Motor Magazine (1978) • In English

Website Exclusive • Translated by the Webmaster

Who is the young driver from Padua who amazed in South Africa.

Patrese: this is how you become a F1 champion

The South African Grand Prix, the third round of the F1 World Championship, had an extremely bitter outcome for the Italian colors. The two Ferrari T3s of Reutemann and Villeneuve, on which many hopes were pinned on the eve, had a decidedly difficult debut, and they never shone and both ended up retiring. The same can be said for Niki Lauda's Brabham-Alfa Romeo, which broke the engine when he was in third place.

Yet, the African race had a great merit, that of having revealed in all its potential a new formidable champion with a tricolor passport: Riccardo Patrese. The Paduan, who was only in his tenth race in F1 at Kyalami, was the true star of the Grand Prix. After having set the seventh fastest time in qualifying, with the new Arrows, and the first in the last pre-race training sessions, Patrese got off to a great start and soon found himself in the "hot" positions. With a superb overtaking against local favorite Jody Scheckter, Riccardo took the lead in the race, which he dominated in an incredible way until a few laps from the end, when a mocking break in one of the pistons of his Ford Cosworth betrayed him.

To fully evaluate Riccardo Patrese's exploits, it is necessary to think that an Italian driver has not won an F1 Grand Prix for three years now. In fact, it was Vittorio Brambilla in the infernal deluge of the 1975 Austrian Grand Prix who played the notes of Mameli's hymn last. Even before that, we must even go back to Ludovico Scarfiotti, who won a beautiful Italian Grand Prix in Monza in 1966 at the wheel of the Ferrari V12.

Emerging in F1 has therefore always been a big problem for our home drivers, who have always been snubbed by the national teams. But lately things seem to be changing. Ideas change, habits change, and Riccardo Patrese, who is the exponent of the last lever of Italian drivers, now makes us really dream. We are sure Kyalami's exploit will not be an end in itself: go on Riccardo!



We met the lawyer Montezemolo, director of external relations of Fiat and former assistant of Enzo Ferrari in the two-year period '74 -'75, at the presentation of the new team "4 Rombi Corse", that will participate with three 131 Abarths, sponsored by Fiat dealers in the Veneto region, in the Italian Championship of International Rallies.

Since the character of the moment was Riccardo Patrese, ruler of the South African GP, we asked Montezemolo to comment on the exploits of the young Paduan driver.

Here is the answer:

I believe that Patrese currently represents the young reality of Italian motoring. After the Brambilla and the Merzario, today we have a Patrese that is no longer a promise, but an actual reality. In the world of Formula 1 it is not enough to have three quarters of races in the lead. But it seems to me that Patrese has shown in South Africa that he is already a champion, that he is able to compete head-to-head with the best drivers of the lot, with a car that is certainly competitive, but which, in my humble opinion, it cannot be considered at the level of the big ones.
So, what Patrese is doing is even more important; I think the eyes of all of us should be on him also in the next Grand Prix.

- A specialized weekly published on the front page the photo of Patrese's Arrows, surrounded by many rods with inserted photos, among others, of the lawyer Gianni Agnelli, of Ferrari. The title of the cover was more or less: Nobody Blushes for Patrese? Clear was the allusion to the "closure" policy of Italian automotive executives towards Italian drivers. What do you reply?

First of all, the weeklies do their job in creating controversy and it is right that they do so because evidently by doing this they sell more copies.
I have not been involved with Ferrari since the end of 1975. Or rather since the beginning of '76. I therefore think I cannot answer, as I would like, as I did not take part in the choices of this year's drivers.
But I believe that it is always wrong to reason with the ifs and buts. I believe that Ferrari is a great reality of Italian motoring. Patrese is becoming one.
If they are roses they will bloom, there is time, perhaps it is good for both of us that this marriage has not yet taken place because perhaps it will take place in a more solemn manner.
Of course you understand, it justifies certain controversies when certain Ferrari drivers are often involved in more or less serious accidents. And there are other drivers, like Patrese, who prove to be very, very strong.
However, I repeat, I believe if Patrese, as I think, is a champion, he has many years ahead and it is perhaps a good thing that the marriage did not take place this year.



New champion, new car. The Arrows, the single seater that allowed Patrese to achieve the exceptional exploit of Kyalami it is a brand new car, which had made its debut in the Brazilian Grand Prix, just a month earlier. Arrows is the brand founded by a group of Shadow refugees, namely Alan Rees, sports director, Tony Southgate and Dave Wass, designers, and indeed Patrese. The group availed itself of the help of Franco Ambrosio, who is still in trouble every year with the Italian justice system, who allowed the installation of the new plants.

The Arrows FA/1 is yet another piece of skill by Tony Southgate, a technician of great value, who among other things was among the protagonists of the current relaunch of the Lotus. The car, contrary to Southgate's past achievements, which focused on long wheelbase, is very compact, and uses a very aerodynamic design, which starts from the idea of transforming an F1 into a real arrow. So, alongside the traditional front and rear ailerons on the FA/1 a lot of importance has been given to the side wings which help to increase the load on the rear drive wheels, while keeping the aerodynamic penetration intact. The first part of these side fins has a wavy profile, then joining with a second part in which the oil cooler is inserted. The system can be varied according to the characteristics of the circuit.


For example, on a slow track like Monte Carlo where there are no high-speed issues, the wings will likely be removed. Another very interesting feature of Patrese's car is the braking system, which has an unprecedented cooling system for the double discs of the rear wheels, making use of a particular air channeling, which allows considerable effectiveness, as seen at Kyalami in the famous split with Scheckter.

Team Arrows is a young team with many unsolved problems (but maybe Riccardo will think about it...). There is a legal dispute with Don Nichols, the owner of Shadow, who has accused Southgate of having copied the entire design of the DN8, the last single-seater designed for the old house.

Then there are sponsor problems. In Brazil, Arrows made use of the support of the carioca airline, in South Africa instead a big help came from Rolf Stommelen, hired as second driver, since Nilsson is not known when and if he will be available. The German driver has in fact brought to the new team the contribution of a large brewery. This, however, caused new troubles for Oliver and his companions. In fact, Ian Scheckter, who was refused the second car he had rented for the home race, also turned to the lawyers. In short, it seems that the presence of Ambrosio makes itself felt!


Riccardo Patrese arrived at F1 in just three years with a very rational and effective escalation.

The Paduan driver, who is now twenty-four years old, approached motor racing starting with karts, which now represent a fundamental stage for the launch of a young champion. The kart has two major advantages over other traditional training formulas. They allow you to start very early, let's say already at thirteen or fourteen years old if not earlier, and they manage to give a truly remarkable driving sensitivity. They are in fact in all respects small racing cars, which require a lot of care. With the latest developments they are no longer very cheap (just think that a set of "slick" tires is close to three hundred thousand lire, and every self-respecting driver must have a considerable supply of engines), however they are now a must. A young man who comes out of the karting experience at the age of nineteen is ready both as a preparation and above all as a mentality to get on an F3. Patrese emerged very brilliantly in kart racing: in 1974 he was crowned world champion, preceding Eddie Cheever. Immediately after, the Paduan made the leap into motor racing, focusing decisively on single-seaters, and in particular Formula Italia, which at that time represented a competitive but inexpensive category. In '75 he was the protagonist of magnificent duels with Bruno Giacomelli, who in the end won the championship, among other things burning him the possibility of obtaining the CSAI contribution to move to F 3. At that point the roads of the two young lions of Italian motoring split up. Giacomelli emigrated to England, and was perfectly integrated into that racing system, which in any case brought him to the threshold of F1.

Patrese, on the other hand, made an agreement with Jacopo Trivellato, who just that year had assumed the representation for Italy of Chevron, and to advertise his cars he intended to organize his own team. With the Chevron F3 Patrese, who even then highlighted the talents of a great professional, had a triumphal season, replying blow by blow the successes that his rival, Giacomelli, was getting in England on the official March. European champion, with victories in front of a tough opponent like Connie Andersson and champion of Italy, what made the Paduan one of the most concrete hopes of our motoring.

For 1977 Riccardo remained loyal to Trivellato who brought him to F2. Many things have been said about the Paduan season in the cadet formula. He was certainly a great protagonist, and certainly the animator of this racing series. So much so that in mid-season, when the controversial financier Franco Ambrosio, sponsor of Shadow, found himself proposing another driver to the team, in place of Renzo Zorzi, the only name that was insistently indicated was that of Riccardo Patrese. After a quick test at the Paul Ricard, Patrese made his debut in Monte Carlo, immediately finishing ninth with dignity in front of an old fox like lckx.

He was already among the very first at Monza: sixth time in qualifying, and a leading race. After a further brilliant test in Canada, the Italian driver conquered his first championship point by finishing sixth in Japan. The serious accident in which Gilles Villeneuve, newly hired by Ferrari, was the protagonist only raised the protests of the Italian fans, who clearly would have preferred to see “Riccardo the Lionheart” at his place!

During the winter Patrese was involved in the squabbles of the Shadow team, and at one point he seemed on the verge of losing his place in the sun in F. 1. But Jackie Oliver, who after the divorce from the old house, founded with the help from Ambrosio the new Arrows, wanted him at any cost.

Patrese was entrusted with the entire development of the new car designed by Tony Southgate, seeing that the other driver of the team, Gunnar Nilsson, still unavailable, seems to be seriously ill. Then the debut in Brazil, with a car that had just completed one lap at Silverstone. That tenth place strongly desired by Riccardo at Jacarepagua was obviously an excellent omen for South Africa and who knows what else...


As soon as he returned home, after the splendid race held in the South African Grand Prix, Riccardo Patrese was attacked by the press, various private televisions and numerous friends.

Everyone wants to see him; everyone wants to talk to him. He is stunned, but he responds to everyone with courtesy. He has remained the same as before.

We talked with him about the G.P. of South Africa, the problems of Arrows, Ambrosio and his future plans.

- Riccardo, what did you think when you retired with just a few laps to go?

I didn't think of anything. I was a bit incredulous. I was hooked. It took me a while to get over the fact that I stopped with just 15 laps to go.

- On the eve, were you thinking of making a race like that?

No, even before the G.P., even though I knew I was the fastest in free practice with full fuel tanks, I had absolutely no intention of taking the lead, of dominating the race as it happened later. Let's say that the conviction of being able to win the Grand Prix came to me halfway through the race, by which time I saw that, even without effort, I could overtake Depailler.

- The Arrows is a car that has proven to be highly competitive after only two Grands Prix. Because?

The Arrows was designed to be a competitive car. The basics could be guessed when the car came out: from how it was made, from how it was designed and from the innovative ideas it brought back to its aerodynamic line.
It became competitive in a short time because the team is good, the designer Tony Southgate is one of the most brilliant in Formula 1 today and let's say a little thanks to me for have managed to find an ideal compromise fast enough to get good results right away.

- Arrows isn't having a happy time these days. Tony Southgate, designer of Arrows and former Shadow has been denounced by Don Nichols, the "boss" of Shadow, for having stolen drawings and parts of the Shadow DN9. Can you clarify this story?

It’s a non-existent story. Who is it that says Tony Southgate was sued by Don Nichols? Who is it that says it? As soon as Italian journalists see a controversy, they report it in the newspapers. But if we go to England, we see that all these controversies are non-existent, because there is no cause in the running between Shadow and Arrows and at least between Don Nichols and Tony Southgate. The machines will be similar, but not the same.

- But Scotland Yard also intervened...

Yes, Scotland Yard went before the South African G.P. to see at Nichols' request if there were any pieces stolen from Shadow. It happened that Scotland Yard also got upset with Nichols because they didn't find anything. Found only three titanium pedals that were overbuilt last year. The only thing they found were the accelerator, brake and clutch pedals. That's all Scotland Yard found.

- Arrows sponsor Franco Ambrosio is in prison right now. Can you describe this character who is much discussed in the Italian press?

First of all, the sponsor of Arrows is not Ambrosio but the Warsteiner Beer. I would define Ambrosio as an amateur, a car racing enthusiast who has helped a new team to be born. As for him, as a man, I can only say good things because I am not reviewing his personal facts. I got on very well with him and by the way he is a very nice person.

- Niki Lauda, in a recent press conference, stated that Patrese in South Africa raced like a great champion. What do you think?

Now everyone is out of balance to say that I have become very good, that I am a champion. I am always the same as before. In fact, I am leaving for Long Beach, certainly not to win, but to try to qualify the car. I have not yet entered into the order of ideas to go to win a Grand Prix.

- Did you think about Ferrari immediately after the G.P. of South Africa?

No, I had a little thought of Ferrari at the beginning of the year. I will think of Ferrari in 1979.

- Why does an Italian driver have to go abroad if he wants to emerge?

The main reason is that the whole press, when an Italian driver races with an Italian car, behaves in an oppressive way. Then let's say it has been a while since the Italian drivers haven't shown such great potential. So, I think that in the space of a few years, there will have to be a policy of openness on the part of the Italian manufacturers towards Italian drivers.


© 1978 Motor Magazine • From my private collection • Published here for non-profit, entertainment-only purposes. No copyright infringement is intended.