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MY STORY

I built my career on auto-racing in Interlagos. As a matter of fact, I was born in the neighborhood. At a very young age, I used to jump the walls of the circuit to watch the races. My family still lives in the neighborhood, and they still joke, saying that everything really got started when my mother was eight months pregnant in Argentina to watch a Grand Prix. I am sure it was there and then, in my mother’s womb, that I got hooked on speed.

My mother’s family has always been involved in auto-racing. My uncle, Dárcio, for instance, has a South American Formula 3 team, and some of my cousins have karts. When I was six, I got my first kart from my grandfather on my mother’s side of the family. To convince my dad to let me compete, however, I had to prove to him that I was in it for real. He had always lectured me on the importance of a full-fledged education, blabbering away that school came in first, and that I would only be allowed to drive my kart, if I managed to get good grades.

His views on my competing changed considerably when I ranked third on my first official race, though. The tides seemed to have been on my side when I ranked second on my second race, and finally, first on my third race. Of course, I still had to study a lot, but my dad had been won over and had become my strongest ally. Today, I can proudly say that he shares a great token of the responsibility for my having gotten to where I am.

My father has always been by my side throughout all the good and bad moments of my life. And there have been several years of many accomplishments. I competed in kart races for eight years, ranking second three times, and winning the Brazilian and Paulista championship five times. Also, I was hailed South American champion in 1986, and I beat Montoya’s father, finishing ninth in the World Championship in 1987.

Actually, it was Senna who sponsored me in this World Championship. The only hindrance was that we had enough money for only one person to participate, so I was on my own in a foreign land for the first time. For me, being abroad was tough, since I was not able to speak a second language fluently at the time. But life has its twists of fate, doesn’t it? My best friend during the championship turned out to be a deaf and mute kid, who, just like me, could not utter a word in the language. The funny thing is that we managed to understand each other quite well!

In the beginning of 1989, when I was almost 17, I had to abandon my great love for karts, and join Formula Ford. At that time, I was still very short of money, but who can say fate doesn’t keep on playing its tricks? An amusing episode marked such transition. We only had the funds to buy a used Formula Ford car, and definitely not one of the best ones. Before the first official practice, we had to send the car through the official competition transporter. Out of nowhere, my car slid off the truck, and got completely destroyed – a total wreck. Well, the outcome was a brand new car, which enabled me to finish the race in third position! All in all, I learned a lot in the beginning of my career about the myriad differences between a kart and a Formula Ford.

1990 was another tough year in my life. I was forced to leave behind my family, friends and everything else I had achieved in Brazil to pursue my greatest dream: to become a Formula 1 racing driver. I moved to Europe all by myself, because I didn’t have the financial resources to bring anybody along. I still remember the crazy things we did, and how much we struggled to get what we needed for the trips. I was only 17 then, when I participated in the European championship of Formula Opel in the Drako team. I certainly matured a lot through such ordeal, having to face and overcome so many obstacles at such a tender age.   

It is interesting to see that when talented soccer players are transferred abroad, there is already a solid infrastructure built in the foreign country to assist them when they get there. On the other hand, the same ease does not hold true regarding the majority of the racing drivers. When a transfer takes place, it is all about faith and courage. 

In my case, my beginning was all about determination. I had to sleep in a room, confined with a dog, inside the garage of the team. Besides the hassle, I also had to compete, using my father’s driver’s license because I was underage at the time, and unable to get a driver’s license of my own. Such solution become feasible only because my father and I share the same name, and were both born on the same day, May 23. 

All of these hardships, however, were well worth going through. In addition to having been exposed to the Italian language and culture, I became champion right off the bat in the first season, stirring Europe into finding out who this unknown boy was. 

1991 was an even harder year, since I had to move from Italy to England, for I had started racing in the English Formula 3 West Surrey Racing team, a new category, which brought in a new challenge: learning English. I had barely grasped Italian, and all of a sudden, life as I knew it, had gone through a major change. This is without mentioning the English cold and damp weather, which was, honestly, quite unbearable.

But I must confess that the most heart-breaking anguish was having to stay away from home. Some days, it was almost inhumane not to have my family around. I have always had this tight-knit relationship with them, and having to stay away from them for months was playing a major tool on me. At that time, technology was not so widespread around the world. There was no MSN, Skype, or even a cell phone to call home. Not that the experience itself was all negative. Not at all. As a matter of fact, it was actually very rewarding. Once again, not only was I able to learn another language, but also to become a champion of the category one more time. I was the youngest racing driver to have reached such a feat in the English Formula 3, whose record, by the way, was beaten only recently by Nelsinho in 2004, where he was champion of the second season, while I was champion of the first.

Having won two titles in a row, I was invited to compete in the European Championship of Formula 3000 in 1992 through the IL Barone Rampante team. It was only in this year that things started to look a little brighter on my side. I had already mastered some Italian, was living in a very cozy place, and as time went by, many friends would come from Brazil, trying their luck in their own careers. Having these friends around helped me adapt to England more congenially. Many drivers dropped by my house, like Pedro Paulo Diniz, Gualter Sales, Ricardo Rossett and Roberto Chavier.

Friends aside, 1992 was still a hard year for me as a pilot. The car was not very competitive, so we had to switch engine suppliers in mid season. I still managed to finish third in the championship, though, and only then, my career started thriving in gigantic leaps. It was not too long afterwards that I found myself stepping on the gas of a Formula 1 car.

In January of 1993, my big day had finally arrived. I went to Jordan to take a test in the Silverstone Circuit, and everything seemed to have run quite smoothly. All the negotiations took place at warp speed, and even though I had gotten other offers, we decided to close the deal with Jordan. It was a dream come true.

In that same year, I was to become a Formula 1 driver, so I decided to establish some goals for my career. First, I would score points. Second, I would get a podium finish. Third, I would win. And fourth, I would conquer the Formula 1 World Championship title. 

My first GP was the South African one in Kyalami on March 14, 1993, where I finished in a respectable 14th place. Unfortunately, that specific Jordan car did not help me much as it broke down on me. I didn’t let it bother me much since it was only my first GP. Once again, I was able to profit from my own experiences. 

I was still living relatively calmly those days. Actually, it was Senna, my greatest hero, who was the one who had been under intense pressure that year. My only objective that season was to score points. I ran great races, like the one in Donilton, under a lot of rain, where I was about to win a brilliant second place, when the Jordan car lets me loose once again, only two laps to the finish line.

During that season, there were eight breakdowns in sixteen races. Against all odds, however, I proved at every race that there was indeed a great future ahead of me. On October 24th, 1993, at the Japan GP, I scored my first points. Many Formula 1 drivers have gone through their first season without a single scoring, but I did manage to orchestrate two full points in my first round.

My next goal, then, was to get a podium finish, so I started 1994 with such mindset. Again, I could not possibly fathom I would reach such goal so quickly. On April 17th, 1994, in the second race of the season – this being the 18th in my career – I finished third. It was also in that race that life put me face to face with the toughest battle for me in these last few years: competing with Michael Schumacher for the same position. That day, he finished the race in second place. But, what really counted for me at that moment was being able to see in Ayrton’s eyes, when he came towards me to congratulate me, that not even he, my idol, could have done it any better than I had in those conditions. That compliment hit much higher notes than the podium itself.

Honestly, remembering such a tragic moment of my life is something that still irks me. Well, but here it goes anyway. The next race was still to come. In the beginning of the first classification, I went in a tad bit too fast and hit the curb in a way that threw me onto the tire blockage. Luckily, I can retrieve very little of the accident. The two overturns and the stewarts flipping my car in a completely irresponsible manner are still somewhat of a blur to me. Also, I cannot remember how I got to the hospital. Let alone that I had been diagnosed with a head trauma, right arm fracture, severe contusions on my spinal cord and on the right side of the thorax, a fractured nose and face, as well as mouth swelling. Nevertheless, I can clearly recall who was at my bed side as soon as I came back to my senses: Ayrton Senna. 

I was cleared from the hospital on Saturday and I went straight home. At that time, I still lived in England, and I used to watch the races on TV. It had been a very stressful weekend because Ratzenberger had died on Saturday, a great tragedy that had become unnoticed by Brazilians considering what was about to happen next.

Well, the rest of the story you already know, but what you may not know was that having lost Senna was the greatest loss of my life. Ayrton was my guide, my joy in racing. In the eighteen previous races, I sometimes didn’t know what was more gratifying for me, whether it was the fact that I was driving a Formula 1 car, or the fact that I was there, so close to him.

Most probably, I still have not recovered from this trauma. The other ones I handled quite successfully, especially my hesitance to get into a car again to face my fears. I was feeling very skittish about racing, but I promised myself that if during the test which was going to take place fifteen days after the tragedy I did not drive faster than I had ever done before, I would quit racing, because such failure would mean that I had allowed fear to take over my life entirely. 

For some people, such proposition may have sounded like a stupid promise, but for me, it wasn’t. I stepped on the gas and proved to myself that I would still be able to carry on. I drove faster, overcoming any impending hesitation. The year went by, and I reached excellent results, finishing sixth in the championship with nineteen points.

During the next few years, I had to cope with enormous pressure that, somehow, had been bestowed upon me, sometimes due to my being naïve, sometimes due to the cruelty of people. Nowadays, I deal with such pressure in a more effective way, applying it as a tool to hone my character into the man that I have become today.

Years went by and I was able to reach great results. Although my progress was taking place at a slower pace than I had set for myself, I still got the pole position in the Belgium GP in 1994, and finished second in the Canada GP in 1995.

In 1996, after 3 years at Jordan, I thought I needed a change. I ended up accepting the proposal made by Stewart – not for the financial reasons since it took me a long time to make some money – but because we believed we would become more competitive by having Ford support us.

In 1997, I took some time off racing to make my relationship with Silvana official. We got married on May 24th, and undoubtedly, she has been playing a crucial role in my career. She has helped me cope with all the positive and negative aspects of being a F1 racing driver, and I am very grateful to God for her existence. We had great moments in the Monaco GP in 1997, when I finished second in a car that broke down fourteen times in seventeen races.

Greater yet were the three podiums finishes in 1999, which contributed to my joining Ferrari. Many people thought I was insane in signing up a contract with Schumacher’s team. On my mind, however, I was getting fed up with driving cars that did not allow me to match up to the victorious Rubens from the previous categories. I yearned for the feeling of being a winner again. Signing up with Ferrari meant rebuilding my self-confidence in my own potentials.

The year 2000 arrived, bringing hope for more podium finishes. On July 31st, I was finally able to celebrate my first victory. After having started off in 18th position due to electrical problems during the classification round, I was able to achieve my third goal: to win a Formula 1 race. I was driving those last laps under rain in the middle of the circuit with sleeks. At those exciting and unforgettable moments, I could not stop thinking about all the sacrifice my family had gone through for me to get to that point. It was a flashback of everything that had happened to me up to that moment.

On September 23rd, 2001, my first son, Eduardo was born. Dudu has been a great encouragement and his birth has been an event that has brought me a lot of peace of mind to continue fighting for my goals. Whenever I get home after a race, we chat about what he thought of it. Once, after one of my toughest races, he asked me why I had gotten so angry at the podium if the podium is supposed to be a wonderful thing. After that comment, I promised him nothing would ever make me get angry when I got onto the podium again. I thought I could never love anyone else as much as I love Dudu, but on September 12th, 2005, God blessed us with Fernando, our second son, and life has proven me wrong again.

I drove for Ferrari for six long tough years and I am very grateful to them, for the team helped me achieve two second place championships, nine victories, twenty-five second place finishes, and twenty-one third place finishes – not mentioning, the pole positions, the fastest laps, and the five constructor titles that I had helped them win. I learned a lot with them and from Schumacher too. I am leaving Ferrari very eager for the future. I feel like I am breaking Formula 1 patterns again. At 33, I feel more competitive than ever. And for the first time, there is a real opportunity for me to improve on what was already good so that now I can reach my fourth objective: a Formula 1 title.

The transition from 2008 to 2009 was tense. Because of the financial crisis, Honda announced that they were withdrawing from Formula One, and many believed that that would represent my retirement. I was confident, though, and I followed with me fitness preparation. In the beginning of March 2009, it was announced that Ross Brawn, hired for the previous season as Chief of Engineering, had taken over the business, and that Jenson Button and I were confirmed in the line-up of the brand new BrawnGP.

In the winter testing, pre-season, we proved that the car was really good, because Ross has participated of the whole process since mid-2008. That races I won in Valencia and Monza’2009 were the proof that I still had that fire burning inside of me and a lot of speed, even being a 37-year-old, helping the team to achieve the Constructors’ Championship was a really nice thing, because I know how hard those people worked and got united to get over the difficulties. That was a really special year. A winning year.

In 2010 I faced a new challenge and had a dream come true: driving for Williams, a team that I admired since I was a kid. I my first visit to the factory, to know the whole team and the mechanics, I spent some days in a motorhome inside the teams factory. It was a year that the FW33 with  Cosworth engine begun the year below the expectations, but I did a development work of the car during the season, scoring two fourth places as best results of the year.

The following year, the British team kept the Cosworth engine, and again the FW34 wasn’t born as we expected. I scored four of the five points the team got that season.

2012 opened a new path in my life. After 19 seasons in Formula One, I signed a contract with KV Racing Technology to race my first season in IndyCar. After a test I did in Sebring, Florida, alongside my ‘brother’ Tony Kanaan, I realized I’d love to step on the gas of a Formula Indy car. A big challenge to know everything of a new series for me, but I love what I do, and I do it with lots of joy in my heart. I love the speed and IndyCar opened its doors with a red carpet for me.

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