"A record 256 Grand Prix races achieved but I still want more!"
Q&A with Italy's Ricardo Patrese The inaugural Altech Grand Prix Masters South Africa race takes place in Kyalami on 13th November.
What is your motivation for competing in this championship?
Well although I haven't raced for more than a decade I was invited to drive at the Goodwood Festival of Speed recently and really enjoyed having a steering wheel in my hands again. That got me thinking about how good it would be to drive a competitive race car in a competitive series again. And then Grand Prix Masters came along! The series will give racers like myself exactly what we want -- competitive motorsport in powerful cars on legendary circuits. Very simple!
You hold the record for driving in more Grand Prix than any other driver [Patrese competed in 256 F1 races], which means you will have raced against all the other Masters at some point. Who are you particularly looking forward to racing against?
It's true that I raced against people like Emerson Fittipaldi at the start of my F1 career and obviously was still racing the likes of Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost towards the end. It's just so exciting for me to be racing alongside these true champions. They are all old friends and I am really looking forward to racing every one of them.
How competitive do you think the drivers will be?
The idea is that we should aim for close, exciting racing but in an atmosphere that is fun and relaxed -- something the drivers and spectators can both enjoy and interact with. But you are right. We are all competitive people in our own right so it will be interesting to see how different drivers approach the challenge. It's been a good 10 years since I last raced a single-seater, so I think I will have to take my time, get back into the rhythm of driving and then see how we fare. Making predications in this instance is far from easy!
These powerful cars will require the drivers to be extremely fit. How have you approached the physical fitness side?
That's easy for me because I have never stopped being actively involved in sports. I am involved in competition show jumping and ride horses at least three or four times a week, which keeps me pretty fit, so from that point of view I am not anticipating any problems. I also have a go-kart which is actually a pretty good 'gym' for drivers because it helps you build up the muscles that really get worked when you are cornering quickly.
What do you think of the Grand Prix Masters car?
The thing that most appeals to me is the fact that we will all have identical equipment. I've visited the Delta Motorsport factory (Northampton, UK) yesterday for a seat-fitting and HANS device installation and saw for the first time the Masters car. It looks very impressive! Everything seems to be on schedule and in very good order. I expect it to be strong, safe, comfortable and very fast. I've driven all sorts of F1 cars over 256 races so it will be hard to compare this Masters car to anything from my past. But I expect it will be a little bit more predictable in terms of its handling than an F1 car but also more rewarding to drive given much lower downforce and no electronic driver aids. All the emphasis here is on the man behind the wheel. A car that is predictable is fun to drive. With more steering feel you can make it slide more and that means a better and more entertaining show. Having no hidden electronics means that we might still make mistakes, which promotes more action and more overtaking. Our whole philosophy is about entertainment. That is what the fans want and that is our mission with the Masters series.
How do you think Grand Prix Masters will compare with the racing you retired from in 1993?
Well Formula One itself has changed massively over the 17 seasons I competed in it, so a comparison is pretty tricky! If I'm honest I prefer F1 from my day to the sport it is now. It's still good but it is a different kind of racing. In every sport things change, though, so you can't say F1 is not good now. It is just different. But I do think the success of Grand Prix Masters will be down to the fact that many of the drivers who I raced against were truly charismatic. That will differentiate our series from other forms of motorsport.
In their heyday drivers like Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost said what they thought and that was normally something that people wanted to hear! People listened to them because they had important things to say. Today drivers are less likely to speak out. How do you think the first race in Kyalami on 13th November will turn out?
Kyalami will be a challenging place for us to start the series. I raced there on many occasions in Formula One and it is really demanding as a race track. The high altitude means we will be working hard in the car and the layout of the circuit means that you get no chance to relax in the car -- it will be tiring. It is also quite an undulating circuit with some noticeable swoops and rises. From memory the first corner after the startline is a challenging turn so let's hope we all get through it on the first lap!