RICCARDO FEELS THAT RACING OWES HIM SOMETHING
"I want to win. Just win."
“I have given a lot to motor racing but I don’t think I have received proportionately. It is a balance that I intend to make even”
by Gianni Cancellieri
The beach of the Excelsior Hotel at the Lido di Venezia has not changed in decades, always the same in terms of atmosphere, style, customers. Amongst the illustrious clients there’s Riccardo Patrese, who, between a Grand Prix and a practice session, “steals” a few hours to his work to go sunbathing and relaxing with Susi and his son Simone. He also accepts talking of work, despite the season is offering more reason for regret than satisfaction. Riccardo, although showing the bitterness for the bad results, talks of his ’83 season without complaining too much, without hiding behind the image of “the unlucky guy” offering proof of a solid maturity, a maturity that not all are ready to acknowledge: but that’s a different story. Riccardo’s temperament, his introverted mood, often mistaken for shyness, some of his quotes are often taken for arrogant, when they instead come from being instinctively honest (bordering to ingenuity in some cases) and instinctively coherent with himself and his ideas. In the end, he has a personality which is less than ideal for a “public” activity such as that of a sport professional, who is always in the spotlight.
Riccardo, we certainly cannot say that you enjoy a favourable press. How come?
“Well… I do my job, journalists do theirs. Not always these two activities go well together. Sometimes you refrain from saying things that better stay behind closed doors...only to find them written somewhere and quite distorted as well; some other times you give unexpected or unpleasant answers and in these cases being frank and honest can put you under a bad light...”
Sometimes a good result can fix a lot of things, but, this year, for you, except for Hockenheim, nothing has gone right so far.
“Look, I don’t know what to think of it myself. I have analysed and self investigated myself, but such a long black streak, I cannot rationally explain it”.
Don’t you feel responsible for any of the 10 retirements out of 11 races in 1983?
“I can give you the list, I know it by heart: Brazil, broken exhaust pipe (between the chamber and the turbine); Long Beach, a nut from the electrical system came loose three laps from finish. France, the engine water “disappeared”, I don’t know how else to describe it; Imola, I went out, so let’s say this one’s my fault...”
Why “let’s say” ?
Because I think I did a mistake, but I’m not sure. Maybe I have modified my trajectory by a few cm, maybe 10cm since the previous lap, and the tyre ended on gravel, where it shouldn’t have gone. Tambay, a few meters behind me, hit the brakes and avoided the trap, but Arnoux, who was a bit further and had not seen me going out, he did the same as me, only he managed to go back in and finish the race. So, let’s say it was my fault...”
A “fault” that you have paid dearly…
“Yes, a little too much maybe, but it’s gone now: I mean, insults and booing I certainly don’t appreciate, but, anyway, they’re gone with the wind, but the rage and bitterness for a victory thrown away, those remain. Anyway, let’s get on with it: what was after Imola?”
“At Spa I did 1 Km and I stopped with a broken engine shaft. In Montecarlo I retired due to problems with the fuel pump; In Detroit it was the brakes; in Montreal it was a bearing of the gearshaft; At Silverstone a turbine; at Hockenheim it finished well, but towards the end the turbo pressure had gone down a lot; at Zeltweg the engine just died, I suppose it was the electrical system. Every time I say: let’s hope something changes, but apparently …it’s not yet time for the change!”
Simone hits the table with his fist: he did win the first card game with dad, but now dad has equalized. They need a decider.
What if, in this year’s races, you’d have finished the races in the position you retired instead, today you’d have lots of points…
“If history could be made with “what ifs”… well, we can just do it as a game and sum up the missed occasions: in Brazil I was 2nd, that’s 6 points; at Long Beach I was 3rd, so we are at 10; In France I was 4th, that’s 13; At Imola I was 1st, that’s 22; In Montecarlo I was 4th, that’s 27; at Detroit I was out of the points; at Montreal I was second, and we reach 33 points; at Silverstone I was 4th, that’s 37. Add the 4 “real” points at Hockenheim and 3 for Zeltweg and you have 44. Well, it’s just a game but...I’d be second, 7 points behind Prost!”
Let’s rule out superstitious explanations: are you telling me you believe in the sabotage theory?
“Imagine that! Not only it would be idiotic (every result for the team is points and money, a lot of money) but also impossible: the engines arrive from Munich, 6 at a time, sealed. Nelson and me we just pick one randomly and those 2 are mounted on the cars.”
Therefore we can talk of a chain of casual negative circumstances which, much in the same way they have started, will eventually end. Maybe you could try to get a blessing, are not you devout to S. Antonio da Padova?
“Of course he is (answering is Mario Di Natale, a “venetized” man from Romagna, owner of the restaurant “Il Falconiere” in Padua, president and founder of the Riccardo Patrese Fan Club). Of course he is devout, but the Saint has other things to do, he cannot take care of mechanical parts or race results. He’s doing his job keeping Riccardo safe, all the rest is none of his business.”
Riccardo, how many GP did you have to abandon while you were winning?
“Four: South Africa ’78 (a bearing), Long Beach ’81 (fuel pump filter), Austria ’82 (a piston plug came off); Imola ’83 (we all know how). Had I won those races no one would be complaining now and I would be a 5 GP winner, instead of one.”
Instead you find yourself chasing a few points, like you were a rookie instead of a driver with almost 100 GP experience. Do they satisfy you, podium or points positions?
“In truth, no: as an alternative to retirements, I can’t complain about them, but my objective must be the highest. You win a Grand Prix, you want to repeat that more and more, or at least that’s how I see it.”
Do you ever think at the World Championship crown?
“Of course: look, maybe not all drivers will admit it, because often the comparison between your ambitions and the results obtained can make someone smile, but, believe me, all those who race in F1 GPs think about becoming World Champions, sure they do! Anyways, I do: and I know when I will stop thinking about it, I will be finished with racing.”
What will you do after racing ? Will you stay in the circus?
“I don’t think so, probably not…”
Can you see yourself as a team-manager, just to make an example?
“Well, experience can always be transmitted to others but what I cannot imagine is, after the intimate relation I’ve had with the races, to remain involved and watch others drive my cars. Maybe, but I don’t know...”
Or, more quietly, you could launch some sportswear line or something like that, like many other sports champions: you’d be the president, Mario the marketing director …”
“Yes, so you would stop experimenting on my Panda!” (this is Susi, just arrived on the beach).
What experiments, Susi?
“All sorts, basically it’s their mechanic lab. This morning, just to pick one, I found 4 Pirelli P8 tyres on it …”.
Well, it could be worse…
“No, it’s not a problem, but you’d like to get used to your car, familiarize with its characteristics, but mine changes every day...actually it’s a very quick Panda...” (I can sense she likes that).
Are you ever afraid, Riccardo?
“Never: if I was afraid before a race, I think that in order to fight it I would use up all my energies and I could not drive at 100%. Fear, for me, and possibly for all the drivers – is more, let’s say, a retrospective thing: if I think about last year’s crash at the Nurburgring, with the Lancia, I have the creeps. But it’s just a split second, you know, then you forget about it.”
At 29, what’s your present balance with life and racing?
“With life I can’t really complain, it would not be right. With races it’s different: I’ve given a lot to races, but I don’t think I have received proportionately. I need to even the score.”
Simone jumps for joy: he’s won the decider at the game he’s playing with dad. And now, everyone goes to the water.