Friday, 17 March 2017

Patrick O'Brien (1944-2017)

Just to let everyone know that my father Patrick O'Brien died of a heart attack in France this morning.

Will write more later.

Catherine O'Brien in Cambridge, UK.


Tuesday 21 March 2017

"... there [is] really no way to overcome the real dilemma of existence, the one of the mortal animal who at the same time is conscious of his mortality. A person spends years coming into his own, developing his talent, his unique gifts, perfecting his discriminations about the world, broadening and sharpening his appetite, learning to bear the disappointments of life, becoming mature, seasoned – finally a unique creature in nature, standing with some dignity and nobility and transcending the animal condition; no longer driven, no longer a complex reflex, not stamped out of any mold. And then the real tragedy [...]: that it takes sixty years of incredible suffering and effort to make such an individual, and then he is good only for dying."

~ Ernest Becker (1973). The denial of death. New York: The Free Press, p. 268.

Thank you for all the comments here and tributes to Patrick on the PlanetF1 forum:

From the ‘Sad news’ thread of the Planet F1 forum

Hello everyone, my name is Brendan O’Brien – I’m Patrick’s son.

Our family’s grief since he died on Friday morning has been almost unbearable. I wanted to take the time to post though because, although my dad had many and varied interests and a wide group of friends across the world, F1 was his passion and this forum – and his many virtual friends on it - was an important part of that.

My dad took me to a number of Grands Prix in our native South Africa when I was a kid, showing me around the pits and once - in the early years, must’ve been around the late-70s - putting his hands over my ears when the noise of the cars going by on the straight startled me and made me cry. Despite thoroughly enjoying the experiences, though, I never really picked up his passion for F1 to the same extent. Rather, we had a shared passion for sports cars – his knowledge about their design and history was almost as vast as his knowledge about F1. Some of my happiest memories are of weekends spent with him in the garage at home in Johannesburg helping him to restore his two beloved Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Speciales.

This is difficult to write. I keep cracking up.

He reminded me just a few weeks ago about how I had dragged him, ‘kicking and screaming’ (his words), onto the Planet F1 Forum back in 2011. Being of an earlier generation, and never a man with much patience for computers, it was an initial challenge to get him comfortable with the technicalities of posting and forum usage. I was determined that he should do this though - living in rural France, he needed an outlet for his F1 passion and you, the members of the PF1 Forum, provided that.

Most of you will be aware of the Rating System that he had developed. He achieved so much in life, but the Rating System was really his life’s major work and the culmination of everything he knew about F1. My sister, Catherine, spent countless hours with him over the past 3 or 4 years to help him formalize the work into book form. He really valued the input and knowledge of so many forum members in discussing his work and testing his conclusions. I also know that he regarded and valued a number of forum members as genuine friends, although he never met any of you.

I am struggling to rationalize his death. He was active and fit, and living life as fully and with as much passion as ever. He was only 72, and had so much more to give. The best I can do is that his family and friends were lucky to have had him in their lives for the period that they did. He was the most thoroughly decent and kind man, and his empathy for all living things – whether human, animal or plant – was on an otherworldly level. Everything that is good in me, I learnt from him.

I moved out of home to go to university when I was 18. This was followed by various moves to countries overseas over the years, which meant that we typically only saw each other annually. In May 2016, however, I was able to fly him over from France to my home in Canada for a dream road trip for both of us. I fulfilled a long-held wish a few years ago of becoming a Porsche 911 owner, and my dad came over for a 4-day road trip with 10 Porsche friends of mine through the forested and winding roads of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia. The driving pace was at times spirited, and my dad said he could still hear the wonderful sound of flat 6s echoing in his mind for months after the trip. He seat-hopped from car-to-car through the trip, getting to know the others and sampling different flavours of Porsche. As was Dad’s way, in the short time he knew the others on the trip, he made an impact with his kindness, his humour, and his genuine interest in others’ lives. On the last day of the trip, which fell on his 72nd birthday, he and I peeled off from the group and made a special journey to Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, Fallingwater, in southern Pennsylvania. One of his other passions (and, in fact, his profession) was architecture, and Fallingwater had been an icon to him since his student days. The in-depth house tour was a spiritual experience for him, and I am grateful we got to do the trip together.

He travelled over to Canada again in September 2016 with my mother to meet his first grandchild, my son, who was born in August. That was the last time I saw him. I had booked for him to come over for another Porsche road trip in May 2017. He was so excited about this and about meeting all of his Porsche friends from last year again.

I’ve written more than intended, and it’s all been done in the midst of a grief I’ve never before experienced and which feels as though it will never end. However, I do want to thank you, his PF1 forum friends, for your engagement with him and for the knowledgeable outlet that you provided. It was important to him and he really appreciated it.


He probably pushed F1 metrics forward further than anybody else has ever done and his contribution will not be forgotten.
~ mikeyg123, Fri Mar 17, 2017 3:44 pm,

His rating system was very interesting, it brought some kind of consistent view of F1 throughout the decades and offered me a lot of insight.
~ mds, Posted: Mon Mar 20, 2017 7:16 am ,

The guy was a statistics machine, very interesting posts.
~ kimilandia, Fri Mar 17, 2017 7:26 pm,

...a most knowledgeable and charming man. I always thought he must be quite mad to be attempting to rate so many era's, drivers etc. something my brain could not even contemplate, definitely a touch of genius in him.
~ bauble, Tues Mar 21, 2017,

He [...] had one of the greatest wealths of Motorsport history of anyone on earth. 
~ F1 MERCENARY  Fri Mar 17, 2017,

He was a great guy who provided both great analysis and historical insight to this forum and i recommend all new readers to review​ his body of posts here* for their high signal to noise content. 
~ mas, Mar 27, 2017 12:15 pm,

He was a mine of accurate information and his book is a respected and valued part of my racing library.  Over the years, I have referred to it an awful lot.
~ Stirling Moss, OBE, personal communication, 24 April 2017.

Fantastic information as ever Patrick, and always appreciative of all attempts to look at the facts objectively; I love F1 and several other sports as 'the stopwatch does not lie', but when it's as complicated as F1 it's wonderful your info and breakdown helps analyse what that stopwatch is telling us! Brilliant ;-0)
~ lalaeuro 12 July 2012 at 15:29,

The Crankhandle Chronicle - December 2004

Obituary, Crankhandle Chronicle, May 2017

Obituary, Classic Car Africa, June 2017

Fifth Gear, Winter 2017 June
Written by Nick Gouws
Visit ARCSA site on:

Letters to the Editor, The Crankhandle Chronicle, May 2017, p. 12


  1. My sincere condolences.

    Patrick was always very polite and fun to debate with. He obviously put a lot of time and thought into his research. F1 forums were a better place for his presence.

    Jim (Sennafan24)

  2. Terribly sorry to hear about your loss. Patrick was an extremely fun, polite, intelligent and informative Formula 1 contributor and will be missed.

  3. Sad news
    My sincere condolences.
    F1 lost one of the most enthusiast fans.

  4. My thoughts and prayers with you all at this sad time. He seemed like a really great guy from what I saw online. A loss to the F1 online community.

  5. Hi Patrick,

    We've never spoke, but I often enjoyed reading your forum posts and ratings. Your writing has touched people you were never to know, and I just wanted to say thanks. Hope all is well in the great circuit in the sky.

    An anonymous lurker

  6. My Condolences to his family. I was a long time member of Planet F1 forum and always enjoyed reading his posts and especially the anecdotes. I'm glad I did order his book 100 years of racing a few years ago so I still have something touchable to fill the good memories.
    RIP Patrick
    Johan (Amon on PF1)

  7. I just saw this, so please accept my condolences, albeit somewhat tardy. I only spoke with your father 2 or 3 times via the Internet, but he was always most helpful and polite. I have two of his books, and both of them made me think of racing research in entirely different ways than what I had first concieved.

  8. Well, I am not sure if anybody still reads this, but somehow I have only recently realized that Patrick has passed. Although I probably should have known, because I did not hear from him for some time and my last e-mail about a year ago went unanswered...but we all seem to be too damned busy with our own projects...I never followed-up. One of the very few who took the driver ratings seriously and true enthusiast, Patrick is missed...I believe we were those friends who never met. Aleš Norský.

  9. Thank you for your kind message, and for your review of POB's book, located here:

    Follow POB posthumously on Instagram @pob_renaissanceman