Double Macau Grand Prix winner Riccardo Patrese shares his memories of the event with Jonathan Noble, three decades after his last race on the famous streets

by Jonathan Noble - autosport.com GP editor

Published on November 12th, 2008

Riccardo took the Team Harper Marlboro-March to 2nd place at Macau [photo provided by Carlo Fiorentini]

Riccardo Patrese returned to the spotlight this year when Rubens Barrichello took away the Italian's long-standing record as the most experienced Formula One driver of all time. He also made himself an internet hero when footage of him scaring the life out of his wife in a Honda road car emerged on YouTube.

But while recent memories of Patrese are of his vast experience and that crazy lap, 30 years ago the Italian was just embarking on his F1 career - and took a famous victory on the streets of Macau.

While the young drivers contesting Macau this weekend are hoping it will move them one step closer to their dream of F1, Patrese was happy to race on the famous street track while already competing in F1 and F2.

"My memories of Macau are fantastic," Patrese tells autosport.com. "It was a period where I was very young, had a lot of enthusiasm and I was coming from both F2 and F1. Everything in my career was moving and progressing forward and it meant my first time at Macau would be in 1977."

Although Macau is now scheduled as a blue riband end-of-season event, with drivers having plenty of time to get themselves revved up for one of the biggest races of their careers to this point, Patrese arrived here after a hectic few weeks when his body clock must have been totally confused by what time of day it was.

1977 BRSCC F2 Trophy - Donington Park [photo © Alan Cox]

"I had just got into F1 (with Shadow) but I was still driving in F2. I was connected with Chevron and Paul Owens, who was the director in those days. He asked me if I wanted to do Macau, and of course I said yes.

"But before then I had just been to Fuji, which was the last F1 race of the season, and I had got my first world championship point by finishing sixth. Then I had to go back to Europe to make the final European F2 race at Donington Park, before flying back to Japan to race in the F2 Grand Prix at Suzuki - which was the first time there was such an important race there. And I won! Then, a few days later, I went to Macau along with Paul for a totally new experience.

"My first feeling was, where are we? Where is the circuit? It was just a normal road and at the top part of the circuit there were no rails, so if you went off the track you would fly over people's houses! But anyway, we were there and we were going to get on with the race."

Patrese got his weekend off to a fantastic start by taking pole position for Bob Harper's team - but left himself with quite a bit of work to do when Alan Jones beat him away at the lights. Things then got even more complicated when Jones slowed and then spun on the approach to the famous Reservoir Bend.

"I was on the outside and didn't have any room to go," explains Patrese. "I tried to go between his car and the guardrail, but my car hit him, flew a little bit in the air and damaged the rear wing. He was out of the race and although I was in the lead, the problem was the rear wing being completely bent."

Patrese's car was damaged and, although the rear wing could have flown off at any point, the Italian had no qualms about pushing hard once he had rejoined the race.

"In those days I was a little bit crazy as the wing could go away at any moment," laughs Patrese. "Anyway the team kept asking me to go in the pits, but I kept going and I won. It was an epic race."

That is a perfect summary of Patrese's performance - as despite having had the setback of the opening lap crash, in the end he lapped the entire field.

Macau GP winner [photo provided by Carlo Fiorentini]

Victory in the 1977 race did not stop Patrese returning to Macau the following year. But the opposition for that 1978 event would be much tougher - with Derek Daly and Keke Rosberg joining him as teammates at Bob Harper's outfit, while Alan Jones returned for rivals Teddy Yip.

Patrese was beaten to pole position by Jones, who duly led away from the start. But the Australian's hopes of a victory were dashed by a broken spark plug that cost him time in the pits. By this stage, Daly had got past Patrese, who himself was locked in a thrilling battle with Rosberg.

However, Daly also saw his chances of a win slip through his fingers when his tyres started going off and he had to pit for new rubber. That left the way clear for a head-to-head between Patrese and Rosberg, which was eventually settled when Rosberg was forced out with a broken engine.

That meant Patrese had taken a remarkable second consecutive victory at Macau - a feat that very few drivers have achieved in the event's long history. "This win was easier and with less drama," recalls Patrese.

Not satisfied with two victories, Patrese went for a third in 1979. He grabbed pole position but dropped down the order in the early stages. He fought hard to regain the lead, but an engine problem limited his speed and dropped him down the order. It left the way open for Geoff Lees to take the victory, although Patrese still managed to finish second.

It was the final time Patrese raced in Macau, but even 30 years on he only has good memories of his time here.

"The race is always at the end of the season, so all the drivers feel a bit more relaxed. There is also the drama of nearby Hong Kong and everyone at the event was very welcoming. And there is also a big race and a big challenge. The circuit is great too, and I think it is always fantastic for drivers to go. Even now there is a lot of appeal to go there."

It is why Macau remains a great race to this day.

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