Thursday, June 15, 2017

Riccardo Paletti Born In Milan, Italy - June 15, 1958

June 15, 1958 - June 13, 1982
Riccardo Paletti
Born In Milan, Italy.
Paletti was an Italian junior karate champion at thirteen, and made it to the national alpine skiing youth selection. Only at 19 did he choose to pursue a career in motorsports.

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 competed in a few Formula 2 races for the first time with the team ran by Mike Earle. His best result was at Misano, where he finished eighth.

For the 1981 European F2 championship season Earle severed his collaboration with March to start Onyx. Paletti tested a lot 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 finishing second behind Mike Thackwell. He retired in the second round at Hockenheim, but set the 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.

Although still on a learning curve in the lower class racing, Paletti decided to join the noncompetitive team Osella in 1982. He admitted that Formula One struck him with a little bit of fear, but his sponsor, Pioneer wanted him to move up and Paletti did not want to miss his opportunity.

 Paletti was killed when he crashed on the start grid in his second Formula One start. Paletti qualified for the Canadian Grand Prix on Sunday June 13, 1982, the first time he 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 180 km/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 to stabilise and assist Paletti. As Watkins climbed over the wreckage of the Osella, the petrol from the fuel tank ignited, enveloping the car in a wall of fire. When the fire was finally put out, the 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 threatened to re-ignite the petrol on the track. He was flown by a medical helicopter to the Royal Victoria Hospital, where he died soon after arriving. His mother was watching from the stands, where they were to celebrate his 24th birthday later that week. It is said that Paletti was heavily intoxicated from breathing in the exhausting foam used to contain the car fire, and that this could have been fatal given the chest injuries that made 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 is now called the Autodromo Riccardo Paletti.

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