My childhood and my youth have always been tied to cars. Mario, my dad, and my brother Alberto always talked to me about cars. And they spoke and read to me about these characters who were racing drivers described as knights of the round table who fought against monsters and did heroic deeds. Even then I had some doubts: “They’re certainly like that”, I told myself, “but they’re just like all other men”.
I’ve never had and I don’t have any role-models. We’re all equal and similar. But because of luck, aptitude and ambition there are those who manage to get higher or lower – but always because they’ve found a fertile land to plough that they can willingly work on. And I’ve never happened to think that someone would like to make a legend out of me: I’d like to meet him in order to thank him and tell him not to do it…
I had already started racing with go-karts. And in spite of being on the lowest rung of the racing driver ladder I didn’t think I was very different to a normal person or that I was doing something so difficult.
So I started to cherish the idea of one day being able to fight the same battles and carry out the same exploits asthose knights of the round table of which I had read and of which I was so little amazed at. It was the age of dreams, sure. But I liked confronting reality much more. I was 14-15 years old.
What kind of boy was I? My main interests were always to do with the sporting world. Especially swimming and skiing. I used to go go-kart racing in the summer with my father and Elena, my mother. They were drivers, managers, coaches, technicians…
In winter I swam with Calligaris at the Rari Nantes Patavium. It was a very intense period, even if it culminated in the tragedy of Brema which deprived me of more than one friend. I was a freestyle swimmer and then a back-stroke swimmer for the relay. Even in swimming there was speed and close distances. I started skiing as soon as I could stand on two feet. It was my first sport, and I followed it until I was twenty. I swam from the age of ten to fifteen, then the team broke up…the best ones went to Rome to train with the national coach.
I was lucky to live in a family which always made it easy for me to practice these sports. My parents followed me closely, giving me advice but without pressing me. I can consider myself really privileged from this point of view.
Even in the decision to definitely go motor racing there weren’t any problems. In ’74 I won the world title. I had got to the top and it seemed senseless to continue go-kart racing. It was useless repetition – I couldn’t go any further than that. So, when the Nettuno racing team of Bologna proposed the Formula Italia to me I accepted. It was a prize for what I had done in go-karting and it was fun. I was busy with university. While I was planning my studies I thought I would be able to do this championship just for fun. At the time I didn’t think that it could be a spring-board for going further. Financial means were necessary and also someone who could follow you. So I thought I could give it a try and then was my hands of it and concentrate on my studies.
God, what a time it was! I went around with Dad. We spoke, discussed, argued, and enjoyed each other’s company. It’s one of the things, maybe, which I remember with most joy, tenderness and fondness. I don’t know how to say it, but if I think about my father I see him in that truck by my side, heading for the tracks, always calm. Maybe he was worried, but he never let me see that he was.
The ’75 season had been seen like this. My father said “OK, come on, let’s do it!” We had convinced my mother who wasn’t too keen at first…”Come on Mum, it’s just fun – the cars don’t go fast, they’re tough, and there’s no danger of getting hurt. We’ll just do a year and that’ll be it.” When she was persuaded my father fitted out a truck, we put on a hook for the trailer with the car, and for one season he and I went around to all the racing tracks in Italy.
Fate intended that everything should go well in this too, and at the end of the season there were those who asked me if I wanted to go onto the higher formula. And from there, in two years, from Formula Italia I found myself in Formula 1. I had my first race in Formula Italia in May 1975 and in May 1977 I was making my debut in Formula One.
From “Patrese 200 volte, VIA!” by Maurizio Refini & Riccardo Patrese