Riccardo Paletti – Another black day in 1982…

13 June 1982, early afternoon at Montreal.

After the warm-up lap, 26 cars line up on the grid for the Canadian Grand Prix, eighth round of the 1982 F1 Championship. FISA starter Derek Ongaro holds the peloton a little longer than usual. When he finally switches on the red lights, poleman Didier Pironi weaves his hands frantically… with the wait, his Ferrari had overheated and the engine stalled. But it was too late to abort starting procedures, and on a flick of a second the lights become green. Everyone tries to swerve past the immobile Ferrari. Back on the peloton Boesel hits the rear tyre of Pironi, right behind the Brazilian, on his low driving position, young rookie Riccardo Paletti is deeply focused on the Osella rev counter, so he doesn’t see the obstacle and hit massively the Ferrari’s rear, sending it to the right side of the track and shrinking the front section of the Osella till the cockpit….

Caption of the crash (The Fastlane Forum)

Riccardo Paletti was the son of Gianna and Arietto Paletti, a wealthy Milanese building contractor and Pioneer Hi-Fi importer to Italy, and was born precisely in Milan on the 15th June, 1958. The young Riccardo was an accomplished sportsman since his youth, and with thirteen he was Italian junior karate champion, then switched to skiing, where he progressed to the National alpine skiing youth selection. Nevertheless his main aim was to follow the path of his father till, with nineteen, he decided to start a career on motor racing, so in 1978 his father invested 50,000 dollars on a campaign at the Italian Formula SuperFord Championship with an Osella, where Paletti proved immediately to be skillful, leading eighteen laps on his first races and being a regular podium visitor, even with no wins, which left him third on the standings.

Riccardo Paletti (Facebook)

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Helmut Koinigg – Unlearnt lessons at the ‘Glen

Those were the days when motorsport was really dangerous – it still is, of course – and the probabilities of death in competition (F1 or not) were of one in three or four, counting all men that started a F1 season. Surely Jackie Stewart and Jo Bonnier (who fell victim of his passion) had already started their safety crusade, and the circuits were vastly improved comparing to mid-to-late sixties. However, when the first measures were deployed, they could occasionally be worse than their total absence… such was the fate of Helmut Koinigg.

Koinigg was born in Vienna at the 3rd November 1948, but spent his childhood on the south-eastern state of Styria. Growing in such a mountainous region it wasn’t surprising that, like so many of his fellow countrymen, he practiced winter sports since his teens, excelling at skiing. And it was to the latter sport that he dedicated himself first, even being selected for the Austrian national junior B team, while pursuing his studies in engineering and journalism. It’s possible he was already someway interested in motor racing – it registered quite a boom in Austria with the rising success of Jochen Rindt – but he never sought to race, and in 1966 he left for Sweden to live and work, which certainly curtailed for the time being any possible interest in four wheels (while providing an excellent chance to keep skiing). Continue reading

Patrick Gaillard – One Wrong Decision

There are some defining occasions in life. Vital decisions, job changes, unique opportunities, a special invitation… Like any other ‘job’ in the world, motor racing faces all these circumstances and, generally, career success depends on a multitude of factors. But what happens when, in different periods of your life, one of these countless factors has a tiny, little problem? It may have no consequences, hold back your progress, open another door, or… slowly erode your chances to be among the very great. Proof of it is a rather unknown Frenchman, Patrick Gaillard.

Patrick Gaillard (Google Images)

Patrick Gaillard was born in Paris on the 12th of February, 1952, and soon experienced the smell of petrol and rubber since his father had a garage to host his van and truck rental dealership. Perhaps that environment sparked the interest in mechanical sports, and in his early teens Gaillard made his debut on the thriving motorcycle racing scene, even reaching the French National Championship, where he occasionally rode a 350cc Honda. Young Patrick was a gifted driver and his parents didn’t quite disapprove of his career choice, but motorcycle racing was far more dangerous than four-wheeled racing, so they took the opportunity of his forced career interruption for military service to persuade him that, if he was to be a racing driver, at least he should switch to cars. Thus, in 1974, Gaillard enrolled at the Volant Winfield at Magny-Cours – precisely the year when support switched from Shell to Elf – he finished as a semi-finalist. It was a good way to start, above all because, unlike most of his opponents, he had no karting or any kind of other four-wheel background. Continue reading

Mike Thackwell – Youngest starter, youngest quitter

The F1 world was stunned when Max Verstappen was announced at Toro Rosso for the 2015 season, thus starting his first Grand Prix in Australia with the astonishing age of 17 years and 166 years, which made him by far the youngest driver ever to start a F1 race. Then FIA decided to limit the emission of a super licence to a minimum age limit of 18 years from 2016 ownards, which implies that Verstappen’s record will remain unchallenged for a very long time. Ironically, he bet the record of another driver of the Red Bull cantera, the Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari, which made his debuts with… Toro Rosso at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix with 19 years and 125 days. Amazing, isn’t it? Well, since the turn of the century, we assist to increasingly earlier debuts, barely after the end of the drivers’ teen years… Men such Jenson Button, Kimi Räikkönen and Fernando Alonso were the first wave, followed by the generation of Sebastian Vettel and, nowadays, men such as Lance Stroll, Daniil Kvyat and Esteban Ocon, all teenagers when they first entered a F1 race. However, until late nineties, it was fairly uncommon this to happen. If we look back, by the seventies and early eighties it was perfectly acceptable for a driver past their mid-twenties to debut in F1 and it didn’t mean he wasn’t good enough to be a winner. Different times, indeed. But why this so long foreword? Because Alguersuari bet the record of a driver whom so many consider the most unfulfilled promises ever… Mike Thackwell.

Mike Thackwell (Google Images)

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