Riccardo Patrese is an Italian former racing driver who participated in 257 Formula One Grand Prix races between 1977 and 1993, and he is one of the only five drivers with more than 250 F1 races. Patrese scored six victories and 37 podiums in those races but he never won the championship: he was closest to the title in 1992, when he finished second behind Nigel Mansell.
On the top of the world in kart racing
Riccardo Gabriele Patrese was born on April 17th, 1954, in Padova, Italy. He started racing with karts as a 9-year old boy and during the years he progressed to the top of the Italian karting scene, winning the 1972 championship. Two years later, he became the world karting champion and after that, it was time to switch to racing cars.
His first competition was the 1975 Formula Italia and he finished second. Next year, Riccardo won two titles, dominating both in the European and Italian Formula 3 championships. He was driving Trivellato Racing's Chevron B34 (Toyota) and won four races against the Italian rivals and four races in the European competition.
Formula One debut with Shadow at Monaco
In 1977, Riccardo continued to race for Trivellato and progressed to Formula Two. He participated in 13 races of the European F2 championship and won the Italian F2 championship, but the most important moment was his Formula One debut.
Patrese debuted in Monaco Grand Prix on May 22nd, 1977, replacing Renzo Zorzi in Shadow Racing Team. He was one of seven drivers who were driving Cosworth-powered Shadow DN8 or DN5B during the 1977 season. Patrese finished his debuting Formula One race in the ninth place. He participated in eight more races, earning his first championship points with 6th place finish at Japanese Grand Prix.
Moving to Arrows in 1978
At the end of the season, the main sponsor and team leader Jackie Oliver had left Shadow to form the Arrows team. Patrese joined them, and his teammate was Rolf Stommelen. They started the 1978 season with the Cosworth-powered FA1 car and competed with it in ten races before they had to change to the redesigned A1 car. The team was forced to withdraw the FA1 after a legal protest of the Shadow team, which said that the Arrows FA1 was too similar to the Shadow DN9.
First F1 podium behind the famous Brabham's Fancar
Patrese recorded seven retirements during 1978, but in the races he finished, he was competitive. He took points at the United States Grand Prix West and the Monaco Grand Prix before he scored his first F1 podium at the Swedish Grand Prix in Anderstorp. It was a historic race in which Niki Lauda won driving the unusual Brabham BT46B Fancar. Patrese finished second after a close fight against Ronnie Peterson.
Patrese was charged for Peterson's death
Unfortunately, Peterson lost his life after an accident at the Italian Grand Prix later that year, for which Patrese was blamed. The Grand Prix Driver's Association banned him from racing in the next event, the United States Grand Prix. He was even charged on the court for Peterson's death, but the court declared him not guilty.
Patrese took the fourth place at the season-closing Canadian Grand Prix and finished his first season with Arrows in the 12th place of the final classification. He spent three more seasons driving for Arrows, mostly with Jochen Mass as his teammate.
In 1979, Patrese missed the podiums. In 1980, he finished second at the United States Grand Prix West in Long Beach. Patrese scored two podiums in 1981, finishing third at Interlagos (Brazil) and second at Imola (San Marino).
World championship title with Lancia
While competing in Formula One, Patrese joined Lancia for the 1980 World Sportscar Championship. He helped the Italian team to win the 1980 World Championship for Makes title, driving Lancia Beta Montecarlo in seven races and winning three times. Lancia got together the F1 and WRC stars, and Patrese's teammates were Eddie Cheever, Michele Alboreto, Piercarlo Ghinzani, Hans Heyer, Walter Röhrl and Markku Alen. Patrese won at Brands Hatch, Mugello and Watkins Glen.
Unsuccessful debut at Le Mans
He continued the cooperation with Lancia in 1981, driving Martini Racing's Beta Montecarlo in six races and scoring the victory at Watkins Glen. For the first time, Patrese participated in 24 Hours of Le Mans. His teammates in the #66 Lancia Beta Montecarlo were Hans Heyer and Piercarlo Ghinzani, but they retired after 186 laps.
The 1982 season was Patrese's most successful year in his sportscar racing career. He finished as runner-up in the World Endurance Championship, behind Jacky Ickx. Martini Racing competed with Lancia LC1 prototype and Patrese won the 6-hour race at Silverstone and 1000-km race at Nürburgring. Patrese, Heyer and Ghinzani visited Le Mans one more time in 1982, but their Lancia LC1 stopped after 152 laps.
Maiden F1 victory with Brabham in Monte-Carlo
In Formula One, Patrese moved to Brabham for the 1982 season. The team was named Parmalat Racing Team after an Italian sponsor. After a third-place finish at Long Beach, Patrese scored his maiden F1 victory at the Monaco Grand Prix. It was really a lucky win in a crazy race because two drivers ahead of him, Didier Pironi and Andrea de Cesaris, stopped on the final lap. Before that, Patrese was battling for a win against Alain Prost but the Frenchman crashed three laps before the end. Patrese spun on the wet track but rejoined the race and crossed the finish line as the winner.
Second victory in Kyalami
With one more podium finish being the second place at the Canadian Grand Prix, Patrese collected 21 points and finished 10th in the championship. His second F1 victory followed in 1983 at the South African Grand Prix. It was the last race of the season in which Patrese retired in ten of fifteen races, driving the BMW-powered Brabham BT52 and BT52B. BMW's turbo engine was very competitive that year and Patrese's teammate Nelson Piquet took the world championship title while Patrese finished ninth.
In 1983, Patrese continued to compete with Martini Racing's Lancia LC2 in the World Endurance Championship but without victories. He managed to win one race driving Lancia LC2 in 1984, together with Alessandro Nannini in the Kyalami 1000-km race.
Catastrophic results with Alfa Romeo F1 team
Patrese joined another Italian team for 1984 Formula One season. It was the Benetton Alfa Romeo. He was driving Alfa Romeo 184T powered by 1.5 turbo V8 engine and retired in ten of sixteen races. Patrese's best result was third place at the Italian Grand Prix. The next season with Alfa Romeo was even worse and Patrese retired in 12 of 16 races.
He didn't score any point for the first time and only time in his F1 career. His only comfort was a relatively successful season with Lancia in the 1985 World Endurance Championship. He participated in six races and won at the 1000-km of Spa, in a historic race marked by the death of Stefan Bellof. Patrese's teammates in the Lancia LC2 were Mauro Baldi and Bob Wollek.
Return to Brabham for two more seasons
Bad results in Formula One, with the car he described as one of the worst he ever drove, caused another team change and Patrese returned to Brabham for 1986. Although he had a better car two winless seasons followed, with third place at the 1987 Mexican Grand Prix, behind dominating Williams' cars of Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell.
Patrese made an agreement for moving to Williams in 1988, but he had an opportunity to drive FW11B in the last race of the 1987 season, the Australian Grand Prix, as a replacement for Nigel Mansell, who was still recovering from an accident at the Japanese Grand Prix.
Best years in a career with Williams F1 Team
In 1988, Patrese became a member of the Canon Williams team and remained with the team until 1992. It was the most successful period of his career, with four Grand Prix wins, runner-up spot in the 1992 championship and third place finishes in 1989 and 1991.
In 1988, Patrese's teammate was Nigel Mansell, from 1989 Thierry Boutsen joined the team and competed with them for two seasons. Mansel returned in 1991 and he led the team to the double championship title in 1992. The Renault-powered Williams FW14B was a dominant car on the grid and Mansell scored nine wins to took the title.
Six F1 wins at six different tracks
Patrese added one victory at Japanese Grand Prix and finished second in the championship. It was his sixth and last F1 win. He won at six different tracks – Monaco, Kyalami, Imola, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Estoril and Suzuka.
Patrese was thinking that his place in the Williams was under threat and he signed for Benetton for 1993 season. His teammate was a 24-year-old rising star Michael Schumacher. Driving Ford-powered Benetton B193 Patrese collected 20 points to finish 5th in the championship. He finished third at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and his final F1 podium was a second place at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Retirement after 17-year-long F1 career
In 1994, Patrese was replaced in Benetton by Jos Verstappen. As most teams already had drivers signed Riccardo decided to retire. At the age 39, he closed the F1 career which was at that time the longest in the history of Formula One, with 256 F1 starts in 17 seasons. In the meantime, Rubens Barrichello, Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button collected more F1 races, with Fernando Alonso next on the list with just two races less than Patrese.
Patrese had a chance to be back in Formula One after Ayrton Senna's death in 1994 but he refused William's invitation. He rejoined Williams in 1996 but just for a test ride with their championship winning FW18.
One more DNF at Le Mans
In 1997, Patrese attempted one more time to finish Le Mans 24-hour race but failed again. He was driving TWR-prepared Nissan R390 GT1 alongside Aguri Suzuki and Eric van de Poele. They retired after 121 laps.
Besides open-wheelers and sportscar prototypes Patrese competed with touring cars. Still as an F1 driver, he was a guest in the 1988 Italian Super Touring Car Championship and he won one of four races, driving Alfa Romeo 75 Turbo. After F1 retirement, he joined the Schübel Rennsport team in the 1995 Deutsche Tourenwagen Cup, driving Ford Mondeo.
The second retirement is the last. Or isn't?
In 2005, Patrese returned to racing against legendary Formula One drivers in the inaugural season of the Grand Prix Masters. In a one-off appearance at Kyalami, he finished third behind Nigel Mansell and Emerson Fittipaldi. In the 2006 Grand Prix Masters season, Patrese competed in two races, at Losail circuit in Qatar and at Silverstone. After that, he once again retired from racing. Or not? In the meantime he participated in many racing shows, promotional activities and historic events.