Words: A Roca
Maybe motorsport is a family sport more than any other sport. Time goes by, classes and series change, but some names remain, children continue to duel like their dads did and at times even like their grandfathers did.
If the Rok Cup is the stage where Enzo Trulli and Brando Badoer fight, in Easy Kart another important name that stands out in the 60 Easy is Lorenzo Patrese, Riccardo's son, the same Riccardo who has raced in F1 from 1977 to 1993, and who has the longest career in the top series before Ruben Barrichello (who is still in karting...) managed to take the record from him.
The ace driver from Padua, Italy, started his career in motorsport with a kart that his brother made for him when he was 11.
After his world title in karting in 1974, Riccardo moves to car racing in F.Italia. In 1976 Riccardo moves to F.3. and immediately wins the Italian and continental title. In 1977 , after a fantastic performance in the German GP at the Nurburgring in F.2., Patrese gets called to the Shadow GP court to make his debut in the top series where he stayed for a long time. After his father's performance now it's Lorenzo's turn. Lorenzo is 12 years old he races and wins in the Easykart 60 Easy. The 2017 season brings him a second place in the Italian championship and a third place in the international finals held at Castelletto di Branduzzo last 8th October.
You started racing in karts when you were older than several of your rivals! Can you tell us how your love for karting started and what your first approach to this sport was?
"Everything started by chance: we went to watch a Rok race at the track in Jesolo, which is near where we live and I just felt like trying a kart! So, I asked my father if I could have a go, try to do a race and he said I could. After having left the world of the 4 wheels, he liked horse riding, a sport that I had started practising some years ago, so this request really did put him out!"
Is there anything that motor sport and horse riding, which you have been practising over these last few years, have in common?
"Well, they are both very exciting. They are however quite different, for example, in karting you are there with a group of drivers, while in horse-racing you are alone. The only things that are similar are path-lines, both in karting and horse-racing they are very important."
You have had a very good first season in Easy Kart, which difficulties have you had to face this year?
I lacked experience and especially towards the end of the championship, this generated more pressure on me. It's just a question of experience, the MLG team has helped me with fine tuning and set up, so I didn't have any problems. In fact, I take this occasion to thank Andrea and Gianluca Guidotti and all the MLG team for the past season."
Is being the son of an ex F1 driver positive or negative?
It's certainly quite positive because it's given me a chance to grow quicker than my rivals, if this wasn't the case, I'd still be an amateur. My father is always on the track with me, he gives me advice and never leaves me alone. I think that a very small part can be negative, the expectations others may have because of my surname."
Where would you like to race next season?
I will try to move to OKJ with Chiesa Corse to the 'Trofeo delle Industrie', then the year after we'll see whether it's best to stay in the Italian championship, or maybe try the European."
What are your dreams for the future?
"It may seem obvious...F.1 like my dad!"
Your time has come too: you are now one of those ex-drivers who follow their kids and help them in karting! What has this return to the origin been like? What do you think of the karting environment now, has it changed over the years?
If you compare the karting environment to when I used to race, it is on another planet now! When I was 12, I was the only kid who raced in a kart, maybe there was another one, but the average age was very high. Then again, F.1 has changed too over the past 20/25 years, therefore karting has changed too. Let's say that today's karting is much more 'stressing' for those young drivers and for all that is involved in karting. I don't mean that it wasn't easy to be competitive when I used to race in karts, but there were less drivers, at least on a national level. If we consider that Italy is the reference point for world karting, then things get more complicated! Generally speaking one misses the crucial point: these kids should be having fun."
Last month we interviewed Jarno Trulli and he complained about the professional level (and costs) too high in the 60 Mini, a class where kids start moving their first steps in karting; they are already subject to heavy pressure and their parents have to spend a lot of money. What do you think? What do you think needs doing to improve the situation?
I got closer to karting about a year and a half ago, in 2016, when Lorenzo wanted to start racing, so I don't think I'm an expert. As for the 60 cc classes, there are various options, and I personally chose EasyKart because I thought it was the least stressing for Lorenzo, and it would give him an opportunity to grow gradually seeing that he has started a bit later. Anyway, I think that also the National 60 isn't so representative for a driver's future, it all depends on the team that you are with and the move that you intend to do immediately after; the 60 is still almost a toy. As for changes, several things need to be reconsidered. It is ok to win in the 60, but it's not everything!"
How does it feel to watch Lorenzo driving a kart, is it more a question of fear or happiness?
I am more worried than when I used to race. When it's your son that's racing all the perspective changes. Let's say that, as Lorenzo has practiced horse jumping, it's helped to get me used to seeing him in situations that are anything but calm. If you think that 17 years in F.1 and I never spent one night in hospital, but in karting I broke my tibia and fibula when I was 12, and at the age of 17 I broke my femur...therefore I am aware of how painful a crash can be!"
Your wife (who didn't seem to be at all at home in the video on the track), what does she think of Lorenzo's career in racing?
To be honest my wife approves! Let's say that over the past 20 years I have dedicated much time to horse racing, and I was far from coming back to four wheels with Lorenzo, instead there was a 'conspiracy' between Lorenzo and his mother! She told me to let Lorenzo have a go after he had asked her, and she sort of hinted her approval."
Do you sometimes come back to karting with a driving suit and helmet on?
Let's say that, in 2005, when I raced in Formula Master GP I went back to training constantly in karting, looking to improve performance. Nowadays it's a pleasure to go back to the track every now and then to help Lorenzo find the right path-line rather than look to the limit.
The 1974 world championship was a launch pad towards cars, when you were 20 years old. What do you think of being a car racing driver at the age of 15? As a father and as an ex-racing driver...
All the procedure has shortened, it takes less now, so you get used to it. We could say that, as things stand, it's harder to drive a go-kart than a racing car now: there's power assistance, power steering, telemetry, gears on steering wheel and so on, so a racing car is quite different to what it used to be. The period of apprenticeship and practice that we used to do to get to F.1 in order to be competitive has been totally done away with.
Thirty years ago, a manufacturer knew that a young racing driver needed time to become a good driver, or he would have done more harm than good! Today though, the budget is much more important and above all you have to approach a team and show that you are ready! When I won the title in 1974, Pino Trivellato spotted me and decided to let me have a go in F.3 in 1976 to advertise Chevron, because he was importer in Italy. He invested in me, a young kart driver with great hopes, and I did very well in F.3 and F.2. Once in the cadet someone from F.1 decided to invest in me, giving me a chance. Nowadays this doesn't happen anymore: they must be sure that you are a good investment, or you must have a stratospheric potential or you must be backed by a high budget.
Thanks to Fabina Gavillucci of www.vroomkart.com for permission to reproduce this article.