Rubens Barichello's Career: The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Second)

Daniel ZylberkanCorrespondent IJuly 10, 2009

MONTE CARLO, MONACO - MAY 24:  First placed Jenson Button (R) of Great Britain and Brawn GP celebrates with second placed team mate Rubens Barrichello (L) of Brazil and Brawn GP after winning the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at the Monte Carlo Circuit on May 24, 2009 in Monte Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

The story of Rubens Barrichello is one of the unsung hero, the supporting actor, the teammate, the sidekick. Rubens is either the luckiest man in the history of Formula One or the least lucky. Being forever remembered as being second is something that will always follow Rubens.

Early in his career, Rubens was not necessarily second but the heir apparent. Ayrton Senna was in his prime when Rubens broke into Formula One and Ayrton saw the potential of his young compatriot and took Rubens under his wing.

After all, they had lots in common being from Sao Paulo and supporting the Corinthians Football Club. Brazilians saw Rubens as the future of Formula One, the clear successor to Ayrton.

May 1st, 1994...the day Ayrton Senna died at Imola Grand Prix, Rubens went from being the prince of Brazilian Formula One drivers to being the king. A situation as pressure packed as any in the history of sports.

To fulfill the dreams of Brazilian racing fans accustomed to winning World Driver's Championships for the past two decades with likes of Fittipaldi, Piquet, and Senna. He was supposed to take that throne, but was unable.

During the 1990s, Rubens Barrichello was plagued by unreliable cars and had a lacluster start to his career. Though both the Jordan organization and Rubens himself occasionally showed flashes of brilliance, neither proved they could compete at the forefront of Formula One.

After the Jordan era, Rubens moved on to Stewart Grand Prix. Another star-crossed match, where neither Rubens or the team reached the expectations that the media and the fans expected them to have. In the first seven years of his career, Rubens hadn't won a Grand Prix and only had a handful of podium finishes.

Then for the 2000 season Rubens went to the unlikeliest of places, Scuderia Ferrari. Everyone knew what Rubens role would be. At least for me that was an unexpected move, what had this little Brazilian kid to offer to the likes of the Ferrari organizatiom, Ross Brawn, and the great Michael Schumacher?

The answer: his mediocrity. Everyone who followed Formula One, knew that Schumacher was the unquestionable first driver for Ferrari. So all Rubens was there to do was to block to let Schumacher win races.

2002 and 2004 were the most dominating seasons in the history of the sport. With Ferrari claiming nine 1-2 finishes in 2002 and eight in 2004. Though Schumacher won most of those races, Rubens won some of them and had enough talent to finish second most of the time.

That was Ruben's lucky stroke, that despite of his mediocrity he was able to benefit from having one of the greatest drivers in the history of Formula One as him teammate and the Brawn-Todt machine at the helm. 

His stay with Honda has been a microcosm of his career. Rubens was given a shot to be the first driver and both he and the team struggled. Rubens has never lived up to expectations—as hard as he tries, he can't do it. He either doesn't have the talent or maybe he can't take the pressure of being "the man."

Now it's happening all over again. A dominant team, Ross Brawn at the helm, and a clearly more talented driver ahead of him. Rubens will help Brawn GP and Jenson Button win their respective championships while sacrificing his own success.

That is the fate of being Rubens Barrichello, he will always finish second, sacrifice himself for the team, but in the end he will still be remembered as a good driver. Not a star but someone who made a name for himself in Formula One.