DECEMBER 15, 2006

Clay Regazzoni

Former Grand Prix driver Gianclaudio "Clay" Regazzoni has been killed in a road accident in Italy. Details of the accident are confused but it seems that Regazzoni arrived at high speed at a sudden and unexpected traffic jam.

The 67-year-old Swiss driver was in collision with a truck on the main motorway near Parma. Regazzoni won five Grand Prix victories, including the first victory for the Williams team at Silverstone in 1979. The following year he was paralysed from the waist down in an accident when the brakes on his Ensign failed at the end of the long straight and he went off the track, ran into the abandoned Brabham that had been driven by Ricardo Zunino and his car launched into the air and into a concrete barrier. Although he sued the organisers for damages, the case was not successful and Regazzoni eventually returned to racing in hand-controlled vehicles on the Paris-Dakar Rally - the only form of racing he could find that would give him a licence to competed. That helped to break down barriers for handicapped people in racing and in the 1990s Regazzoni was able to race a hand-controlled car in the Sebring 12 Hours. Despite this in 1996 he was refused a licence to race in the World Sportscar Championship. Despite this setback to went on racing until 2000 when he took part in the London-Sydney Marathon Rally in a specially-modified 6.3-litre Mercedes.

Born in Lugano, in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, Regazzoni grew up in Ticino and began racing in the mid-1960s, making his first major impact with the De Tomaso company before moving on to join Tecno in Formula 3. That was a great success and he also started racing in Formula 2 and was implicated in a fatal accident involving Englishman Chris Lambert (Max Mosley's partner in the London Racing Team) at Zandvoort in the summer of 1968. Although he was subsequently cleared of blame in the crash, Regazzoni gained a reputation for wildness but that did not stop Enzo Ferrari from giving him a chance in Formula 1 in Holland in 1970. He finished fourth on his debut and he followed up with fourth in his second race as well, the British GP at Brands Hatch. He was second in his Grand Prix in Austria and took his first victory at Monza, although the win was overshadowed by the death of Jochen Rindt that weekend. He ended the year third in the World Championship and won a permanent seat at Ferrari alongside Jacky Ickx in 1971.

It was not a great year for the team and at the end of 1972 Regazzoni took the decision to move to BRM where he teamed up with Niki Lauda, another rising star. It was another frustrating season but at the end of 1973 Ferrari underwent one of its intermittent revolutions and Luca di Montezemolo was put in charge. The team hired Lauda and Regazzoni for 1974. Lauda became the team leader but Regazzoni was never far behind and won the German GP that year and followed up in 1975 with wins in the non-championship Swiss GP at Dijon and the Italian GP. He went on to win for Ferrari at Long beach in 1976 but after Niki Lauda's crash that summer Ferrari took on Carlos Reutemann and were caught out when Lauda returned to action. The decision was to drop Regazzoni and keep Lauda and Reutemann in 1977. Clay moved to Ensign and from there to Shadow in 1978, producing decent results but being unable to make a huge impression.

In 1979, however, Frank Williams was looking for an experienced driver to partner Alan Jones and picked Reggazoni. The team was developing the FW07 and Regazzoni was rarely on the pace of Jones but at the British GP Jones broke down while leading and it fell to Regazzoni to take the team's first victory.

Ironically, it was Reutemann who once again came in to push Regazzoni out and so in 1980 he went back to Ensign, which was undergoing a revival thanks to Unipart money and a decent chassis.