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Riccardo Paletti
Nationality Italy Italian
Formula One World Championship career
Active years 1982
Teams Osella
Races 8 (2 starts)
Championships 0
Wins 0
Podiums 0
Career points 0
Pole positions 0
Fastest laps 0
First race 1982 South African Grand Prix
Last race 1982 Canadian Grand Prix

Riccardo Paletti (15 June 1958 - 13 June 1982) was an Italian motor racing driver. Paletti's Formula One career was cut short as he fatally crashed on the start grid in only his second Formula One start; it was his first race with a full grid of cars.

Contents

Life before racing

Born in Milan, Paletti was an Italian junior karate champion at thirteen, and made it to the national alpine skiing youth selection. Only when he was 19 years old, he chose to pursue a career in motorsports.

Racing before Formula One

In 1978 Paletti entered nine races in Formula Super Ford and in his inaugural race he led for 18 laps. Despite the fact that he didn't win during the first season, he still gained two second places, and finished third in the overall championship. During the end of his first season he also made his Formula 3 debut in the Italian Championship with a March-Toyota. In the following year of 1979 Paletti entered a full F3 championship season, but he had little success as he only managed to place to fifth position twice. Later the same year he drove in Formula 2 for the first time, but with a failure to finish due to a crash.

Aided by the contacts of his father, Riccardo was soon introduced to the Onyx F2 team, run by Mike Earle, and that gave Paletti his definitive switch to F2 for the 1981 European championship season. He tested a lot for the Onyx team during the winter and the effort paid off during the opening rounds of the season, as he qualified 10th in the first race at Silverstone, before managing to finish second behind Mike Thackwell. He retired in the second round at Hockenheim, but set fastest lap of the race and his good form continued in round three at Thruxton, where he finished third, this time behind Roberto Guerrero. At that point in time he even shared second in the championship with Stefan Johansson, trailing Thackwell by just three points. But from then on luck failed Paletti, and he finished tenth in the championship.

Formula One career

Although not having achieved much in the lower class racings, Paletti joined the uncompetitive team Osella in 1982. He admitted that Formula One struck him with a little bit of fear, but his sponsor wanted him to move up and Riccardo didn't want to miss his opportunity. The sponsor was his father, Arietto Paletti, a rich Milanese businessman, who had made his fortune with a building company and importing Pioneer Hi-Fi equipment to Italy. Securing the second seat in the team had cost $1,000,000 and his teammate was the more experienced Frenchman Jean-Pierre Jarier. At least in one aspect Paletti was ahead of his time in F1 because he travelled with a personal medical adviser who was monitoring his blood pressure and heartbeat with small sensors attached to his body during testing and practice sessions. His diet was constantly adapted to the results. Few people took this professional approach seriously at the time.

Making his first attempt during the South African Grand Prix in January 1982, Jean-Pierre Jarier managed to haul his Osella unit to qualify in the last position on the grid but Paletti was almost two seconds slower, failing to qualify.

For the second round of the season, at the Jacarepagua circuit near Rio De Janeiro, the venue for the Brazilian Grand Prix, Paletti had to prequalify on Friday morning, but a wheel fell off the Osella after a suspension failure and again he didn't make the grid.

The next round of the championship was the US GP West at the street circuit of Long Beach. Jarier found the right set-up for the Osella and managed to put the car in the top ten during qualifying. Paletti was a massive three and a half seconds slower than his experienced team mate and failed to qualify again.

For the fourth Grand Prix of the season, at Imola on April 25, amidst a war between the FISA and FOCA, only 14 cars loyal to the organisation started the race. Paletti had managed to beat the ATS cars of Eliseo Salazar and Manfred Winkelhock and was supposed to start from the back of the grid. However, on Sunday afternoon Paletti failed to fire up the Osella for the warm-up lap and by the time he had left the pits the other cars were already lining up for the start. As a result, the moment he crossed the starting line he was already 49 seconds behind. He never even got close to the rest of the field and after seven laps he had to park his car due to another suspension failure. His Grand Prix debut had lasted a mere twelve minutes.

At Zolder Paletti failed to prequalify on Friday, getting more and more disappointed with the Osella, and he was feeling intense rivalry with Jarier, who was more experienced and quicker behind the wheel. The new chassis, which was to be introduced at Monaco, gave some promise, but still Paletti knew that qualifying for Monaco was virtually impossible with only twenty entries allowed to start in the narrow streets of the principality. There was only one new monocoque for Jarier and the new rear suspension was delayed. Once again, Paletti failed to prequalify.

On his seventh Grand Prix, in Detroit, Paletti was suddenly much closer to Jarier's pace and, although the gap was still over a second, he qualified right behind his team mate. However, during the warm-up session Paletti lost a wheel at the beginning. The mechanics tried to repair the car in time for the race and, while there still was the possibility of starting the race in the spare car, that option went up in smoke as well, after Jarier's fire extinguisher had gone off accidentally. So it was Jarier who took the spare car, which was set up for him anyway. This meant it would be a race against time for Paletti's mechanics to set up the car and they were still busy when the rest of the field progressed to the grid. But just as the work was finished, with Paletti ready to get in the car, news broke that Jarier had hit the wall, damaged his car and was on his way back to the pits. So Paletti's car was ready for Jarier to jump in and start the race from the pit lane, leaving Paletti behind as a frustrated spectator once more.

Death

When he qualified for the Canadian Grand Prix on Sunday June 13 1982, it was the first time Paletti would start successfully in a full line-up. At the start, the lights took an unusually long time to turn to green. During this time, Didier Pironi, who had the pole position, stalled the engine of his Ferrari. Pironi lifted his hand to signal the problem, but there was no action for signalling the yellow to abort the start. The lights switched to green and the other cars swerved across the track, trying to squeeze past Pironi's stationary car. Raul Boesel just clipped the back left of the Ferrari, spinning his March into the path of Eliseo Salazar and Jochen Mass. Salazar, Boesel and Mass suffered minor impacts but it looked as if everyone had passed the Ferrari without serious consequences. However, Paletti could not react in time and slammed into the rear of the stranded Ferrari at 180km/h (around 110 mph), catapulting it into the path of Geoff Lees. The Osella's nose was crushed in severely.

Due to the force of the severe impact, Paletti sustained heavy chest injuries and was lying unconscious in his car, wedged against the steering wheel. Didier Pironi and Sid Watkins, the FIA's head doctor, were on the scene in a matter of seconds to stabilise and assist Paletti. As Watkins climbed over the wreckage of the Osella, the petrol that had leaked from the fully loaded car's ruptured fuel tank ignited, enveloping the car in a wall of fire. The heavy fire took a while to extinguish with Pironi spurring the marshals on to keep the flames away from the unconscious Paletti, who was still in the Osella. When the fire was finally put out, the critically injured Paletti was without a pulse. It took the rescue workers 25 minutes to cut him out safely from his wrecked car, as the sparks caused by the cutting equipment were close to re-igniting the petrol on the track. He was flown by a medical helicopter to the Royal Victoria Hospital, where he died soon after arriving. To add to the tragedy, the whole scene was witnessed by his mother Gina, with whom he was supposed to visit New York in the days after the Grand Prix, where they would celebrate his 24th birthday. All she could do now was accompany her son to the hospital. It is, however, a testament to the quality of Formula One's medical team and protective clothing that, despite the fire, he suffered no burns. It is said that Paletti suffered also a heavy intoxication from the exhausting foam used to contain the fire of his Osella. This intoxication could have been fatal given the chest injuries that made the respiration difficult.

Paletti was the second fatality in Formula One that year. Just five weeks before, Gilles Villeneuve had a fatal crash during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder. Paletti would be the last driver to die at a Grand Prix meeting for the next 12 years until the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, which took the lives of Roland Ratzenberger during qualifying and triple world champion Ayrton Senna during the Grand Prix itself.

As a tribute to the young Italian, the racetrack at Varano de' Melegari, in the province of Parma (northern Italy) is now called the Autodromo Riccardo Paletti.

His body is buried in the Cimitero Maggiore di Milano.

Complete Formula One results

(key)

Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 WDC Pts
1982 Osella Squadra Corse Osella FA1C Cosworth V8 RSA
DNQ
BRA
DNPQ
USW
DNQ
SMR
Ret
BEL
DNPQ
MON
DNPQ
DET
DNS
CAN
Ret
NED
GBR
FRA
GER
AUT
SUI
ITA
CPL
NC 0

External links

Preceded by
Gilles Villeneuve
Formula One fatal accidents
June 13, 1982
Succeeded by
Elio de Angelis
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