Disbelief… And A Mother Who Cares

Even for the winner of the Monaco Grand Prix it was difficult to believe that this race was really his. Bad luck and bitter memories litter Riccardo Patrese’s past experiences at Monaco. But one person never gave up hoping that her son would eventually do it… and on Sunday her faith in him was finally vindicated.

In the ante-room of the AC Monaco’s offices where they had promised to bring Riccardo Patrese to talk to the press, there was the usual pandemonium. Radio men with microphones, newspaper reporters on deadline, photographers; they all wanted to talk to the hero of the afternoon, get close to him, clinch an ‘exclusive’.

The hero, when he arrived, still hardly believed that he had really won the Monaco GP. Sure enough, he’d followed the leading Renault of Alain Prost for 71 laps, ever since the yellow turbocar had out-accelerated him and stolen 3rd place on the second lap. He’d followed Prost past the helpless Renault of Rene Arnoux when it had spun to an ignominious and permanent halt on lap 15. And he’d picked his way through the pieces left by the wreck of Prost’s Renault at the Tabac on lap 74, after Prost had spun on a surface lubricated by a light rain and a coating of gearbox oil from Derek Daly’s crunched Williams.

I saw my mechanics cheering me from the pits when I went past them after the Prost accident, he said. It was only two laps to go, and I was leading Pironi quite comfortably. I had no need to push hard. I think I had already done fastest lap of the race, so I was not ready to take any risks on the wet surface. I braked normally for Loews corner, maybe even a bit early. The back end of the car suddenly went away and I was going backwards. I was able to get going without any help – at least I didn’t feel anyone push the car – but both Pironi and de Cesaris had passed me while I tried to find a gear. That almost finished me. I have had so much bad luck in F1, being let down when I was leading in Kyalami (1978) and at Long Beach (1981); it seemed that it was all happening again.

For once, though, luck was on the side of Patrese and working against Pironi and de Cesaris. Pironi crossed the finishing line to start his final lap gesticulating to the race officials. The track, his signals said, was far too slippery for racing. But Pironi also knew that his Ferrari’s engine, spluttering already for several laps, was in trouble. It coughed its last in the tunnel under the Loews Hotel, and in the gloom Riccardo didn’t recognise it.

In fact he had also passed de Cesaris, whose Alfa had run out of fuel near Casino Square. So when the Brabham driver passed the stricken Ferrari he was also re-taking the lead of the race. The man who was waiting with the chequered flag was, fortunately, on the ball, and gave it to Riccardo.

Honestly though, I had no idea that I had won. Not even when I stopped to pick up Didier, who was thumbing a lift like a student waiting before the autostrada.

For Riccardo Patrese, confirmation that he had indeed won probably came when into the interview room came a trim lady with greying hair. Emotion welling in her eyes, his mother embraced him with a fierce pride. No mother hugs her son like that when she’s not absolutely sure that he’s deserved it…

Last-minute changes of racing fortune on this scale are rare indeed. At Monaco, where the first three or four finishers are often separated by laps rather than seconds, it is unknown for the lead to change four times in the last four laps. Indeed, in the annals of the sport, the last time that anything like this happened was in the Belgian GP of 1967. As he started the last lap of the daunting Spa-Francorchamps circuit, Jim Clark’s Lotus 49 was leading the sister car of Graham Hill, with Bruce McLaren 3rd in his own McLaren. But the man who received the chequers was Dan Gurney, whose self-built Eagle V12 had started that lap in 4th place. All three drivers in front of him had run out of fuel…

It is understandable that only the people who were there remember that two teams miscalculated the fuel requirements at the Belgian GP of 1967 so badly. Everyone else remembers that Dan Gurney won the race, incidentally the only world championship event to have been won by an Eagle.

In the same way, Monaco ’82 belongs to Riccardo Patrese, regardless of those four changes of lead in the last four laps.

For Signora Patrese, this event was very much a family affair. She was well aware of he opportunity which her son has this year with the Parmalat Brabham team, and she was in Monaco expecting him to win. Nevertheless, this wasn’t all business, as those who had seen her energetic dancing in Jimmy’s, the exclusive Monegasque discotheque, will testify.

Riccardo’s mum is also a woman of very definite tastes. When Riccardo was ordering a new Mercedes last year he chose black as the colour. “You couldn’t possibly have black,” she said “it would look like a coffin.” He eventually agreed on grey (her choice!)… and was allowed to select the colour of the interior without any interference.

But if Signora Patrese was optimistic about her son’s chances in Monaco, he most certainly was not.

It has never been a good circuit for me, he recalls. I made my debut in F1 here five years ago with Shadow and finished 9th. But I have bad memories of Monte Carlo too, for example, the collision with Arnoux in 1980 which created so much bad feeling.

Qualifying this year, however, certainly looked promising. With Nelson Piquet concentrating on the Brabham-BMW turbocar, Riccardo had a race car and a T-car all to himself for practice. And if a figure scrawled on designer Gordon Murray’s clip board is to be taken seriously, the BT49, at 537.1 kilos, was the lightest car to practice at Monaco, at least before the addition of its vital brake cooling water.

On Saturday, Riccardo held pole position almost until the end of the one-hour official session. The Rene Arnoux, who had vowed to start the Monaco GP from pole position, snatched away the number one position from him.

For Renault, alas, the race turned sour and this time it was Riccardo Patrese who benefited. There were some (French) journalists who made a big noise in the press room afterwards that Riccardo had been pushed by a couple of marshals after his spin. Normally illegal this manouevre was justified on this occasion, we were told, by the necessity to move the Brabham away from a potentially dangerous position on the track.

Had he needed an advocate to argue the case, strangely there would have been no one from the Brabham team to do so. Before the end of the race, Gordon Murray and Bernie Ecclestone had, as usual, departed for Nice where their executive jet plane was waiting to take them back home to England.

That, it would seem, demonstrates how strongly they felt about the first Brabham victory at Monaco since Denny Hulme in 1967. Happily, there is a grey-haired mother for whom the memory of ’82 will remain considerably more precious.

By Mike Doodson for Grand Prix International Magazine (1982), from my private collection. Published here for non-profit, entertainment-only purposes. No copyright infringement is intended.