Today we celebrate of the man who formerly held the record of Formula 1’s longest-serving driver, Riccardo Patrese, who turns 58 today!
Widely regarded as Formula 1’s most popular elder statesmen when he notched up his 256th and final Grand Prix start at the end of the 1993 season, Riccardo was actually one of the sport’s enfant terrible when he burst onto the Formula 1 scene in 1977.
His transformation took place over the course of the next decade and culminate in what would ultimately be the sport’s longest-ever career, until the record was finally broken by Rubens Barrichello in 2008.
A quick but wild driver when he debuted in the sport, he led at the 1978 South African Grand Prix in the new Arrows team’s second-ever race. But he was also incorrectly pinpointed as the man at fault for triggering the start-line crash at that year’s Italian Grand Prix that ultimately killed Ronnie Peterson. It was a disgraceful witch-hunt, and it took years for his career to recover.
He finally stop atop the dais at the crazy 1982 Monaco Grand Prix in his first season with Brabham. But the mistakes were still in evidence when he threw away a win at San Marino the following year, although he redeemed himself by winning the season-ending race in South Africa.
He made the ill-fated move to Alfa Romeo’s team in 1984 before returning to Brabham, but his career was really in the doldrums until he was offered a drive with Williams in 1988.
It was the start of a long and successful stint with the British team and he gelled with technical director Patrick Head. His form improved and he started to win again, as well as give team-mate Nigel Mansell a serious run for his money, particularly in the first half of the 1991 season.
As he would put time and time again, he was privileged to be working for a top-line team in a sport he loved.
The 1992 season saw Mansell blow him into the weeds in the all-conquering FW14B, and Riccardo couldn’t extract the same level of performance out of the almighty car.
His swansong season came with Benetton in 1993 as Michael Schumacher’s team-mate before the curtain finally came down on an incredible and fulfilling career.
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