The Ben Evans Column: Rubens Barrichello and Riccardo Patrese

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At the Turkish Grand Prix Rubens Barrichello will set a new record as the driver who has started the most Grand Prix, with 257 starts eclipsing Ricardo Patrese’s monumental 265 races.

In many respects Barrichello and Patrese have had rather similar careers. Both enjoyed meteoric rises to F1 courtesy of some stellar performances in junior formulas. Barrichello’s sparring partner from Formula Opel in 1990 and Formula Three in 1991 – David Coulthard – has also gone on to become one of F1’s elder statesman.

Both made a huge impression on F1 during their debut seasons.

Barrichello’s almost-fourth-place in the wet at the European Grand Prix marked him out as a future star.

Likewise Patrese came very close to a podium in his debut Grand Prix at Kyalami. The beginning of his career was later marred by his involvement in the accident which killed Ronnie Peterson at Monza, although with hindsight it is arguable that he was cruelly scapegoated by the established drivers of the day.

But neither driver ever truly showed the promise suggested in the junior formulas. Patrese suffered from inconsistent form and some dodgy cars when he should have been at his prime. Likewise Barrichello, when he was still young and hungry, never had a car to do his abilities justice.

However when the stars aligned both showed well enough to justify their place on any F1 grid.

Patrese (pictured below in the 1992 South African Grand Prix) had some strong performances for Brabham in 1982, but really came good from 1988 onwards when he was instrumental in driving Williams back to the front of the grid. History is quick to forget that the Italian was the pre-eminent Williams driver for the first half of 1991 and often had the measure of Nigel Mansell.

Barrichello likewise had his moments. Taking Stewart onto the podium in their debut season at Monaco was career enhancing and his performances throughout 1999 were enough to earn him a call up to Maranello to partner Michael Schumacher in the Ferrari.

In his seasons driving for the Scuderia Barrichello was firmly the number two driver although his pace suggested he could have won more if allowed. Being made to step aside at the Austrian GP in 2002 was perhaps the nadir of the Maranello years, although Indianapolis in 2005 was another equally hollow second place.

The move to Honda has, in my view, seen the Brazilian coasting, adding little of value to the team, during what have been three uncompetitive seasons, where arguably for 2008 his seat may have been better filled by a young charger.

But both have achieved something remarkable in reaching 256 race starts. Patrese managed to weather 16 seasons of F1 in an era when drivers were hurt or worse on a reasonably regular basis, without sustaining serious injuries.

Barrichello on the other hand has been an F1 regular in an era where the sport is massively scrutinised and rookies get dropped after six races – to survive for so long in that environment is impressive.

Neither Ricardo Patrese nor Rubens Barrichello will ever top anyone’s list of the greatest F1 drivers of all time. However both have brought a great deal to the sport and achieved a huge amount, clocking up many wins and podiums. Both drivers have been fixtures throughout seminal eras in the sport’s history.

It will be interesting to see which of the current crop of young drivers will go on to challenge their records.

Rubens Barrichello biography
Riccardo Patrese biography

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Ben Evans
Motorsport commentator Ben is RaceFans' resident bookworm. Look out for his verdict on the latest motor racing publications on Sundays....

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4 comments on “The Ben Evans Column: Rubens Barrichello and Riccardo Patrese”

  1. Scott Joslin
    2nd May 2008, 11:22

    I think these two guys represent what can be called the complete Team Player, always dedicated to the team and supporting through tough times. However while this a admired quality in team sports, they never had the single minded determination to project themselves into a position of leading a team or creating momentum behind their campaigns. Senna, Mansell, Prost, Piquet and Schumacher, all drivers that crossed paths with these drivers during their time in F1 demonstrated this. The ability to lead the team, the confidence in their own ability to command the best at all times. And it is this lack of self confidence that held these very capable drivers back in terms or success in my view.

    I see similar qualities in Heidfeld, Fisi, Kovi and Massa today- Sadly, I don’t see any of those names every being a world champion.

  2. Curiously, 1993 was Patrese’s last season and Barrichello’s first one, so, together they cover 32 years of racing history!

    As I comment here from time to time, Rubens is certainly the most criticized driver in Brazil since I started watching Formula 1 in 1991, and even his Grand Prix starts record is pictured by many (Nelson Piquet included) merely as the "Insistency Trophy"…

    I didn’t follow Patrese’s carreer before Williams, but at least Barrichello is the kind of driver who’s extraordinary to make to most of an under-performing car, but unable to find constantly the ultimate pace required of the great champions, when given front-running machinery… Fisichella is just like him, but probably won’t be able to survive as long as him…

  3. Nice article Ben, well put together.

    I have to admit to always liking Rubens Barrichello and admiring him for some of the things he has achieved in his fifteen years in F1.
    I always admired his courage, especially during the Ferrari years when Michael Schumacher cast such a huge shadow, Barrichello never complained or whined like alot of other drivers would have. He knew his place, and on his day could really give people a race.
    Hockenheim 2000, and Silverstone 2003 are my favourite Barrichello races, especially Hockenheim.
    He really took it to them that day!
    Riccardo Patrese was always in the thick of the action too, but never really made the summit. I often thought, as you mentioned, that he was ‘railroaded’ by others, in his involvement in Peterson’s crash in 1978. Anybody who saw the race, will remember that the grid had not come to a full stop before the lights went out. Infact front runners Mario Andretti and
    Gilles Villeneuve had barely got to their grid hatchings.
    My lasting memory of Patrese, apart from that terrible crash at Monza, was the huge flip he had in 1993 that I felt for sure had killed him. Its not often you see F1 cars do that, and for the driver to walk away.
    Two great drivers, I hope Rubens has a great season.

  4. Michael Counsell
    4th May 2008, 10:29

    Do you mean the one in Estoril where he crashed into the back of Berger when Berger slowed to go into the pits? A lot of people were lucky that the car didn’t fly over the pit wall.

    I remember in 1992 always wanting Patrese to beat Mansell but it never happened. I do remember Mansell letting him past in Monza so he could win in front of his home crowd before his car developed some kind of problem. Apparently there was some kind of charade according to which I don’t remember and again at the Japanese grand prix where Mansell let him through again. He didn’t really even need t odo it then as Mansell retired and Patrese won….

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