Riccardo Patrese: You never forget your first kart

The memory of a special day on the Pista Azzurra in Jesolo, Italy, with a “Mister” who has raced in 256 Formula One Grand Prix’s and has always remained in love with karting.

Riccardo Patrese

Kart World Champion in 1974 and former Formula 1 racer. In his career, he participated to 256 Formula 1 Grand Prix. Today, he often accompanies his son Lorenzo to the track, where he is engaged in the OKJ.

Kart World Champion in 1974 and former Formula 1 racer. In his career, he participated to 256 Formula 1 Grand Prix. Today, he often accompanies his son Lorenzo to the track, where he is engaged in the OKJ.

It is a winter day in 2011. The sun is low on the horizon, and the temperature is not very hot. Jesolo kart circuit is dozing off with only a few enthusiasts around, but on the track side the excitement is palpable. The reason for such excitement is quickly explained: wearing a simple gray tracksuit, with a bit of a vintage looking white and blue helmet, a man is preparing the last details on his kart, a man who has in his curriculum 256 Grand Prix races in F1, of which he won 6, in addition to a Karting World Championship title (in 1974, in Portugal), and an endlesscollection of trophies earned during a one of a kind career: Riccardo Patrese.

The Kart ready to accompany him on the track is a Jesolo Technology Kart, the company which has its headquarters right next to the racing track and is owned by his friend Gianluca Giacchetto. He and Patrese are long-time friends, and every time the former F1 racer feels like taking a few laps with a kart, all is needed is a phone call to organize everything. For Patrese, despite not being in his youth (he was born in 1954), karting is not a diversion to occasionally experience the past sensation of speed, but rather a never ending passion to please himself and others as his commitments allow for it. It is not by chance that in Jesolo Patrese has “his own” kart which does not need any adjustments except for a routine maintenance process. What we witness on an afternoon in the winter of 2011 is not much different from what occurs fairly often: a first short lap on the track to verify that everything is OK and to warm up the kart, an even shorter stop at the paddock to fix any additional details and then a first stint on the track for a dozen laps. Riccardo does not take it easy and immediately gets into it and starts to push. Time is not a reference (the circuit is dirty and cold), but the driving is aggressive and with the same style of the past: round laps and a tap on the accelerator at the center of the turn. The chassis used by Patrese is the model Jesolo JP1, CIK-FIA homologated, with a traditional frame design, featuring 30 mm diameter stringers 30 mm and 32 mm crossbars. A chassis which, according to Giacchetto, “is very strong in the colder conditions”. The braking system is signed Motorquality and operates only on the rear axle. The equipment is of the highest quality, with eccentricbushings with sixteen positions for the adjustment of the front axle camber and casterangles, magnesium accessories and a Tech Line radiator.

Riccardo returns to the paddock and almost justifies himself saying: “I’m getting too old…”. But the break is very short and, as soon as the engine is restarted, Giacchetto is ready to follow him on the side of the track to observe him closely and paying close attention to his directions: “When I see Riccardo in the kart – he explains – my heart pounds like it was the first time. I feel like giving him advice, I can’t help it…Even if then he stops me immediately, telling me to stay calm. Yet he drives faster and faster, despite the fact that years have passed by for him too”. Lap after lap, the time improves slightly, but the sky begins to darken, and cold temperatures begin to be felt. So, Riccardo finally returns to the paddock and lets himself go into some deep thoughts: “I have been driving these karts for several years, definitely very different from those I competed in so many years ago (he stopped racing in 1975, Editor’s note). As it happened in Formula 1, performance has considerably increased in karting too, especially thanks to the technological developmentperspective. Driving them is extremely pleasant, yet, just as it happens with cars, the increased performance requires an increased athletic endurance by the drivers. When I did my debut in Formula 1 in 1977, I had a certain kind of approach which, when I retired in 1993, I had completely changed: I had become a real athlete to adapt to the demands of the ever increasingly faster performing cars. The same happens with today’s karts: all it takes is a few laps and, when I get off, the first thing I think is “What strain!”. But the second thought, we add, is always: “When can I come back to race in my kart?”