Since 1950 there have been 797 drivers who have taken part in the Formula One World Championship. That is quite a large number, but only 98 men have reached the pinnacle of the sport and actually won a Grand prix. Of those who have been successful, just 29 have claimed a World Championship.
The greatest triumph that most drivers can hope for is a seat with a top team and perhaps the chance to win a few races.
There are currently a number of drivers in the sport who match that description perfectly, and two of them look like bowing out this year after building long careers without achieving stellar results. Both Rubens Barrichello and Jarno Trulli are near the end of their time in Formula One and 2008 is likely to be their final season.
It is quite fitting that Jarno and Rubens may end up retiring from F1 at the same time since their careers have crossed paths regularly for much of the last decade.
For example, Rubens Barrichello only got his opportunity at Ferrari because Jarno Trulli turned the offer down. The Scuderia bosses were reportedly very impressed with the young Italian and wanted him to partner Michael Schumacher from 2000 onwards. Jarno decided against the move because he knew there was little prospect of outclassing Michael, and that being consigned to a number two role so early in his career might limit the chances of scoring a top drive elsewhere. When Trulli opted to sign with Jordan instead, Rubens got the call from Maranello.
Jarno had indirectly helped Barrichello into the big time.
With that in mind, it is rather interesting that Rubens played a significant role in having Jarno sacked from his drive with a winning team.
Jarno Trulli got his break with Renault and in 2004 was on top of his game. He was comprehensively beating Fernando Alonso in the same car (sounds familiar) and even took a well deserved victory around the streets of Monte Carlo.
Trulli can arguably extricate more speed out of a Grand Prix machine than anyone else in Formula One. There is evidence of this almost every qualifying session when Jarno places his car much higher on the grid than it really should be. Trulli’s failing is that his astonishing pace is inconsistent and does not appear every weekend. If his performances were a little more constant he would have developed into Formula One superstar.
In 2004 we got glimpses of what that might have been like.
At the French Grand Prix on Renault’s home soil, Jarno Trulli put in a strong performance to come home third. He was beaten by Alonso on that day but his drive to the podium was still worthwhile because he had to hold off the much quicker Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello.
However, it all went horribly wrong.
On the very last corner of the very last lap, Rubens threw his Ferrari up the inside of Trulli and forced his way through onto the rostrum.
The incident was a major embarrassment for Renault and team management made sure that Jarno felt their pain. The French outfit should have had a massive PR coup with both cars on the podium in their own country. Instead they let Ferrari steal the day because Trulli took it too easy within sight of the chequered flag. Apparently Jarno copped such an earbashing after the race that he was seen crying out the back of the pits.
The relationship between Trulli and his team never recovered, and even though he had more points than Alonso, Jarno was sacked by Renault before the season finished.
Rubens Barrichello had inadvertently ended Jarno Trulli’s time at the top of Formula One.
The two drivers have had their careers intertwine on the track also. They formed great reputations in average machinery by jumping to the front of the 1997 Austrian Grand Prix where they raced hard in first and second. They also had an epic battle during the race in which Jarno took his first podium, and another one a year later when Rubens took his first win.
They’ve also had some big accidents together, most notably on the first lap at Canada in 1999 and again at Monza in 2000.
The fact that some of their significant on track moments have been shared together helps illustrate show just how similar their time in Formula One has been.
Both made great impressions early on in their careers with lower ranked teams before doing enough to get their chance with the sport’s major players. They were capable of winning races and scoring plenty of points but lacked the extra special bit of talent that brings World Championships. With their stars fading, both have found solace in well paid midfield seats with Japanese car makers.
Trulli and Barrichello look like ending their careers in 2008, and can perhaps consider themselves lucky to be racing this year at all.
Rubens had a very poor season last year and it was the first time in his fifteen year career that he went twelve months without scoring a point. From July onwards he was regularly beaten by Jenson Button, but the team could not justify dropping Rubens because the car he was driving had also been disappointing. In fact, the Honda RA107 was so abysmal that it would not be fair to blame its poor run on the driving talent.
In a bizarre twist of fate, the poor performance from Honda in 2007 may have saved Barrichello’s career.
At the end of the season Honda had tentative looks are replacing Rubens but ended up honouring the contract they signed with him mid-year.
Maybe one of the reasons the team wants to hang onto the Brazilian is that in 2008 he will become the most experienced driver in Formula One history. That milestone will create a huge amount of positive PR for Honda and at the moment they need every bit of that they can get.
Jarno Trulli is also fortunate to be on the grid this year.
When Fernando Alonso became available during winter Toyota were one of the few teams that could afford him. They instantly sought about paring the Spaniard with their new charge Timo Glock and approached Fernando at the first opportunity.
When that did not work out the Japanese manufacturer made an offer to Heikki Kovalainen. This was in addition to their earlier efforts to lure Nico Rosberg away from Williams.
As it turned out, Toyota’s attempts to start 2008 with a fresh pair of drivers were not succesful. Jarno Trulli came very close to being ousted by his team who seemed willing to replace him.
Although Honda and Toyota were unable to secure the driving talent they wanted this year they will likely be more successful in 2009. With a more stable driver market in place it seems that Rubens Barrichello and Jarno Trulli may be reaching the end of their time in Formula One.
Both drivers are very talented. Jarno Trulli could have won a World Championship in a decent car, and so could Rubens Barrichello for that matter. Let us not forget that in 2004 Rubens scored 114 points. That’s more than what Kimi Raikkonen did to win the World Championship.
They may not have come from the same mould as the Raikkonens and Alonsos of this world, but Jarno Trulli and Rubens Barrichello are still fantastic drivers and are better than most out there. They also exemplify what most drivers hope to achieve in their Formula One career. Get in, win a few races, and stay there for as long as possible.
It will be interesting to see if they cross paths again in 2008.