At the start of May 1977 Riccardo Patrese was racing in the European Formula 2 Championship with the Trivellato team following their European F3 Championship title success the previous year. He had already achieved three successive points finishes in his Chevron B35 BMW, including a podium at Hockenheim, as the season moved to the legendary Nürburgring circuit.

As Riccardo recalled:

I loved the circuit and this, and my experience from the previous year, allowed me to show my ability to the world of F2 and F1 - in those days a lot of F1 drivers raced in F2, like Clay Regazzoni, Hans Stuck, Jochen Mass, Brian Henton. Regazzoni had set the F1 Nurburgring lap record in '76 with the Ferrari the last time they raced there. He did a 6:55 I think and I did pole for the F2 race with a 7:15. To be quicker than anyone else there you knew that you were the quickest and the best. The challenge was with yourself and the circuit. Of course you knew there were big risks, but the satisfaction and enjoyment was so big that you didn't care much about that.

Pole position certainly brought Riccardo to the attention of Formula 1 but Alan Rees, then Shadow Team Manager, had first spotted him the year before in Formula 3. By May 1977 Shadow were looking to replace their driver Renzo Zorzi and there was only one man they wanted. As Rees said :"Patrese was the one I was interested in."

Having been approached by Shadow, and having raced at Vallelunga in F2 on Sunday 15 May, Riccardo headed to Paul Ricard to experience F1 for the first time:

It was on the Monday before the Grand Prix and my first laps were run in damp conditions because it had rained overnight. Having a car with 500bhp in comparison with my F2 car which had 300bhp was a big difference and in those days the F1 car didn’t really have efficient aerodynamics. For me testing the Shadow, 500bhp with no downforce, was really a big difference. For me it was a real challenge but I liked it. It was my first time in an F1 car I really only had Monday afternoon in dry conditions and did not run many laps. 

From Paul Ricard it was on to Monaco where the first practice session was held on Thursday 19 May. Denis Jenkinson, writing in Motor Sport, described Riccardo as the "new-boy who was making people take notice having been thrown in at the deep end of Formula One" and Riccardo recalled:

My second time in the car was official practice at the Monaco GP. Of course the two circuits were very different and I was in a very new situation. It was difficult, especially the first laps, as I had to feel my way around the circuit while the others were immediately going quickly. I had about 10 laps to learn everything.

There was no running on Friday but Saturday saw Riccardo qualify the Shadow DN8 15th on the grid a few places behind new team-mate Alan Jones, an effort which Denis Jenkinson described as "commendable."

After two days of practice I managed to qualify the car and I think I did a good job. In those days only 20 cars qualified for the Grand Prix, and there were 26 cars competing for those places.

On Sunday Riccardo progressed to finish 9th in his first Grand Prix despite having the front wing on his Shadow crumpled on the first lap. In Denis Jenkinson's view "Patrese covered himself in glory on his Formula One debut, with ninth place, only a lap behind the winner."

Riccardo Patrese was now a Formula 1 driver who had a question yet to be answered:

At that moment I thought now I am here but how long will it last?


Race Report