Riccardo Patrese - misunderstood

By Cesare Maria Mannucci

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San Marino Grand Prix, Imola, the month of May. After a race-long hunt, Riccardo Patrese overtakes Patrick Tambay and snatches the race lead. At the “Acque Minerali” chicane, for reasons still unknown today, Riccardo Patrese crashes into the armco amidst scenes of delirious joy of the local public.

A month later, in Montecarlo, Patrese is dicing with Tambay once again, for the third spot. When the speaker announces he has pitted, all the Italians present at the Hotel de Paris and on the stands in the Casino square, rejoice with satisfaction.

Month of September, Monza, Italy GP. After conquering a pole position out of pure rage, Patrese starts, determined to win his Grand Prix. The dream lasts only one lap. Coming out of the Ascari curve, another turbine fails in a cloud of smoke, amongst hilarious Ferrari supporters, who see their eternal enemy surrender once again.

Riccardo’s career has always been uphill. From his adventurous victory in the F3 Championship against Conny Andersson in a showdown at Vallelunga, to his arrival in F1, managed by characters which will later hit the headlines for things unrelated to car racing, continuing with the experience of being spread all over the newspapers like a monster for the Monza incident, the wrath at Watkins Glen, the eternal delusion with Ferrari, the wasted years at Arrows, the arrival at Brabham with results lesser than what expected and with a less than perfect relationship with the team.

As for the season now beginning, Patrese has accepted another challenge. To a comfortable season in Brabham, he has preferred the adventure at Alfa Romeo-Euroracing, hoping to succeed where other colleagues have failed.

Understanding that racing against an entire nation is impossible, Patrese hopes, in giving to Alfa its first victory, to become more appreciated in his own country. After 7 years in F1, Patrese has to undertake another exam. Together with the destiny of Alfa, 1984 will probably also decide Riccardo’s career, with the hope to be celebrated even if he had to return to the pits…on foot.

After 10 years of races, do you think you have obtained all you expected from this sport or do you believe you are owed something?

“I consider myself a lucky person, for what I do in my life. Sure, looking at how I have worked, I should have obtained more. My ambitions are still very high, I still want to win, I hope this year it all comes real”

In F1 you have been labeled for years as unpleasant, many have made it difficult for you, why?

“By now I have been labeled as somebody who creates confusion. What happened to me in the past can be explained with the negative climate that was created around me. Some behaviors which have been linked to me are just labels, stereotypes. It’s one of the worst aspects of F1.”

Coming form a team which has won the World Title, do you consider coming to Alfa Romeo like cutting down your ambitions?

“No. As for my personal ambitions I believe I can get more here than at Brabham. At Brabham I have been in the passenger seat for two years, since the whole team is focused around Piquet, due to his relationship with Gordon Murray and the rest of the team. Here I feel like I’m pulling the team, I see the potential, we have to exploit it the right way. Winning a race with Alfa, which has not won since 1951, would give me a great satisfaction.”

What happened with Brabham?

“The main program was the influence of Piquet on Gordon Murray. It is not true that the Monza episode was crucial in my relationship with the team. At Monza I pointed out that, had I been leading the race in the last laps, I would have gone for it, since the Italy GP was very important for me. After Monza there was no issues, in fact both in Brands Hatch and Kyalami I believe I have done my best to help Piquet clinching the title. All the team believed I would have raced with them in the ’84 season, and they were surprised when I announced I was going to Alfa Romeo”.

On the technical side, do you think you have always received the best from Brabham BMW?

“At race start I always did. Only in Holland I had to test a peculiar turbine, which then failed two laps from the end while I was running second. There is no doubt, instead, that private testing, either due to Murray’s influence, or because he was ahead in the points, surely favoured Piquet”.

You have arrived in F1 at Shadow sponsored by Franco Ambrosio, a person which later hit the headlines for reasons unrelated to car racing: how do you remember him?

“I remember him as a kind person and he was very correct towards me. I don’t know whether he saw F1 as a means to get exposure or if he has real passion for this sport: anyways, I owe him a lot.”

In your first year in F1 your team-mate was Alan Jones: what is your memory of that period and of Jones, who is known for creating problems to his team-mates?

“With Alan Jones we went on perfectly well. Alan is another driver labeled as unpleasant but it is not true at all. I remember that at Shadow after a few races the team saw more potential in me, because I was 22 years old and our lap times were similar. At the end of the year, when Shadow became Arrows, Alan Rees and Jackie Oliver decided to let Jones go and keep me, and that decision was my first lost occasion in F1. In that period Frank Williams was staring up a new team. I was in contact with him and Frank told me that the first one of us to accept was going to be his driver. Mistakenly, I stuck to Arrows, because it was a more known quantity, rather than taking my chances with Frank, who still had to show his worth. Jones signed with Williams, laying the foundation for his title crown. I could have been on that car.”

1978 started in the best way for you. Your race in Kyalami may have annoyed someone?

“In that period there was a club of ‘Senators” amongst the drivers, some felt they were more important than the young ones arriving in F1. What happened to me at the end of the season , with the Monza incident, is certainly due to the mentality of these guys, who saw in every newcomer somebody who needed putting under control, one way or another.”

In that period you started being called a dangerous and unfair driver. At Anderstorp, in a duel with Peterson, you probably went too far. After the race Peterson wanted to kill you…

“I admit in that period I tended to be overly aggressive. The race in Anderstorp was the classic race of a young driver who wants to reach the top. I probably used an excessively obstructing tactic. I could do the same in 1984 and no one would notice. It’s all a matter of experience.”

After the Sweden GP you were constantly under fire from your colleagues. The Zandvoort incident with Pironi was just one step too far?

“By then it had become normal to consider me guilty of anything that happened in F1. In that occasion Pironi hit me from behind. It was my last crash before Monza”.

So, Monza. How does it feel to be accused of something you haven’t done? How did that story change you?

“The negative publicity was very heavy on me. Inside, I was always serene, because in my conscience I knew I had done nothing wrong. I never stopped loving the races, proof is after Watkins Glen I came back at Montreal and finished fourth.”

At Watkins Glen F1 wrote one of his worst pages, was it a moment when the ugly side of racing came out?

“At the Glen I saw some strange things. The various “World Champions” exerted pressure on the race organizers, who in turn pressed Ecclestone saying that, had I raced, the GP would not have taken place. Ecclestone pushed my team to retire my name and clearly Arrows could not say No to Ecclestone.”

How did you feel when you were told you were not going to race?

“I fought for my rights, and I went immediately to a US judge. Within, I felt really bad. I came from a different culture, it felt like going back to the Holy Inquisition. You should never be judged by your peers, because their judgment is dictated by personal interest.”

Enzo Ferrari says that if you have not raced in Ferrari it was because of somebody imposing his force majeure: who?

“I don’t know”.

Wasn’t there any influence from Turin?

“I have no idea, it’s difficult to tell. One thing is sure. I was accused of being greedy, but this is totally untrue. When they asked me what I wanted, as we were defining the contract, I said it was not a question of money, because for me it was an honour to race for Ferrari. I asked for the same amount I was getting at Arrows, which for Ferrari was certainly affordable.”

Had you raced for Ferrari would your career have been different?

“It is likely. However Ferrari still conditioned my career. Due to the fact I was having talks with Ferrari, I did not develop other possibilities. Due to the promises from Ferrari, I gave up the opportunity with Brabham Alfa Romeo, then taken by Piquet. I said no to Brabham because it was a three year contract, while with Arrows I could have gone to Ferrari any time. Without the Ferrari “mirage” I could have gone to Brabham, sacrifice a couple of years alongside Lauda, and now I’d be sitting instead of Piquet. Ferrari’s promises limited me in my choices of a team.”

How is your present relationship with Lauda?

“I have a normal professional relationship with Lauda. I have no interest in becoming his friend and I believe it’s the same thing for him. His past declarations were probably due to the low consideration he had for a young driver. In South Africa and in other occasions, when he was behind me, I don’t believe he felt humiliated due to being beaten by ‘Mr. Patrese”.

You have always been in contact with the British racing environment: what are the main differences with the Italian one?

“In Italy I only had a relationship with the Trivellato Racing and Lancia. In the Italian teams it’s more difficult to operate, since here there is a stronger passion for racing than anywhere else, and sometimes there are excessive pressures on teams.”

Between a 1935 Marklin engine and a winning F1 car, what do you pick?

“They are two important things. In racing I realize my ambitions and desires. The train models help me relaxing when I don’t want to think of F1. I take both.”

Translation by Gionata Ferroni