At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Riccardo Patrese - racing driver

Former Williams ace was first in Formula One to start 250 races


Riccardo Patrese was considered brash and  impetuous at the start of his career
Riccardo Patrese was considered brash and
impetuous at the start of his career
The racing driver Riccardo Patrese, who for 15 years was the only Formula One driver to have started more than 250 Grand Prix races, was born on this day in 1954 in Padua.

The former Williams driver reached the milestone in the German Grand Prix of 1993, having three years earlier been the first to make 200 starts.

Patrese retired at the end of the 1993 season with his total on 256 and his  record of longevity was not surpassed until 2008, when the Brazilian driver Rubens Barrichello made his 257th start at the Turkish Grand Prix.

Ferrari ace Michael Schumacher passed 250 two years later and Patrese’s total has now been exceeded by six drivers, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa having all joined the 250 club.

Patrese also became famous for an unwanted record, having gone more than six years between his second Grand Prix victory in Formula One, in the 1983 South African GP, and his third, in the San Marino GP of 1990.

He enjoyed his most successful years while driving for Williams between 1987 and 1992, finishing third in the drivers’ championship in 1989 and 1991 and runner-up in 1992, albeit a long way behind that season’s champion, his Williams team-mate Nigel Mansell.

Patrese scored four of his six Grand Prix wins during that period, when he was also runner-up no fewer than 12 times.

Patrese became a key figure in the  successful years of the Williams team
Patrese became a key figure in the
successful years of the Williams team
A former world karting champion - he has started in karting at the age of nine - Patrese began his motor racing career in 1975.  Impetuous and brash, characteristics that did not endear him to some of his rivals and colleagues, he nonetheless had exceptional talent and was a dual Formula Three champion in only his second season on the track, winning both the Italian and European titles.

He made his debut at the 1977 Monaco Grand Prix with the Shadow racing team, switching later in the year to Arrows, for whom he almost won the 1978 South African Grand Prix, which he was leading when an engine failure forced him to retire 15 laps from the end.

But his early career was overshadowed by controversy following the death of the Swedish driver Ronnie Peterson following a pile-up soon after the start of the Italian Grand Prix later in the 1978 season, when the cars driven by Peterson and James Hunt came together, sending Peterson’s car into the barriers, where it broke in two and caught fire.

Peterson appeared to have escaped serious injury but while he was in hospital recovering from surgery on a broken leg he developed a blood clot and died. Hunt blamed Patrese, whose car had gone off onto the grass and rejoined the race moments before the collision.

Together with a race official, Patrese stood trial in 1981 over Peterson’s death but was found not guilty.

Patrese scored his first Grand Prix wins after joining Brabham, although his maiden success at the 1982 Monaco Grand Prix was somewhat fortuitous. He spun off while in the lead just two laps from the finish, which seemed to have put paid to his chance, but then three cars in front of him sensationally dropped out, one from engine failure, a second in a crash and a third, his fellow Italian Andrea de Cesaris, because he ran out of fuel.

Riccardo Patrese won four of his six Grand Prix while with the Williams team, finishing championship runner-up in 1992
Riccardo Patrese won four of his six Grand Prix while with the
Williams team, finishing championship runner-up in 1992
His second victory came in the South African Grand Prix in 1983, when his Brabham teammate Nelson Piquet, who needed only to finish in the top four to be confirmed as world champion, cautiously dropped his pace in the closing stages.

Then came the long wait for a third success as two seasons with Alfa Romeo and two more with Brabham yielded nothing but frustration. His move to Williams to be Nigel Mansell’s teammate in 1988 surprised the motor racing world but proved to be the break Patrese needed.

He got on well with the Renault engine and after a string of podium finishes in 1989 he ended his long drought by winning in San Marino in 1990. He collected more wins in Mexico and Portugal in 1991 and scored his final success in 1992 in Japan, before concluding his career alongside Schumacher at Benetton.

Patrese’s later successes largely repaired the reputation damaged by the Peterson incident, although BBC television viewers became used to Hunt routinely referring to the controversy and what he thought of the Italian whenever he commentated on a Patrese race.

After retiring from F1 Patrese drove in the Le Mans 24 Hours race in 1997 and finished third in a Grand Prix Masters race in 2005, again coming in behind Nigel Mansell.

A former schoolboy swimming champion and successful skier, Patrese remains involved with sport. One of his twin daughters, Beatrice, is an international class equestrian and his youngest son, Lorenzo, has followed his father into karting, with ambitions to become a Formula One driver.

Patrese himself now rides and has a stable of horses. He still lives with his family in Padua.

Frescoes by Giotto at the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua
Frescoes by Giotto at the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua
Travel tip:

Padua has become acknowledged as the birthplace of modern art because of the Scrovegni Chapel, the inside of which is covered with frescoes by Giotto, an artistic genius who was the first to paint people with realistic facial expressions showing emotion. His scenes depicting the lives of Mary and Joseph, painted between 1303 and 1305, are considered his greatest achievement and one of the world’s most important works of art.

Monza's 14th century Duomo
Monza's 14th century Duomo
Travel tip:

Monza, the Lombardy city best known for its motor racing circuit, has been the home of the Italian Formula One Grand Prix every year bar one since 1950.  The city has other attractions, including a 14th century Duomo, built in Romanesque-Gothic style with a black and white marble facade, and the church of Santa Maria in Strada, also built in the 14th century, which has a facade in terracotta. The Royal Villa, on the banks of the Lambro river, dates back to the 18th century, when Monza was part of the Austrian Empire.

More reading:

Alberto Ascari, one of Italy's Formula One pioneers

Flavio Briatore, the entrepreneur behind the Benetton team

Lella Lombardi, the only woman to win points in a Formula One Grand Prix

Also on this day:

1598: The birth of astronomer Giovanni Riccioli

1927: The birth of the vivacious operatic soprano Graziella Sciutti


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