By Vinayak Pande on May 13, 2015
It took ten years for Riccardo Patrese’s record of taking part in the most Formula 1 races to be broken. The Italian’s 256 races gave him fuel for an opinion or two.
If you were to get the chance to talk to the man who remained the most experienced Formula 1 driver of all time for 15 years, what would you ask him? Change in F1, current trends and ever decreasing age of debutants would definitely top the list of things you would ask someone who raced in 256 Grands Prix from 1977 to 1993.
Italy’s Riccardo Patrese was the first driver in F1 to rack up 250 grand prix starts, a mark that only three other drivers were able to equal and then surpass. And it’s a pretty eltie club that includes a world champion, the most successful F1 driver of all time and his long suffering teammate.
TALKING FORMULA ONE
When autoX got the chance to catch up with him at the Cartier Concours in Delhi, we picked his brains for his take on the sport that he had such a long association with. And since experience in F1 is his forte the conversation veered towards the current generation of F1 debutants; the most noticeable of which has been 17-year-old Max Verstappen.
“When I left F1 after 1993 the cars were already very technical and reliable,” said Patrese. “But the cars now have so much more electronics that they are a lot easier to drive. It wouldn’t have been possible for a 17-year-old to drive an F1 car back in those days for sure!”
Although unlike most of the critics of Verstappen’s inclusion to the F1 grid – who have been all but silenced now – Patrese feels that the sport has taken a specific direction like pretty much any other as compared to the ‘good old days’ that previous participants and fans like to talk about.
“This is the way F1 has developed and it is still very interesting,” said Patrese. “I still enjoy watching all the races and the show in general is good.”
WHERE ARE THE ITALIANS?
Of course on a personal level Patrese misses seeing his fellow countrymen behind the wheel of F1 cars but is resigned to it due to what he feels are the reasons for there being no Italian participants in F1.
“In my days there were no Germans and then you had (Michael) Schumacher and (Sebastian) Vettel who dominated F1,” said Patrese. “It’s just the way it is now as there are a lot of countries that are richer than Italy which makes it hard for drivers from there to find sponsorship.”
Sponsorship aside Patrese feels that there is another big stumbling block for finding the best drivers, regardless of their nationality.
“There are many drivers these days that look good before F1 these days,” said Patrese. “And that’s because there are a lot more junior categories now than there were in my day.”
“Back then there were very few series so all the good drivers would come to the same place to show off their stuff. Now even with series like GP2 and GP3 there is no guarantee of a driver making it to F1 or even doing well when they get there.”
Patrese feels that this development has made it important for a driver to be scouted early by a big backer and then supported all the way to F1; much like the way Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen were supported by McLaren and Red Bull.
Not to mention on the road to F1 a young driver of today has far more help at his or her disposal.
“It’s a new fashion to have driver coaching to go along with the amount of telemetry available to young drivers these days,” said Patrese. “A young driver in F1 these days has access to a lot of information that teaches them to drive.
“Me and others like (Ayrton) Senna, (Alain) Prost and (Nigel) Mansell had to figure it all out for ourselves and our telemetry was limited. Also we had no idea what the other teams were doing, which is not the case now where every team knows what the other is doing.
“I am okay with this change but if you ask me I would still prefer my Formula 1!”