Riccardo Paletti's Formula One career was among the shortest, as he fatally crashed on the start grid in his first full Formula 1 start.
Riccardo Paletti was born in Milan. He started racing at 19 in Italian SuperFord, but soon graduated to Formula 3 and then, after just 15 F3 races, made the jump into Formula 2 at the end of 1979.
Back for more at the end of 1980, Paletti drove sensibly within his limits and, with the benefit of winter testing, he joined the Onyx team full-time for 1981. The year started well with his March taking a second place at Silverstone and a third at Thruxton, but then his season tailed off disappointingly.
With the help of generous sponsorship, Paletti found himself a seat in the tiny and uncompetitive Osella team in 1982, but the young Italian faced a steep learning curve. Making his first attempt during the Grand Prix of Kyalami in January of 1982, he failed to qualify for the first three Grand Prix of the season.
For the fourth Grand Prix at Imola on April 25, only 14 cars, including Paletti's Osella, started the race. This was due to the war between the FISA/FOCA. He retired from the race while in 13th with suspension failure. For the next two races, again with a full starting grid, he failed to qualify. On his seventh Grand Prix, in Detroit, Michigan, he managed for the first time to qualify on a proper GP grid, but crashed in the warmup and never started the race.
When he qualified for the Canadian Grand Prix on Sunday, June 13, 1982, it was the first time Paletti had started in a full line up. At the start, the lights took an unusually long time to turn to green. Didier Pironi, who had pole position, stalled his Ferrari and when the lights went green, the other cars swerved across the track, trying to squeeze past the stationary car from Pironi. Unfortunately, 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 just as it looked as if everyone had passed the Ferrari without serious consequences, Paletti slammed into the rear of the stranded Ferrari at 180km/h, catapulting it into the path of Geoff Lees. Several other cars were instant retirees.
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 stabilize 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 wall of fire. The heavy fire was quickly extinguished but by then the critically injured Paletti was without a pulse. He was cut from his wrecked car and rushed to hospital, where he died soon after arriving. 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.
As a tribute to the young Italian, the racetrack at Varano de' Melegari (Parma), Italy is now called the Autodromo Riccardo Paletti.