Record-breaking racer - Emirates24|7

Record-breaking racer

A recommendation from a superstar in your sport is sure to carry weight.

So when Eddie Jordan needed a young, enthusiastic driver to build his Jordan team around, it was a telephone conversation with the best at the time that alerted him to the skills of his 20-year-old protégé from Sao Paulo.

"I had seen Rubens race in Formula 3 and been very impressed with him," recalls Jordan. "But it was only when I got a call from Ayrton Senna, who told me what a great kid he was, that I thought seriously about signing him for in 1993."

Fifteen years on, and now in his 16th season in the sport, Rubens Barrichello is set to break a record that has stood since he embarked on his Formula One career.

Honda's No11 – his lucky number given to him out of goodwill – is about to become the most experienced driver in the sport's history. On Sunday afternoon, in the heat in Istanbul, Barrichello will take part in his 257th Grand Prix, eclipsing Riccardo Patrese's record set in 1993. The Brazilian was just a young pretender then, and still remembers how he felt all those years ago.

"The record means a great deal to me," he says.

"I have had a long career in Formula One and I have wonderful memories, but I do not feel any different to the day when I started out this journey in 1993. My first race, at Kyalami, feels like yesterday. I will never forget sitting in my Jordan 193 at the start of qualifying, looking at the TV monitor in the pits. For a moment it felt as though I was at home sitting on the sofa."

That is an indication of how comfortable Barrichello is behind the wheel of the fastest cars on the planet.

After taking five karting titles in his homeland, he moved to Europe to compete at a higher standard, excelling in each discipline until Eddie Jordan, and Formula One, came calling.

"Eddie brought me into Formula One, and for that I will always be grateful," says the 35-year-old. "We had a lot of fun together and enjoyed some great results.

"The biggest thing I learnt during my time there was how to develop a boy's speed into a man's speed. I arrived aged 20, when there was no pressure on me, and I learnt how to perform when a certain level of performance was expected." That level of performance convinced Jackie Stewart, triple world champion and team owner of the newly-formed Stewart Grand Prix, to sign the Jordan driver as his No1 in 1997. "For our first year in F1 we wanted at least one of our drivers to have some experience of F1," says Stewart. "We had competed against Rubens as Paul Stewart Racing in Formula Opel, Formula 3 and Formula 3000 and we liked what we saw. There were two highlights of our time together: Monaco 1997, where he climbed from 10th to second and nobody dropped out ahead of him, and the European GP of 1999, where Johnny Herbert and Rubens finished first and third.

"I am not surprised that Rubens has become the most experienced driver of all time because he has always been very consistent."

Barrichello's consistency courted the attentions of then-Ferrari boss Jean Todt.

The skills learnt under Stewart's tutelage played a vital role in helping the Italian team to a succession of driver and constructors' championships between 2000 and 2005.

His five years in the red of the F1 giants is the time he remembers fondest.

"It was a dream come true to drive for Ferrari," says the driver. "It was a very special moment to see my name written on the side of my car for the first time.

"There were a lot of good people in the team and it was great to work with Michael Schumacher. He is the best driver that I have ever met and he had just so much natural speed."

The admiration he has for the sport's most celebrated driver is definitely reciprocated. Though Barrichello forged a formidable relationship with Schumacher on circuit, it is the pair's friendship off it that the German appreciates just as much.

"With Rubens I shared a nice time and a lot of beautiful memories," says the seven-time world champion.

"We were team-mates for such a long time – six seasons – and enjoyed a lot of success together, but most of all a lot of fun. I am sure he would say the same; we really had a good time, not only on-track but also off-track. Rubens is the perfect guy to go party with, so I hope he does not wait long to retire."

"Rubinho" – meaning "little Rubens" because he shares the same name as his father – was instrumental in persuading another major player at Ferrari to defect and join him at Honda last year. The signing of Ross Brawn, who masterminded the career of Schumacher at both Benetton and Ferrari, represented a major coup for the British team, and the technical director admits that Barrichello played a key part in the move.

"At the end of last year he expressed huge enthusiasm about the prospects of the Honda Racing F1 Team and he encouraged me to join," says Brawn. "He is still hugely passionate about racing and when you give him everything he needs, he can produce the goods. He does not waste opportunities."

The passion is evident when the record-breaker talks about the impending race in Istanbul. Although his contract expires at the end of the season, the Sao Paulo racer is still thinking about improving what has already been a glittering career in one of the most spectacular sports in the world.

"I love driving and racing as much as ever and, importantly, I still love Formula One. I feel happier when I'm in the F1 paddock preparing for a race than almost anywhere else," he says.

"While people look back at my 16-year career, I am looking forward. These are exciting times for the Honda Racing F1 Team because we're developing rapidly as a team and the next race is the one that matters most."

Perhaps his only regret is that the man who sparked his record-breaking time in Formula One with that call is not around to witness the celebration on Sunday.

 

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