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From the Cockpit • Imola 1990


Riccardo Patrese tells Timothy Collings his own history of the San Marino Grand Prix where he qualified third on the grid with a time of 1m 24.444s and then won the third victory of his 195-race career in front of an ecstatic Italian crowd.


“I always look forward to coming to Imola very much. It is like a home for me. It is my home Grand Prix and I live quite close to the circuit at Padua, which is only 250 kilometres away.

I started my driving career here at Imola and did Formula Italia and Karting here. I also think it is one of the most complete circuits of all from a driver’s point of view and I really enjoy it very much.

This year, after all the testing we have done and the progress we made, I had high hopes of being very competitive and maybe of being on the front row. But that is never very easy.”

“At Imola we experience all the problems in one race that we may meet in the season. If the car goes well here, it usually goes well everywhere.

Everyone was waiting for official practice to start for a long time because it was a real start after all the waiting… It would give us an answer to all the reports about all the teams during testing.

I was very pleased, but the problem was the same as ever: Mc Laren. They were still ahead of us in qualifying. I know we made a lot of progress, but they must have done, too. Our car performed better all the time, but I knew the only way of improving my time in the end was with better track conditions.”

“But of course they would be the same for the both of us. Our car was certainly performing much better than in the first two Grands Prix. We made a big step forward, but so did they.

Friday was quite a nice day for me. The car ran well. In the morning, I ran full tanks for the first hour and then I took away the fuel. I tried hard tyres and soft tyres and worked a lot in the brakes because we had had quite a lot of problems with them.

In the end, I was pleased with the modifications we made. The car was working well and I felt confident. It went well in qualifying too with the new Goodyear qualifying tyres. Previously, it had not. So, for that, I was pleased too. A big improvement on the race tyres.

I was pleased to be the third quickest at the end of the day. I really felt I was quite close to the Mc Larens and had not expected, really, to be able to be quicker. The interesting thing was that there was quite a big gap behind me between third and fifth and sixth places.

The Ferraris were a surprise. I expected them to be better in qualifying than they were. Of course, we knew they would be better in the race – but I did think they would be closer to us in qualifying too.

I was lucky in the afternoon because I did not have any traffic problems or anything. I was not out on the circuit when Martini had his accident. I had done my laps on both sets of qualifying tyres.

I didn’t know what had happened, but the Acque Minerali is a difficult corner. Not an easy one. It is quite quick and there is a very precise line to take through it.”

“It is also a corner where you have to put the power down early before the entry of the corner to get the best chance of the maximum speed you can achieve on the exit. If you don’t get the right line, you can have problems.

You can touch the kerb and then you will go off. In fact, it is not an easy corner at all. It is not one where you accelerate on the exit but one where you have to accelerate before the exit. There is no room for error there.

If you make a mistake in that corner there is no time to react. It is so quick. And the suspension is always harder at Imola too. It is a smooth track with no bumps.

Saturday was another good day for me. In the morning we prepared for the race. I felt confident. I felt we would be competitive. In the afternoon, in final qualifying, on my second run, I tried very hard to really improve my time.

I used the track a lot, worked hard for a super-quick time by using the kerbs and everything. I made two small mistakes and finished with 1:14.4. I think that is the limit. Even without the mistakes, I think a perfect lap would only give me 1:24.2.

It would have been impossible to go faster. I felt happy though. I felt my work was appreciated by the Italian public here. I could sense it and that made me happy. There was much more warmth for me than some years ago. I think they know I have been around a long time now and I am competitive. But Ferrari is still more important than one driver for them.

In the race, I did not make a fantastic start. I was fourth, but I was happy to save my car for the closing stages, for the last part. It was the right thing to do. With 20 laps to go, I started to push very hard and the car was absolutely perfect. I was able to catch and overtake Gerhard Berger without any problems and then I was in the lead.

Before that, I did drop back at one point because I got too close, but coming out of the Rivazza corner my car went a bit sideways and I got some dirt on my tyres, so for a couple of laps I had to clean my tyres.”

“Then I got close to him again just out of the chicane before the pits, got his tow, and in middle of the straight my car was performing well, with a fantastic top speed, and I was able to just go past him.

The car performed perfectly – especially the brakes which had been my main concern.

It is difficult to say how happy I felt. It is difficult to find the words. It was a race I really wanted, something I have waited for since 1983 when I lost this race at the Acque Minerali with four laps to go in the Brabham. Patrick Tambay won in the Ferrari.”

“When I overtook Gerhard, my first thought was of 1983 because it was at the same place where I overtook Andrea that year – and straight after that I made a mistake at the Acque Minerali!

So, this year, I thought I cannot make a mistake again… I was so concentrated, but it was all right. It was a really competitive race. The last lap was really hard, very hard. I was so afraid something might happen.

It was a great win for the whole Williams-Renault team. We have done so much work and I feel happy, very, very, happy.”

By Timothy Collings for Prix Editions Magazine (1990), from my private collection. Published here for non-profit, entertainment-only purposes. No copyright infringement is intended.