Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Patrese made his debut in 1977 with Shadow at the Monaco Grand Prix when the team were forced to change drivers mid-season. The following year Jackie Oliver split with Shadow founder Don Nicholls and formed the Arrows team taking Patrese with him. The same year Patrese was involved in an accident at the start of the Italian Grand Prix which resulted in the death of Ronnie Peterson. Although Patrese was never officially blamed for the accident many of other drivers held him accountable for Petersons death and the event cast a shadow over much of his early career.
A switch to Brabham in 1982 was rewarded by a lucky win at the Monaco Grand Prix where both Didier Pironi and Andrea de Cesaris ran out of fuel on the final lap while leading. A second win followed in 1983 at the South African Grand Prix, but in a season which saw his team mate Nelson Piquet claim his second drivers title, Patrese finished a distant ninth in the championship. It would be seven years before he made another visit to the top step of the podium.
Return to Brabham
In 1986 Patrese returned to Brabham, but by now the team was a spent force and would never again take a driver to victory in a grand prix. Two more winless seasons followed despite the team's BMW engine being considered at the time to be the most powerful on the grid. Despite the trials of uncompetitive machinery Patrese never publicly criticised the team and earned respect throughout the sport for his professionalism. The 1987 Japanese Grand Prix brought an unexpected chance for Patrese to restart a career which for some time had appeared to be in decline, when Nigel Mansell was injured in a practice accident.
Patrese impressed the Williams management enough that he was signed for the 1988 season to replace Nelson Piquet. Five seasons at Williams brought Patrese his most successful time in the sport, but in 1988 the team were struggling with Judd engines and an uncompetitive car. Sixteen races delivered only eight points and at the end of the season the team switched to Renault engines. 1989 saw the arrival of Thierry Boutsen to Williams and for the first time in six years Patrese was once more driving for a team capable of winning races. His first visit to the top step of the podium in seven years came at the 1990 San Marino Grand Prix and a competitive season saw Patrese finish seventh in the drivers championship.
In 1991 Nigel Mansell returned to Williams and the team moved up from occasional winners to genuine contenders. Two race wins for Riccardo Patrese in Mexico and Portugal gave him his most competitive season in Formula One and a respectable third place behind title protagonists Ayrton Senna and teammate Nigel Mansell.
In 1992 Williams moved into a position of complete dominance and Patrese continued to deliver in his role of second driver taking one win and visiting the podium nine times in sixteen races. With Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell all desperately trying to sign for Williams Patrese's position looked to be under threat and he signed for Benetton before the end of the year. Ironically this move to secure his future in the sport may have cost him his best chance of the title. Unable to agree terms with Senna or Mansell, Williams signed Alain Prost and would almost certainly have retained Patrese had he not already agreed to leave the team.
While Williams continued to dominate in 1993 Patrese found it difficult to live with his prodigiously talented teammate Michael Schumacher. Even before the season was over Patrese was informed that he was "free to seek an alternate drive", and with most teams driver lineups already in place he opted for retirement, bringing to a conclusion the longest Formula One career in history.
At the time of writing Patrese's record 256 grand prix starts has stood for more than 10 years. However, with recent seasons including as many as 18 races both Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello seem well placed to surpass his total.
Riccardo Patrese's association with Williams was to continue after his driving career was over. In 2002 he was invited to test the teams modern car in thanks for his years of loyal service. Considering the substantial cost of a seat fitting, plus actually running the car at a track, this shows the very high regard in which Patrese continues to be held by Sir Frank Williams.
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