Barrichello speaks to AUTOSPORT.com

Rubens Barrichello will face the biggest weekend of his racing career when he takes part in the Brazilian GP for Ferrari, just two weeks after his fine second place on his debut for the team in Australia

Barrichello speaks to AUTOSPORT.com

His racing-mad countrymen now have huge expectations. The event is special for many reasons. Firstly, no Brazilian has come to Interlagos with a genuinely frontrunning team since Ayrton Senna's final home appearance with Williams in 1994. And what's more, Tuesday marked what would have been the triple World Champion's 40th birthday.

Additionally, Rubens is the first Brazilian to have ever secured a fulltime ride with Ferrari - something Senna and fellow multiple champions Emerson Fittipaldi and Nelson Piquet never achieved.

Indeed, the only Brazilian to have driven a Ferrari before Rubens was the obscure Chico Landi, who raced a private entry in the 1951 Italian GP.

"I feel so great," Rubens told Autosport Online. "It's part of history and it's such a dream to be driving for Ferrari and in a competitive car. More than anything it's the chance of fighting for a win in your home GP, and that's fabulous."

Clearly Rubens will be in the spotlight of his home town media all weekend, but contrary to what some observers think, he does not feel stressed by carrying the country's hopes. Indeed, the past few years have shown that he soaks up the pressure and turns in a special performance at Interlagos.

Back in 1996 he qualified his Jordan-Peugeot a surprise second, and last year he was third on the grid with Stewart-Ford. A good start and problems for the McLarens even enabled him to lead for a while, before he pitted. This year the whole country will be willing him to score the country's first GP victory since Senna's last win in Australia at the end of 1993.

Barrichello's first victory, whether it comes at home or later in the year, will mean a lot. Brazil was lucky enough to have three great drivers whose careers overlapped, and it's taken seven years for Rubens to be in a position to make that step to being a Grand Prix winner. He is well aware that it's been a long wait for his countrymen.

"When Emerson was finishing, Piquet was starting," Rubens told Autosport Online.

"When Piquet wasn't doing very well, Ayrton was there. What would Senna be doing today? He was still going to be winning, and I'm sure he would helped me to go into a top team. But all of a sudden the disaster happened and I was left alone. I had 150 million people saying, 'Come on, it's your time.'

"It's something I won't like to experience again, because at that time, I didn't have a good enough car. If I can win for them now, it will be fantastic. Now there's no excuses, and I hope I can do it.

"It was really nice to see what Emerson said: 'We didn't drive for Ferrari, and we wish him good luck. He's definitely carrying our dreams.' It was fantastic to hear that from him, actually."

Rubens is adamant that the local support brings out the best in his driving.

"It's been three years now that when I've been playing at home, I've been playing better. I had such a bad period at the beginning, but in 1997 I felt I started to improve my concentration. I go to qualifying now with everyone shouting, and then it's really like football, with them making me feel at home. Last year I had a good chance too, but not a real good chance like I have now."

Rubens says his confidence has never been as high as it is now.

"I'm excited about it, and the people in Brazil are excited. To see my helmet in a red car - it's such a wonderful combination, and I hope it works even better in Brazil than it did in Melbourne."

Photograph: Allsport

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