x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Virtual reality for passionate Barrichello

Graham Caygill finds that the Brazilian's thirst for motorsport is still so strong that, ahead of a 20th season in the sport, he spends part of his spare time behind the wheel in an online game

Rubens Barrichello, the Williams driver, holds the record for the most Formula One starts. He has entered 324 races and started 320 of them, 35 more than his closest rival Michael Schumacher.
Rubens Barrichello, the Williams driver, holds the record for the most Formula One starts. He has entered 324 races and started 320 of them, 35 more than his closest rival Michael Schumacher.

You could forgive the online gamers racing on a Swedish Touring Cars simulation for doing a double take at their computer screens when they saw the name of one of their virtual racing competitors.

The driver's screen name was Rubens. It could not be him, could it?

Yes, as it turns out, it could be.

Rubens Barrichello, the man who has started the most Formula One grand prixs in history, likes nothing more than racing online when he is not behind the wheel of his Williams Formula One car and has become a fan of competing in virtual motor racing.

And he is good at it; he won the championship of his latest competition. Barrichello, 39, says that few members of the public believe that it is actually him that they are racing wheel-to-wheel against.

"Sometimes people go there and ask if Rubens is the real Rubens," he says with a grin while in the Williams hospitality area at Yas Marina Circuit yesterday.

"If you say 'yes' they won't believe it, if you say 'no' they won't believe it, so it's a good thing for me to keep my head down."

His Brazil compatriot Felipe Massa, the Ferrari driver, was the catalyst for his introduction into the computerised version of driving.

"I had seen Felipe play it," Barrichello says. "I used to play off-line with Touring Cars and it went from there.

"I loved the fact that the Touring Cars are much more similar to real life than Formula One simulators are.

"You have it online, you talk to people on radios and microphones and things like this and it is so accurate. You have so many situations and set-ups it is unbelievable and it is something that I really enjoy.

"We compete to Swedish Touring Car rules and it is open to everyone.

"You have Stockcar.com.br where you can buy the game from which this championship has been starting."

Barrichello believes that his virtual racing, after competing at tracks across the globe, shows that he is battling hard to be on the grid for 2012 with the Williams team.

"I think that is a good explanation of why I want to be here for my 20th year next season; I just love doing what I do," he said.

The man from Sao Paulo has been a fixture on the F1 grid since 1993 and has enjoyed a successful career, racing for six teams, winning 11 races and claiming 14 pole positions.

The Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday will see Barrichello start his 321st grand prix.

What is the secret of the Brazilian's longevity in a world as notoriously cut-throat as F1?

"I think it is the love that I have for my passion," he says. "You go through your tough moments and you need to accept the tough moments and try to get better on the other side.

"I think that so many people go through tough moments and give up trying. I really love what I do and I am really thankful for doing what I do."

A 20th successive season in the series is in jeopardy, though. Barrichello has had no word from the Williams team, whom he has been with since 2010, on whether they will renew his contract after a frustrating year in which he has scored only four points in uncompetitive machinery.

There has been speculation linking the British team with a move for Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion, who has been out of F1 for the past two seasons while competing in the World Rally Championship.

Experience is helping Barrichello keep a cool head and avoid the Brazilian newspapers, who are predicting that his days as a F1 driver will end later this month at the final round of the season in Sao Paulo.

Asked if the uncertainty has affected him, he said: "It would if it was my first five years in Formula One. But after such a long time in the sport I don't read anything about myself anymore.

"There is a lot of comments and bad attitudes from the Brazilian [media]. The bad news sells more than the good news and it is not a good time to be reading it so I just stay out of it and do what I do.

"You have to remember that the reason that I am here is that I love this. To have the weekend here once more and do all the things we do is great.

"In a short period after this I am doing the track walk [around Yas Marina] and I love doing everything that goes with the job, and it never gets boring."

If Barrichello's career in the top echelon of motorsport does end this year, he will leave the sport having missed out on his dream of becoming the first Brazilian world champion since his hero Ayrton Senna.

His best result was runner-up, when he was at Ferrari, in both 2002 and 2004.

But when he does hang up his helmet, there will be no looking back and wishing things had worked out differently.

"I don't have any regrets. I am pretty sure that I would have done things different, but everyone in life would have done things different as they now know the outcome. So I am fine.

"I do not have any problems with my past. I think it has been pretty good and a learning curve."

But if this year is his goodbye to F1, the world of virtual motorsport has ensured that he will remain a racer long after he has left the track.