and I don’t have the means to know what to do, but I told him the other day that we have to practice that kick; [the ball] needs to come lower. We developed a way, where he is kicking that ball so strongly and the ball is coming lower, so we test various things and because we are together, we can as two sportsmen we can do that.
“Today we went out and I said, ‘Do you want it tough or do you want it easy,’ and he said, ‘Tough.’ So, I said, ‘Let’s go, 20 seconds uphill, 40 seconds down and then we’ll see how many we can do,’ and he was done by the end of the time. That keeps me excited to keep on training, because he’s only 14,” says Barrichello, laughing in tandem.
“I’m inventing this, and it keeps us happy. You can ask: ‘Rubens, do you exercise as much as you did when you were in Formula One? No, but I’m 75% on it,’ so if I make up one day a week more or do some different stuff, I’m still so competitive.”
For now, neither of Barrichello’s 2020 stock car campaigns have begun, but given the circumstances globally, that is no surprise. From 141 starts, the Brazilian has taken 13 race wins and the Stock Car Brasil title in 2014; however, following seven years behind the wheel of a Chevrolet, Barrichello and his Full Time Sports squad this year opted for Toyota power.
“I had a lot of fun driving those cars. I adapted really fast, didn’t take me that long to win my first race, so therefore I had a lot of fun. It was no virtually pressure or at least a lot less pressure and I was able to keep on doing what I was [doing].”
Stock cars may not have the ultra-intensity of Formula One, but Barrichello is clearly having fun and is still the happy and competitive person that made him a fan favourite for so many years.
For the full version of this interview, as well as conversations with WRC’s Richard Millener, Andrea Adamo, Yves Matton and Colin Clark, come back for the next issue of World in Motorsport, to be published in July.