Honda driver Rubens Barrichello is due to eclipse the long-standing record of grand prix entries this season, with most reporters saying that the Brazilian will surpass Riccardo Patrese’s 256 starts in Turkey. However, like most things in Formula One, it isn’t quite as straight-forward as you’d think. You may be under the impression that one of the most technologically advanced sports with some of the world’s most intelligent employees and fans would be able to work out a simple addition of participated events. Well, we can’t. Here’s some reasoning behind the confusion.
Barrichello first drove in a Formula One grand prix at the South African event in 1993, driving a Jordan Hart. Rubens completed his first season with the team, racing in all sixteen events and admirably picking up two points in Japan. The following season Barrichello managed a podium at the third round, but the following race in San Marino didn’t go as well. Rubens suffered a huge shunt in free practice, meaning he couldn’t qualify for the event and thus couldn’t start the race. This, in my mind, doesn’t count as a participated grand prix. Rubens’s official site has this race down as a DNQ.
The next bone of contention came in 1998 at the Belgian Grand Prix. Rubens qualified for the race in fourteenth in his Stewart Ford and was on the grid for the start. However, the adverse weather caused a major pile-up as the cars went through the first corner leading to one of the most collectively-expensive accidents in the sport’s history. Barrichello’s Stewart was badly damaged and he couldn’t take the restart after the debris had been cleared. Some people say that Barrichello did not start this race, and his Wikipedia entry states DNS in his record. I however believe that this race should be included. Rubens did start the race; he crossed the start/finish line on lap one and made it to the first corner. Often drivers crash out of a race going through the hazardous turn one at a lot of circuits, but these events are included in their records. I can understand that the race was stopped and then restarted, but importantly, the total distance covered only came to 44 laps, the intended amount in the first place.
Finally we come to Rubens’s 2002 season when he was partnered with Michael Schumacher in the Ferrari. At the Spanish event Barrichello qualified but a hydraulics issue on the formation lap caused the car to stall. The team couldn’t get it restarted and thus Barrichello was wheeled off the grid. He did not start the formation lap and thus did not start the race. Rightly so, this event is not included as a grand prix start.
And as with Spain that season, Rubens suffered another unusual issue in France. His Ferrari was left jacked up on the grid as the order was given to let the cars start the formation lap. Frustratingly, his car couldn’t be started, and again Rubens was forced to sit out of a race. This event is also not included in his total number of starts, having actually failed to start.
Thus, discounting France and Spain in 2002 and San Marino in 1994, Rubens has started 250 races, Australia 2008 will be his 251st and the 257th will be (in my mind) at the Canadian Grand Prix on June 8th. However, much of the media is suggesting the Turkish race as Barrichello’s 257th, leading me to presume they are including the two 2002 races. And to add to the confusion, Barrichello’s official site has both 250 and 252 stated in different parts of the site; even the man himself cannot decide!*
Whatever the race, Barrichello is likely to surpass Patrese’s record and take the record from the Italian this season. When it will happen is anyone’s guess, but I’d like to hear if you have a different definition than me of a race start. Is it just qualifying for a grand prix, starting the formation lap, turning up on the Thursday…
*Correction, see comment #2.