Q+A with Riccardo Patrese

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In a profound interview, former F1 race winner Riccardo Patrese shares his view on the current state of F1 and looks back on his lengthy period in the sport.

Italian Patrese competed in Formula One from 1977 to 1993, entering a total of 257 Grand Prix events. Italian newspaper 'Il mattino di Padova' has today published an interview with Riccardo Patrese, revealing a great look back to Formula One of the nineties from a driver's point of view. Since then, Formula One has changed drastically.

Which era do you think is the most compelling to follow? "I prefer undoubtedly the Formula 1 of my times. It was more spectacular, more genuine, certainly more dangerous, but with talented drivers who had to prove a lot more compared to those of today, in my opinion, are much more" comfortable "to those of our generation. The technological evolution, which has raised so important levels of security, however, has flattened the ride quality and the spectacle of racing: the cars are more aerodynamic, easier to ride, less demanding. And the tactical skills required by the drivers in the race is inferior. You can not go back, it would mean denying the technical progress. The only thing that could increase the spectacular Grand Prix would be to change the current braking distances by reducing the potential of the brakes. In 2008, when I drove the Honda F1 car in Jerez de la Frontera 15 years after my retirement, I was just puzzled by the efficiency of the braking system."

How do you justify the absence of Italian riders in the panorama of F1? "It is normal that it is now the case. The categories of origin of young drivers have multiplied, so it is more difficult to identify talent. In my day, once a team identified a good pilot, they invested in him, but now the team managers tend to expect the pilot to bring the money. It shows that there is less money to run a team, benefiting those who can pay, at the expense of real talents who sometimes fail to find a seat because of the lack of resources. A real shame."

Back to you. Where did you get your passion for cars? "I come from a simple family, normal. My father was a wholesale grocer, my mother professor of letters. As a young man I used to play football to the patronage of St. Sophia, was swimming in the works of Rari Nantes and I attended high school Nievo. In short, I was a regular guy. But with the love for four wheels, which I shared with my father and my brother. When I thought of the great drivers of those times I wondered if they were men like the others, only with more talent and a higher dose of courage, or real superheroes. I knew when my dream became a reality. Riccardo Patrese, the pilot, is an ordinary man, just very lucky because my passion for cars became my job."

After nearly two decades at 300 per hour, how is life at normal speeds? "The world of F1 was a surreal universe in my time, and now it is even more. Who lives there is privileged with fame, money and the fun of riding. Of course, there is the risk of injury, even serious ones: a risk that when I was running was very high, but thankfully technology has evolved and has allowed us to build cars that are safer. When you stop running it is hard to get back to a normal life, to rebuild a balance from scratch. I focused on sport, which remains for me a great outlet: I built my own harmony, that makes me feel good about myself. I have no regrets and no hard feelings, I am happy with everything I've done."

In the news these days in the new penalty points system for F1. What do you think about this? "Philosophy on the decisions of judges has changed a lot in recent years. Now the drivers tend to turn more and more to the figures of the judges, denouncing them directly incorrect attitudes of their opponents. When I was in business it was all very different, a bit 'more wild', but certainly more direct. And without involvement of third parties.
I remember an episode that clarifies what I mean: Dijon 1979 French GP. There has been a real sporting duel between the Ferrari of Gilles Villeneuve and Rene Arnoux's Renault: perhaps one of the most beautiful moments of F1. Now such an episode would be unthinkable and could lead to a withdrawal of the driver's superlicense. Our criteria of behavior was perhaps more "wild", but much more spectacular. That said, security is important everywhere in the world of racing. I have had several incidents, the most serious of them in the Estoril circuit, Portugal, in 1992: a real flight, caused by imprudence of Gerhard Berger. Fortunately I do not have serious physical consequences, but could have been worse. It is therefore right to intervene on such behavior with heavy penalties. "

Which episode of your career marked you in a special way? "The fatal crash of Ayrton Senna. To me he was a friend, as well as the opponent to beat. His death in 1994 has had a huge impact on me: his car was safe, his leadership also. I thought that if such an accident had happened to him could really happen to anyone. What was the point for me to risk again nearly 39 years? So I decided to withdraw from F1. "

Among the drivers of our day which you like the most? "The three best ones in my opinion are Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. The German and the Brit enjoyed great care by their team managers. Alonso is the one that is due to endeavor a little more in the race, due to the technical properties of the Ferrari. In this way, however, he could prove to be at the highest tactical level."

What is what gave her the most trouble? "I had the honor of having to deal with pilots of the highest level, some of which were also my team mates. Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, Michael Schumacher and Alan Jones were among my most bitter enemies, because being my teammates had the same means to win. But on the track, to be honest, the bastard was me."

Image from www.riccardopatrese.net