Home Featured F1 icons Barrichello and Montoya: racing dads in the FREC paddock

F1 icons Barrichello and Montoya: racing dads in the FREC paddock

by Roger Gascoigne

Photos: Roger Gascoigne

Appropriately enough for Father’s Day, F1 icons and proud dads Rubens Barrichello and Juan Pablo Montoya were in the FREC paddock to support their sons, Eduardo ‘Dudu’ Barrichello and Sebastian Montoya

Naturally, both were much in demand at Zandvoort from fans seeking autographs and selfies. But in a brief gap between satisfying the requests of spectators and helping their boys, both took some time to talk to Formula Scout about their sons’ careers and life as racing fathers, albeit ones with deep insights from long, successful and ongoing careers at the top level.

Barrichello Sr races in Stock Car Brasil for Full Time Sports, and has 2020 Formula Regional Europe champion Gianluca Petecof as his team-mate, while the older Montoya is doing a full campaign in IMSA’s LMP2 class for DragonSpeed while also cameoing in IndyCar for McLaren Schmidt Peterson.

With his own racing commitments keeping him pretty occupied, Montoya was paying his first visit to the FREC paddock at Zandvoort and his presence undoubtedly helped Sebastian to his best results of the year so far.

After starting the year with three points finishes in a row, the 17-year-old Prema driver then went without points in Monaco and at Paul Ricard but bounced back in the Netherlands with two top-six results.

Juan Pablo is positive about his son’s progress in his rookie FREC season: “I think he’s been doing a really good job. You always want more, but I think he started strongly, he struggled a little bit the last two races. At Monaco I told him to just be smart, to learn the track and have a good experience, and at Paul Ricard he struggled.”

Sebastian admitted that “Paul Ricard is a bit of a difficult racetrack for me, I don’t really find my way around there [but] we worked hard, had good pace and were close to the points” but just made “little mistakes here and there”.

“It was good to come [to Zandvoort],” Montoya Sr told Formula Scout. “[We could] work on the small mistakes and little things, and I think this week he made a big step forward. And he’s a lot closer to his team-mates which is really exciting.”

Eduardo Barrichello is still looking for his first points of the year, having moved from JD Motorsport to Arden for his second season. “I am still on a learning curve,” he acknowledged. “It’s only my second time on each track. So, I’m just having fun and trying to learn as much as possible and be as quick as possible.”

For father Rubens, the lack of track time, particularly in a category where huge and competitive fields of eager young drivers tend to result in multiple stoppages, continues to limit Eduardo’s ability to develop.

“There were so many red flags during the season and whenever you have someone that doesn’t have a lot of experience in a car like this a red flag sometimes takes out all the chances of qualifying well, and if you don’t qualify well, it’s kind of a tough thing to come back,” he reasoned.

Rubens tries to be trackside as often as his other commitments allow, and Dudu appreciates that “he has a lot of stuff to do back in Brazil trying to find sponsors for me and my brother, and for himself”. He attended the Monza and Monaco rounds, and Dudo said it’s “very special when he’s here.”

Naturally, Rubens is highly supportive of his son: “He is much more comfortable in the car [this year] and getting better but the results don’t show his potential.

“At the end of the day, Eduardo raced in the US with a lot of success, but then when he came to Europe, this is a different beast. This car is different altogether. Different to drive.”

Both Montoya and Barrichello were competing in Europe at a comparable level in the 1990s. In 1990 Barrichello won the Formula Opel Euroseries, which like FREC was a pan-European fourth-tier single-seater series that bred multiple talents, before defeating David Coulthard to win the British Formula 3 title the following year.

Montoya in FVauxhall Lotus

Montoya was third in the British Formula Vauxhall Lotus championship (of the same category but using local brand names for the cars rather than GM or Opel) in 1995, then finished fifth in British F3 in 1996 with the less-favoured Mitsubishi engine. Barrichello’s only season in International Formula 3000 netted third place in 1992, and Montoya went one better in his rookie campaign in 1997 driving for Dr Helmut Marko then won won the title the year after.

Junior single-seaters may have changed a lot in the intervening years but what a driver needs to be successful is pretty much the same. As Montoya says: “The driving is the same. Doing junior single-seaters is like [getting] a professional golfer to go and play pitch and putt.”

Barrichello agrees that “there are things that change but there is some stuff that doesn’t”.

In his view, his biggest contribution to Eduardo’s racing is “more on the mind management, in the way that he has to look for things”.

“For me, it’s just a question of him putting his mind where it belongs.

“He has a natural feeling for the car that is quite impressive, not because I’m his dad, but I’m always impressed with his skill. And so, it’s a question of time and a question of him believing in himself.

“Honestly, Eduardo is very talented. I keep on telling him even if he does believe or not, he’s more talented than I am. It’s just on his hands. The way I see his hands on the telemetry and so, he’s very skillful. His potential is amazing.”

Before FREC, Barrichello Jr was runner-up in USF2000 on the Road to Indy and also raced in United States F4. Montoya meanwhile spent two years in Italian F4 with Prema and had nine podiums but never a win until he stepped up to FRegional Asia at the start of this year and claimed two victories from nine starts including success from pole on his category debut.

Photo: FRAC

Montoya Sr is just as impressed by his son’s natural talent: “I think he’s just a smarter version of myself, you know. I think he’s very good. Speed-wise he’s insane. These cars are pretty tough to drive and as a rookie, what he’s done so far, it’s pretty amazing.”

Juan Pablo tries to help Sebastian with “a little bit of everything”.

“We work on the driving, we work on the car side, we work on everything,” he explained. “There’s not one thing that you take for granted. It’s always something different and you try to approach it the best way and make the most out of it.

“I’m still driving, so my technical experience is pretty advanced from everything I’ve done and I’m still doing. With my understanding of the car and what the car needs, I really know how to drive around the problems and understand that and I can give him a lot of guidance.”

Sebastian was overjoyed to have his father trackside. “Honestly, my dad does a lot for me, and I’ve learned a lot of things from him. Just having him by my side is a great honour,” he told Formula Scout.

“He helps me so much with everything, the mental and physical and the preparation because he knows what you have to do to win. And honestly, I’ve just been learning from him every race.”

Both camps are looking to move up a level for 2023. Despite Sebastian being a rookie, Juan Pablo confirmed the plan is clearly to try to “move up to FIA F3, for sure”.

Barrichello is in his second season in FRegional, and his father is not sure whether a third at this level makes sense.

“I don’t know,” he answers frankly when asked about next year’s plans. “We have to think because I don’t know if we’re going to wait for the results to come as they should or if we need we just need to think about something else.”

Barrichello in FVauxhall Lotus

Barrichello is concerned that FREC is “a series that’s very biased to whoever has more experience” so before making a decision wants to “give him the opportunity to try all the cars and see what he feels”.

Do the youngsters ever tell their “old man” that times have changed and to leave them alone?

“I wish I would get to that point,” Sebastian Montoya laughs. “But I have a lot to learn and a lot of races to do before I can even think about that.”

“Eventually they do,” Rubens replies philosophically. “Dads are always a trouble in a way, aren’t they? Our dads, they were trouble, we are trouble, so in a way they do listen to me, but for example, Jarno [Trulli] always is really close, is really imposing. And I think this is a good way of working but I let the guys breathe a little more. So, I tend to be away a bit more.”

Watching Rubens and Juan Pablo chatting or sharing a joke brings back great memories of their time racing together. When they do occasionally bump into each other, and other racing fathers such as Jarno Trulli (whose son Enzo races in FIA F3) at the circuit, the old friendships and rivalries are still there.

As Rubens says: “It’s fantastic, it’s almost like, we race against each other so hard, but we cheer for the results of our son, so whenever Trulli’s son does well I’m happy. I’m happy for Juan Pablo and I think the same way is for myself.

“We’ve had a lot of terror on the track ourselves so it’s good to see that the boys are doing well for themselves,” he adds.

Barrichello’s second son, Fernando, has just started racing in the new-for-2022 Brazilian F4 championship, and seems to have inherited the family genes. “One round, three races and he finished on the podium already,” his proud father shared. “The whole family was there so it was a fantastic feeling.”

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Neither father is ready to call time on their own amazing careers. Juan Pablo was fresh from finishing 11th in the Indianapolis 500 when he turned up to Zandvoort, and Sebastian was otherwise engaged at Monaco the weekend of his father’s IndyCar race but had the chance to join him earlier in the month for the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course to cheer on and “to see how the engineering works”.

The younger Montoya actually shared his father’s IMSA car for the Sebring 12 Hours back in March, although they had to retire with three hours to go following an incident while Juan Pablo was at the wheel. And immediately after Zandvoort they were back sharing the wheel at another classic IMSA endurance event at Watkins Glen, taking fifth in the LMP2 class together with co-driver Henrik Hedman.

Both evidently revelled in the experience, Juan Pablo commenting: “It’s good fun to race together. Good experience for ourselves, a different way of doing things and I think he learns a lot from it as well.”

Sebastian fully agrees: “Being his team-mate was something incredible. It’s just been a huge learning curve this year and to have him by my side is incredible.”

Rubens Barrichello has now raced stock cars for a decade, after following up his lengthy F1 career with a year in IndyCar.

“It’s great [to do Stock Cars] because I’ve always wanted to be racing something very competitive in Brazil. And I tell you it is one of the most competitive races that I’ve ever done. If people think that I’m retired, they should watch that race.”

“There are thirty-something cars and a lot goes on. I mean, in half a second you have like 20 cars. So, it’s really, really nice.”

Eduardo joined the series on a couple of occasions in 2021, and shared his father’s distinctive #111 Toyota Corolla in the season-opening ‘Doubles Race’ at Interlagos. But when the family all jump into karts, who has the edge?

Rubens smiles: “I mean, I have to drive my balls off to get in front of the kids but I’m 50. So, if I get in front they should observe because I will jump into their cars as well.” Eduardo and Fernando, you have been warned!!