Sunday July 30th, 2000
Rubens Barrichello came of age as a Formula One driver on Sunday with an emotionally-charged and long-awaited first victory.
Seven years after the last win of Ayrton Senna's career, the 28-year-old Brazilian paid tribute to his late friend and compatriot with a spectacular drive for Ferrari at the German Grand Prix.
Senna's death at Imola in 1994, after Barrichello himself had miraculously escaped serious injury in a crash in practice, seemed to have exerted a psychological stranglehold on the driver from Sao Paulo.
It took Barrichello 124 races to reach the top step of the podium, eight years since he made his debut as a 20-year-old with Jordan.
He switched to Stewart in 1997 after a spell in the doldrums, then to Ferrari this season.
"We have come a long way together in our careers," said Briton David Coulthard, who finished third behind Barrichello and world champion Mika Hakkinen.
"We came up through karting and Vauxhall-Lotus together. Rubens is a great driver and this win is long overdue. He deserved it and I want to congratulate him on it."
By gambling on racing with dry tyres in heavy rain during the closing laps, Barrichello showed how developed his talent has become and revived memories of Senna's win at Donington Park, in the rain, in the 1993 European Grand Prix.
"Rubens came of age today. We all feel quite emotional about it," said Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn.
"It was his decision to stay out on dry tyres and it was ultimately a perfect decision. In those weather conditions, it is always the driver's decision as to what tyres to use as the team cannot judge the track.
"I didn't try and argue with him because it was worth a chance and it worked.
"It was so disappointing for us all when Michael (Schumacher) went out, but the eventual race result was a minor miracle."
Barrichello wept on the podium as he signalled his thanks to God with the sign of the cross and wiped away his tears with the Brazilian flag.
It was the first Formula One victory by a Brazilian since Senna triumphed in Australia at Adelaide in 1993.
While his win kept Ferrari team-mate Michael Schumacher, who crashed out on the first corner, on top of the drivers' championship it was as significant as a Brazilian landmark as anything else.
Barrichello dedicated his triumph to the memory of Senna, his friend and mentor who also came from Sao Paulo.
"This win has been a long time coming," he said. "So I dedicate it to Ayrton, who helped me so much in my life since 1984. I don't want to think about any championships.
"I just want to think of him, my wife and my family and I want to celebrate this moment."
"This is such a fantastic moment for me, I can hardly believe it," said Barrichello, whose wife Silvana and his family were absent from the track.
"(Senna) was the man at the top for me and I followed him so much and he did so much for me. And, of course, I know that a lot of people have put me in his place."
His emotion was reflected in the media centre where he recieved the rare accolade of a standing ovation from reporters.
"I still cannot believe it," he beamed. "I feel great. I had been told that when you are leading a race the last lap is the longest and it really felt like it to me."