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Remembering Clay Regazzoni 02 Jan 2007

Clay Regazzoni (SUI) Ferrari. Formula One World Championship, c.1970. World © Phipps/Sutton. The podium (L to R): Rene Arnoux (FRA) Renault, second; Clay Regazzoni (SUI) Williams, race winner; Jean-Pierre Jarier (FRA) Tyrrell, third. It was the first GP victory for the Williams team. British Grand Prix, Rd 9, Silverstone, England, 14 July 1979. World ©  Phipps/Sutton. Race winner Clay Regazzoni (SUI) Ferrari 312B2 prepares to overtake Jackie Stewart (GBR) (L to R): Third placed Niki Lauda (AUT) talks with his Ferrari team mate Clay Regazzoni (SUI), who retired on lap ten with a blown engine. German Grand Prix, Nurburgring, 3 August 1975. World ©  Phipps/Sutton. Clay Regazzoni (SUI) Ferrari 312B took his first GP victory in only his fifth race. Italian Grand Prix, Monza, 6 September 1970. World ©  Phipps/Sutton. Clay Regazzoni (SUI) Ensign N177 crashed out of the race on lap 10. Spanish Grand Prix, Rd 5, Jarama, Spain, 8 May 1977. World © Phipps/Sutton.

Clay Regazzoni, who died in a road accident in December, will be remembered as one of Formula One racing’s great characters. An archetypal racer, during his ten-year career Regazzoni won the lasting admiration of peers and fans alike.

Born in Switzerland in 1939, Regazzoni began racing in the mid-1960s. After racking up several wins in lesser series, he clinched the European Formula Two championship in 1970 and, as a result, secured a trial Formula One drive with Ferrari for that year’s Dutch Grand Prix.

After memorably crossing the finish line fourth on his debut appearance, Regazzoni would score his maiden win at Ferrari’s home race in Monza just four rounds later. The victory not only won him a legion of Italian fans, but also firmly established his reputation in the paddock. He went onto make another seven race appearances for Ferrari that year and, after finishing third in the driver standings, was duly rewarded with a permanent contract for 1971.

But the next two seasons proved far less successful and as the results dwindled, Regazzoni got itchy feet and left for a seat with BRM in 1973. The move, however, proved short lived and after finishing the year a disappointing 18th in the standings, the Swiss driver returned to Ferrari in 1974, neatly securing a seat for his BRM team mate Niki Lauda at the same time.

Back in his familiar red overalls, Regazzoni’s fortunes improved. To the delight of the tifosi, he scored a comeback win at the Nurburgring and appeared on the podium a further seven times. Going into the final race of the season at Watkins Glen he was just one point shy of championship leader Emerson Fittipaldi, but ultimately lost out to the Brazilian.

Although he won a further two times for Ferrari, at Monza in 1975 and at Long Beach in 1976, Regazzoni was increasingly overshadowed by his less experienced team mate Lauda. In 1977 he was dropped and replaced by upcoming Argentinean talent Carlos Reutemann. After struggling to find a seat, he eventually settled with Ensign, before switching to Shadow in 1978. Both teams were equally strapped for cash and as such significant results proved hard to come by.

After two years spent in the relative obscurity of the back of the field, Regazzoni was signed by Frank Williams to partner Australian Alan Jones. Aided by the Patrick Head-designed FW07, the move proved a masterstroke for team and driver alike. But while Regazzoni’s popular win at Silverstone was the first of many for Williams, it proved to be the Swiss driver’s final crowning moment.

In 1980, replaced by Reutemann for a second time, Regazzoni returned to Ensign. With an improved car and bigger budget, the team’s fortunes were on the up. But in Long Beach, whilst running fourth, Regazzoni crashed after a suspected brake failure. The resulting impact paralysed him from the waist down and ended his Formula one career.

Despite being confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, Regazzoni continued to race in other series in specially modified cars. He also carved out a new career as a well-respected Formula One commentator for Italian and Swiss television and remained a familiar face in the paddock until his untimely death at the age of 67.