Riccardo Patrese: The Italian who refused to retire

30 Jun

Today marks day 6 of the Formula 1 Formula week of legends (25th June – 1st July). These legends are drivers who have been unsung but have completed achievements that deserve merit. Today’s hero is Riccardo Patrese a man who broke records with his 256 race starts.

At the Brazilian GP 1989 Riccardo Patrese made history becoming the most experienced F1 driver with 177 starts. One season later Patrese yet again broke a milestone, this time it was for being the first driver to reach 200 starts in F1. When Patrese retired at the end of 1993 he’d accumulated 256 race starts, here’s his story:

In 1977 Patrese made his debut with the Shadow racing team replacing Renzo Zorxi. It was a successful debut for Riccardo finishing 9th out of the 12 cars who finished the 1977 Monaco GP and most impressively beating Jacky Ickx. It was a wait before Patrese could impress again as he suffered four retirements in the next 7 races. Patrese managed to impress at the last race of the 1977 season in Japan, finishing 6th and getting a point. In 1978 Patrese moved to the Arrows team founded by Jackie Oliver who he drove alongside in 1977. It was a success.

At Arrow’s second race in South Africa Patrese came close to victory until an engine failure forced him to retire from first place 15 laps from the end, but success was waiting round the corner as Patrese finished 6th at the next two races (USA west and Monaco) to pick up 2 points in the drivers championship. It was another three races before Riccardo would pick up points, this time he finished 2nd at the Swedish GP, 34 seconds behind the victor, Niki Lauda. Patrese than suffered a disappointing spell of results, retiring from 4 of the next 6 GPs and filing to pick up any points, but at the season’s final race at Canada rising from 12th on the grid to finish 4th. Patrese finished 1978 with 11 points.

By all accounts 1979 was a season to forget, Patrese stayed with Arrows but could only pick up points with a 5th place at Spa. But 1980 was more successful, despite retiring from 7 of the 14 races. In his first finish of the season Patrese finished 6th in Brazil, and then at the 4th race of the season (Patrese’s second finish) he finished 2nd at the USA West GP this time 49 seconds behind Nelson Piquet. The rest of the season failed to impress with Patrese picking up poor finishes and retirements. Patrese finished 1980 with 7 points.

1981 was another season plagued by retirements, this time retiring from 9 of the 15 races. But it wasn’t all bad, Patrese finished 3rd in Brazil and 2nd at the inaugural San Marino GP. In 1982 he moved to Brabham to drive alongside Nelson Piquet. Despite retiring from the first two races Patrese finished 3rd at USA West, and three races later Patrese picked up a fluke win in Monaco after 4 drivers retired from 1st place in the last two laps. Patrese also set his debut fastest lap at Monaco. In Canada it was Patrese’s 3rd podium of the season finishing 2nd at Canada only 13 seconds behind Nelson Piquet. Overall Piquet finished 5 of the 15 races picking up points at 4 of them (Patrese finished 5th in Switzerland).

In 1983 Patrese stayed with Brabham, Patrese was set to finish 1st at the San Marino GP, but he spun off with 6 laps remaining. At the 1983 German GP Patrese finished 3rd but he was almost 2 minutes off race winner, Rene Arnoux. At the final race of the season Patrese managed to pick up an impressive 1st place in South Africa after starting 3rd. For the 1984 and 1985 seasons Patrese drove for Alfa Romeo, but it was a disappointing couple of seasons the only result worth mentioning was a 3rd place at the 1984 Italian GP. So for 1986 Patrese moved back to Brabham, but it a successful move, over the next two seasons Patrese only finished 10 out of the 31 races.

In 1988 Patrese drove for the team after driving for the team at the ultimate race of the 1987 season. Patrese finished in the points 5 times to finish the year with 8 championship points. 1989 was the year that Patrese finally managed to put his driving skill into action only retiring four times. After 3 pointless races Patrese picked up his first podium for four seasons finishing second in Mexico behind Ayrton Senna, Patrese then finished 2nd at the following two races in the USA and Canada making it a trip to North America to remember. With the return to Europe Patrese continued his successful run finishing 3rd at the French GP. At the Hungarian GP Patrese picked up his debut pole position but retired on lap 54 with a radiator problem. At the final two races of the season Patrese returned to the podium, finishing 2nd in Japan and 3rd in Australia. Patrese finished the 1989 season 3rd in the championship with 40 points.

After the fantastic 1989 season Patrese must have expected great things, but sadly the car didn’t have championship contending pace. It was the San Marino GP where Patrese stood on the podium, and it was his first time on the top step since 1983. Patrese drove strongly from 3rd on the grid, but Patrese probably wouldn’t have won had Senna not retired on lap 3. Overall in 1989 Patrese picked up 23 points to finish 7th in the standings.

1991 was Patrese’s 5th year driving a Williams, despite finishing 43 points behind Championship winner Ayrton Senna Patrese had a great season to finish 3rd in the championship. Every race Patrese finished he picked up points in, but he had five retirements. Patrese started his points haul in Brazil finishing 2nd, only 3 seconds behind Senna. In Canada Patrese started from pole, but could only convert it into 3rd. But at the next race in Mexico Patrese converted the pole into top step on the podium. Patrese’s second victory of the season came in Portugal where Patrese started 1st and finished 1st beating Ayrton Senna by 20 seconds. Patrese finished 3rd in the championship with 53 points.

1992 was Patrese’s most successful season, he finished 2nd on seven occasions, 3rd twice and top of the podium in Japan profiting from Senna’s and Mansell’s retirements. This record of podiums gave Patrese second place in the championship with 56 points, even if he was 52 points behind world champion Nigel Mansell.

For 1993 Patrese moved to Benetton to drive alongside Michael Schumacher, but he found it hard to work with Schumacher so he retired at the end of the season. Patrese picked up his final podium of his career at Hungary finishing over a minute behind the man who replaced Patrese at Williams, Damon Hill.

Since his retirement Patrese has tested a Williams F1 car in 2002, he raced in the now defunct Grand Prix Masters Series.

Throughout his career Patrese set the record for the number of race entries, 257. Of those 256 race starts he finished 126 (less than 50%). Patrese won 6 races, got 37 podiums, picked up 281 points, 8 pole positions and 13 fastest laps.


One Response to “Riccardo Patrese: The Italian who refused to retire”

  1. Janella July 2, 2012 at 07:03 #

    Didn’t James Hunt have a very poor opinion of Patrese, and often had to be shut up by Murray Walker when they were commentating together?

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