Successful in karate and skiing before switching to racing
Born in Milan in June 1958, Riccardo Paletti had no connections with racing before he was nineteen. He was successful in karate, even becoming the Italian junior champion, and also in alpine skiing, becoming a member of the Italian youth selection.
Then, in 1978, he decided to start a career in racing. His first competition was the Italian Formula Ford 2000, in which he finished third in the points in his rookie season.
Combining Formula 3 and Formula 2 in 1979 and 1980
Next season, he moved to the Italian Formula 3. Driving a March-Toyota, he was 12th in the points. In the same year, Paletti made a debut in the European Formula 2 Championship, driving a March-BMW for Mike Earle at Misano.
In 1980, Paletti was combining Formula 3 (Italian and European championships) and Formula 2. He started four F2 races with Mike Earle's March-BMW, not scoring points.
Full season in the 1981 European Formula 2 Championship
In 1981, Paletti was ready to participate full season in the Formula 2 Championship. He made a deal with Onyx Racing to drive a March 812-BMW. He had a great start of the season, scoring two podiums in three races. He was second at Silverstone (behind Mike Thackwell) and third at Thruxton (behind Roberto Guerrero and Eje Elgh). In the second round at Hockenheim, he retired but set the fastest lap.
Later in the season, the results were disappointing, including six retirements. He finished tenth in the final classification.
Riccardo Paletti (left) and his teammate Jean-Pierre Jarier
Stepping up to Formula 1 in 1982
The mediocre result in Formula 2 didn't prevent Paletti to make a step up to Formula 1 in 1982. He joined the Italian team Osella Squadra Corse with a support of his main sponsor Pioneer. He was driving the #32 Osella FA1C-Cosworth, next to Jean-Pierre Jarier as his teammate in the #31 car.
In the uncompetitive car, Paletti manages to qualify for the race in the fourth attempt, at San Marino Grand Prix. Previously, he was too slow in South Africa, Brazil, and Long Beach, USA.
Riccardo Paletti was driving the #32 Osella-Cosworth
Boycott helped Paletti to reach starting grid at Imola
Paletti made to the grid of the San Marino Grand Prix thanks to a boycott of many teams, causing that only fourteen drivers participated in the race. Paletti was 13th in qualifying and retired from the race after seven laps with a broken suspension.
The next was the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder, where Paletti failed to prequalify on Friday. The same happened at Monaco Grand Prix.
Jarier 'stole' Paletti's car at Detroit Grand Prix
Then, the North American tour followed in June 1982. Paletti managed to qualify for the Detroit Grand Prix, taking 23rd place on the grid, one position behind his teammate.
However, during the warm-up session, Paletti lost a wheel. Jarier also had a misfortune because fire extinguisher gone from his car. Jarier took the spare car while Paletti's mechanics were repairing his car. During the preparation for the race, Jarier hit the wall and damaged his spare car, so he returned to the pits and took Paletti's car to start the race from the pits. Paletti left in the paddock as a spectator again.
A scene after Riccardo Paletti's fatal crash
Death at the start of the 1982 Canadian Grand Prix
The next chance to race in F1 Grand Prix came a week later at Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Paletti successfully qualified his car to the 23rd place on the grid. Unfortunately, he never left the grid because the fatal crash happened.
Didier Pironi, who had the pole position, stalled the engine of his Ferrari. As the lights already switched to green, it was too late to abort the start. Many cars swerved across the track, some contacts between cars occurred but there was no major accident until Paletti slammed into the back of the stranded Ferrari at approximately 180 km/h.
The nose of Paletti's Osella was badly damaged, breaking his legs. He also had severe internal injuries. It took the rescue workers twenty-five minutes to get Paletti out of the car and he was transferred to a hospital but there is no chance to save his life.
As a tribute to the young Italian, the racetrack at Varano de' Melegari, in the province of Parma, was renamed to Autodromo Riccardo Paletti.