2000 German Grand Prix
: 2000 German Grand Prix: Barrichello Assumes Command By Jeremy McMullen
When it was all said and done the 2000 German Grand Prix would go down as one of the strangest races in Formula One history. But, in the end, all would be lost in the exuberant celebrations and tears of one of the most-deserving drivers in the paddock. Hoisted onto the shoulders of his defeated peers, Ruben Barrichello had finally assumed command.
Heading into the German Grand Prix, Barrichello had been struggling to equal the results of his teammate, Michael Schumacher. Already a double World Champion by that point in time, Schumacher would be considered, by just about everyone in and around the series, to be the de facto number one driver for Ferrari. This fact would be something Rubens would address in his talks with the team management during negotiations and would be assured there were no differences between the drivers as far as the team was concerned.
Still, Schumacher had come to Ferrari at its lowest and almost immediately helped to turn the whole thing around. He had helped to build the team and the car was well and truly built around him, his experience and his feedback. And, as the 2000 Formula One season carried on it seemed quite obvious Schumacher was the number one driver within the team. Barrichello needed to step up to the challenge and exert his authority, but in 2000 Rubens would need quite a healthy dose of providence to be able to do just that.
Barrichello had come to Formula One in 1993. By 2000, the Brazilian would be one of the most experienced drivers on the grid. He would certainly be one of the most experienced drivers never to have scored a victory that would be for sure.
Rubens had proven himself within the sport. A karting champion and a very successful driver in the lower formulas, he seemed destined for great success in Formula One. But, like most drivers he would have to earn his way to the best rides, and he would do just that.
Signing with Jordan in 1993, Barrichello would help the team secure 3 championship points and end up 10th in the Constructors' Championship standings. Barrichello himself would earn the best result on the season for the team when he managed to score a 5th place finish in the Japanese Grand Prix toward the end of the year. This was Barrichello's first World Championship points and seemed to be a sign of things to come.
Then, in 1994, Barrichello would help take Jordan onto the podium with a 3rd place result in the eventful Pacific Grand Prix held at Aida. He would also provide a highlight to the Jordan team by taking a surprising pole position for the team at a wet Spa-Francorchamps circuit. Combined with no less than five 4th place finishes, Barrichello's podium would help the team finish 5th in the Constructors' Championship and Rubens would end up 6th in the Drivers' Championship standings.
Barrichello's career certainly seemed on course for the kind of success everyone expected. However, Rubens would seem to move on just when he should have stayed. This would be the case when he left Jordan at the end of the 1996 season to join another new team, Stewart Grand Prix.
The move certainly wasn't entirely without merit. Joining triple World Champion Jackie Stewart, Barrichello would certainly have confidence the Scot would not want to linger around the mid-pack. Unfortunately, the move to a new team meant the car would likely suffer terrible teething problems. Sure enough, the Stewart SF01 would suffer no less than 14 failures out of a possible 17 races. However, Barrichello would show everyone his form when he took Stewart to the podium in its first season, and at the most prestigious race on the calendar—the Monaco Grand Prix.
Were it not for the 2nd place at Monaco and the three more trips to the podium in 1999, the time at Stewart-Ford would be trying to say the least. Over the period of three years and 49 total races, Rubens would manage to finish less than half of the races. It was certainly time to move on, but finally to a seat that would enable his true talent to shine.
Scuderia Ferrari was certainly not a mid-pack running entity. After its lowest point during the mid-1990s, Schumacher and company would quickly reverse the team's fortunes and would make the team race winners again and even championship contenders. It was the best opportunity for Barrichello, by far.
The move to Ferrari would be immediately rewarding. The first round of the new millennium would see Barrichello finish the race 2nd. Unfortunately, Schumacher would take the victory. But while Barrichello would struggle some over the next couple of races, especially with unreliability, Michael would suffer no such problems and would come out to score victories in the first three races of the season. This not only put a lot of pressure on the rest of the drivers hoping to fight for the championship. It also put a lot of pressure on Rubens as well.
Over the next seven races Michael would still manage to take a couple of victories but the McLaren pairing of Hakkinen and Coulthard would begin to come on strong. Then came a four race stretch from the Monaco Grand Prix to the Austrian Grand Prix. Schumacher would suffer three retirements during that stretch and would see his championship lead dwindle. Barrichello would have his best opportunities to assume the helm of leader within Ferrari, but, despite everything he tried and did, he would still miss out on the top step of the podium.
As a team driver, Barrichello was doing his job quite well. While Schumacher was struggling to make it to the end of a race, or even through the first few corners, Rubens would be holding on to bring home podium finishes and some very valuable points for the team. He would also add to his successful resume with podium finish after podium finish. However, he had now gone well over 100 starts without a victory. He had not taken command.
Then came the German Grand Prix. Schumacher was really struggling to revive his championship despite holding a rather commanding lead. A retirement in the Monaco Grand Prix would be followed by a victory in the Canadian Grand Prix. However, he would suffer two-straight retirements before heading to his home nation.
Barrichello had been solid over the same stretch of four races. Two-straight 2nd place finishes would be followed by two-straight 3rd place results. There would be very little the team could complain about. However, if Rubens wanted to show that he was by no means what everyone believed of him to be—a number two driver—then he needed to do something magical and there would be no better place to do it than on his teammate's home soil.
Originally built in the early 1930s and the idea of one Ernst Christ. In time, the circuit would be widely used by the Silver Arrows of Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union to test their savage grand prix cars. Originally, the circuit measured 7.45 miles in length and would be characterized by two extremely long straights. This layout would be changed just prior to the outbreak of World War II to 4.78 miles. At that time, the fabled Ostkurve would be introduced into the circuit's design. Very fast, Hockenheim would remain one of the fastest circuits in the world, even after the stadium section would be introduced during the 1960s. Forcing cars to run at maximum rpm for more than 60 percent of every lap, the circuit was infamous for breaking transmissions and engines.
Schumacher would be desperate for a good result in front of his home fans. Not only would the victory be meaningful as a German, but it would help to get his championship hopes back on course. And when combined with the notorious attrition, Barrichello would have a very tall order indeed if he expected to assert his authority.
The weather during qualifying for the 45 lap race on the 30th of July would end up having as much to do with the outcome of the race as the performance of any of the drivers. The conditions would be tough and there would be a number of drivers that would struggle to keep their cars on the circuit. But nobody would be struggling in the wet more than Rubens. After being near the top of the timesheets throughout every single one of the practice sessions, trouble and more trouble would hit the man from Sao Paulo during the wet qualifying. So much trouble would come his way that he would be forced to use the spare car for the rest of the weekend. This fact alone would seem to put the odds against Barrichello dethroning his teammate. It would be made all the more unusual given the fact Barrichello would be rated as one of the best drivers in wet conditions.
Amazingly, Schumacher would not be able to ride the momentum the clearly biased crowd provided. Instead, he would line up 2nd on the grid. On pole would be Scotland's David Coulthard in the McLaren. Barrichello would be forced to scramble when he switched to the spare car. Having little time to get the car properly set up, the best Rubens would achieve would be a lap time of 1:49.544. This would put the Brazilian down on the ninth row of the grid in the 18th position.
Following the wet qualifying, conditions would improve such that the sun would be shinning down on the circuit throughout the morning warm-up and heading to the cars taking their positions on the grid.
The drivers would take their positions in their cars and the incredible crowd would come to their feet in preparation of their hero taking the lead and going on to glory. Way down in the field, Barrichello would have a long day's work ahead.
The red lights would come on one by one. And as the lights went out it would be the two McLarens crossing each other. Coulthard would come diving across to block Schumacher while Hakkinen would go from the inside and would dive far to the outside. The result heading into the corner would be that Hakkinen would get the better run and would take over the point while Coulthard would tuck in behind in 2nd. However, as far as the crowd was concerned what the two McLarens were doing would be of little consequence. But, what would happen heading into the first right-hander would.
Hakkinen and Coulthard would stream into the first turn without any issue whatsoever. The maneuvering of the McLarens, however, would leave Schumacher having to defend his position. This would leave him to make a late move to the outside, totally unaware of Giancarlo Fisichella's presence in the Benetton. Hit in the left-rear by the team car in which he had won his first two World Championships, Schumacher would be spun around and thrown off the circuit into the tire barrier. Just like that, at the very first corner, Schumacher would be out of the race. German hopes would be dashed and the hopes of Ferrari would take a severe hit.
Schumacher would face his third-straight retirement. This would be Barrichello's opportunity, if he just didn't have to start so far down in the field. But in the dry conditions Rubens had shown his pace. And, over the course of the opening lap he would be storming up through the field realizing full well the opportunity before him to uphold the team's honors once again.
Heading into the stadium section of the circuit it would be Hakkinen continuing to lead, but, further back, Rubens would make a pass on Ralf Schumacher in one of the Williams to take over 10th in the running order. And so, at the end of the first lap it would be Mika Hakkinen, Coulthard and Jarno Trulli in the first three positions. After starting the race in 18th place, Barrichello would complete the first lap in 10th.
Over the course of the first 5 laps of the race nobody would be on the move faster than Barrichello. While the top four of Hakkinen, Coulthard, Trulli and de la Rosa would hold station, Barrichello would work his way all the way up to 5th place; this after starting the race 18th. All of the weight of Ferrari's hopes, and his own long career without a victory, would be weighing down on Rubens' shoulders, and yet, he would continue to push hard throughout the very early stages of the race.
It would be suggested that Barrichello started the race on a light fuel load in order to help his forward movement in the running and it would certainly seem to be the case as with every passing lap he would pressure, if not pass, those just ahead of him.
Impressive wouldn't really adequately describe Barrichello's early efforts coming from 18th on the grid to run in 5th place by the 6th lap of the race. His pass of Johnny Herbert for 5th place would be most impressive as he would come from rather well back to out-break the Englishman into the first chicane and take the position away. Herbert would obviously be surprised by Barrichello's move. Over the roar of the engines would go out cheers all around as the Brazilian pulled off the maneuver.
Once ahead of Herbert in the Jaguar, Barrichello would stretch out the advantage clearly gaining ground on the Arrows, Jordan and the two McLarens ahead of him on the circuit. On the 7th lap of the race Rubens would prove he was on the move as he would post the then fastest lap of the race. By the 10th lap of the race the torrid pace would enable Barrichello to line up a pass on de la Rosa for 4th place. Cheers and horns would blast through the heavily-wooded forests as Rubens would take away 4th place from the Spaniard on the 11th lap of the race. While certainly lighter on fuel than most everyone else on the circuit, Barrichello would be putting together a truly inspired performance to make the most of the chance presented to him.
While Barrichello was slugging his way through the field setting fast lap after fast lap, the two McLarens remained unbothered and unfettered at the head of the field. Hakkinen continued to lead the way with Coulthard only about a second behind. It would have seemed that for the McLarens to be out front as they were with clear air ahead of them that Barrichello would find himself way back as he had to fight his way forward. However, when Rubens took over 3rd place from Jarno Trulli in the Jordan on the 15th lap he would only be about 12 seconds behind the McLarens and absolutely flying. Once in 3rd place, Barrichello would reset the fastest lap of the race and would also reset the lap record.
Right after he posted the fastest lap of the race Barrichello would come into the pits for the first of his two stops. This would cause him to give up 3rd but his performance over that first stint would be nothing short of spectacular coming all the way up from 18th. Rejoining the race, Barrichello would be back down in 5th place but in a much stronger position than what he had started the race.
Despite Rubens' performance throughout the first stint it certainly seemed as if the McLarens had the race well in hand, a virtual death-grip. But, Barrichello recognized his opportunity. And, despite having been refueled, he would immediately go out and reset the fastest lap of the race.
The sun would be shining down on the circuit but off in the distance lightning strikes could be witnessed. While the sky was growing steadily darker, one thing shone bright and clear and that was the weather was going to play a major role in the last half of the race. But while everyone was looking to the weather to be a deciding factor, it would be a disgruntled individual with a message that would lead to the biggest turn of events.
Nearing the halfway point of the race, all seemed straight-forward and uneventful. The action on the track was exciting as the long trips through the woods enabled great slip-streaming and passing. Barrichello and Heinz-Herald Frentzen would be putting on a show of speed as they rocketed their way up through the field to challenge those near the front. Barrichello, all alone and having growing question marks about his role at Ferrari weighing down on him would be performing brilliantly. Still, the McLarens of Hakkinen and Coulthard would be well out front looking absolutely unstoppable.
Notorious for its catastrophic effects on engines due to the vast percent of a lap being completed at full power, Hockenheim would provide another, and strange, way to affect a grand prix outcome. Lined with heavily-wooded forests, the circuit presented a huge challenge to security, and, with just about 23 laps remaining this fact would be dramatically highlighted.
Barrichello would drop back down the running order following his first stop. He would be fighting with de la Rosa once again, this time, for 4th place. In spite of his torrid first stint the McLaren duo had managed to pull out a seemingly insurmountable margin of more than 30 seconds over him. But then, just when it seemed like it was going all McLaren's way, one of the strangest moments in Formula One history would take place when a man would make his way out onto the circuit just prior to the first chicane. Wearing a rain poncho, the man would stroll down the side of the circuit and would make a gesture to Coulthard. Immediately, the yellow flags would be out and the safety car would be deployed. Described by Murray Walker as 'that lunatic' would be a disgruntled Mercedes employee and he would absolutely change the complexion of the race as the teams would react to the safety car by pulling in their cars for pitstops. Not only would the safety car bunch the field together, thereby erasing the 30 second lead the two McLarens had over Barrichello, but it would allow Barrichello to dash into the pits for the second and, hopefully, final time. Barrichello's stop would take place at just the right moment as he would end up still in 4th place after his stop. It would not work out so well for Coulthard for he would be forced to do another lap behind the safety car as his teammate pitted from the lead. There would be some confusion as to why Coulthard would not just queue-up behind his teammate, but it wouldn't matter as he would miss the opportunity and would eventually drop from 2nd place, and the lead at the time, down to 6th place. The race had changed in the blink of an eye as a result of the move of a 'lunatic'.
Following Coulthard's misfortune Barrichello would be up to 3rd place and would be on the same sequence as the McLaren drivers. It would come down to an all-out fight through the last 20 laps of the race. The drama was actually just beginning.
While everyone was reacting to the 'half-wit' and all the chaos he instigated the dark clouds would be gathering around the circuit. It was clear that in just a moment it would start to rain. It was time for Barrichello to make the most of 3rd place, and, as the green flag shown again he would be all over the back of Trulli in the Jordan. Unable to get around the Jordan right away, Hakkinen would be able to rebuild an advantage. Further back, the racing would be wheel to wheel with cars spinning and two more colliding with each other coming into the final chicane before the stadium section. This accident would lead to yet another safety car, which would draw the field back together once again. If ever there was a race meant for Barrichello to take his first Formula One victory it would be this one as Hakkinen's advantage would again be erased.
One lap behind the safety car would come to an end and as the field made its way into the first corner Alex Wurz would be struck and would end up out of the race. Suddenly, after a first half of the race in which the racing was exciting but under control, the two safety car periods would turn the race into an all-out sprint where all cool heads would be lost. And then came the rain.
The rain would be falling on a portion of the circuit and instantly the crews would leap into action preparing for strategy changes. The rain would begin to pick up and the crews would well and truly think about changing to wet weather tires. The contact between the BAR teammates would seemingly do the trick and Hakkinen would dash into the pits using his advantage to better his chances of holding onto the lead if everyone else came into the pits.
It was time. Barrichello was perhaps handed his greatest and, yet, most dangerous opportunity to show his quality and prove himself to his detractors. With the rain falling down heavily, but on half the circuit, Barrichello himself would make the car to remain on slick tires while the rest of the field scrambled into the pits for rain tires.
Ten laps remaining in the race and Barrichello would find himself in the lead. He had gone from 18th on the grid to leading the race, but it was an incredible risk as the circuit was certainly quite wet around the stadium section.
The Ferrari mechanics would be out with the wets, ready for Barrichello to come in. But he wouldn't. He would carry on and carry on trusting in his abilities in the wet weather to keep it under control and hold onto the lead. It was his moment and, despite the conditions, he was not going to let it slip through his fingers. He was willing to fight tooth and nail to earn that first victory and show himself to be as good in the wet as his teammate.
It would be an amazing feat watching Barrichello extend his lead over Coulthard and Frentzen. The spray would be getting worse from the heavy rain along the start/finish straight, and yet, Barrichello would hold on with his slick tires as if the conditions didn't pertain to him in any way.
Behind Barrichello, Coulthard would be fighting with everything he had to remain in control and would end up coming into the pits for rain tires as Frentzen tried desperately to carry on. It would seem like a fool's errand as Hakkinen would storm by into 2nd place. But while Coulthard and Frentzen were struggling and losing positions, Rubens would be adding to his advantage at the front.
On the dry portions of the circuit Barrichello continued to hold his advantage by 10 seconds over Hakkinen. The crowd noise and the horns blasting into the air would urge Rubens heading in the right direction while the rest of runners would just begin to fall out left and right.
It would be a remarkable performance out of the Brazilian starting the race from 18th on the grid. It would be one of the best and memorable drives in Formula One history, given all of the pressure and struggles leading up to the start.
Heading into the final lap, Rubens would be in absolutely in control. The Ferrari mechanics would run across the pitlane to the pit wall in hopes of celebrating one of the most memorable moments in team history. It would be a truly wonderful scene and Michael and his wife would be watching on the monitors right by the pitwall clearly urging his teammate on. The crew would be piled up and over-hanging the fence straining to catch a glimpse of their man who had so brilliantly picked up the baton and carried on to victory.
Coming into the stadium section for the final time, Barrichello would be absolutely blasted by cheering fans, waving flags and blasting horns as just about everyone, whether Ferrari fans or not, cheered the popular man on to his first Formula One victory. Just a couple of corners left and it seemed as if the goodwill and love from the crowd was carrying him through the treacherous conditions for the final time. Nothing was going to keep the man from that first victory this time.
It would be a moment that would bring tears to the eyes as Barrichello would pass across the line and under the sea of Ferrari mechanics waving in absolute exaltation. Hakkinen would come through to finish 2nd just about 7 seconds behind. A little more than 13 seconds later it would be Coulthard that would come through to save the final podium for McLaren as well.
But the day, and the race, would absolutely belong to Barrichello. Every victory in motor racing requires a certain amount of providence. On this particular day Barrichello needed a lot, but he got it. But, he also showed everyone his true talent. When everyone else was struggling with the elements and the variables thrown at them, Rubens performed masterfully and looked every bit the champion everyone believed he could be. As Ross Brawn would declare about his performance, 'he was everything'.
However, the performance would only be completed by the sight on the podium. After being first greeted by Michael while he emerged from the car, Barrichello would receive hugs from Hakkinen and Coulthard. Then came the hugs and congratulations from the Ferrari team along the fence. It would be a very special sight.
Fittingly, Barrichello's victory would be the first by a Brazilian since the late Aryton Senna. Therefore, it would be fitting that as Rubens appeared to take his place on the top step of the podium for the very first time he would do so with the Brazilian flag clenched in hand and with tears absolutely streaming down his face. There would be 123 races before he would have his moment on the top step of the moment but it would be a moment worth the wait as the momentous occasion would come crashing down hard on Rubens while hearing his national anthem played in honor of his conquest. Hoisted onto Coulthard's and Hakkinen's shoulders, Barrichello had come and conquered Schumacher's homeland and the people could not have been more happy for their new ruler. Doused in champagne, Barrichello had, finally, assumed command.