Clay Regazzoni: 1939-2006

A tough man who gained hearts and respect over a long career

Former Ferrari and Williams grand prix driver Gianclaudio ‘Clay’ Regazzoni died in a road accident near Parma, Italy, shortly before Christmas. 

A tough and uncompromising competitor, Regazzoni won five grands prix during an F1 career lasting from 1970 to 1980, most memorably victories for Ferrari at Monza in 1970 and 1975.

From the Swiss province of Ticino, Regazzoni was always something of a maverick free spirit, controversy snapping at his heels for much of the time. In 1968 he was implicated in the fatal accident of Chris Lambert in a European Formula Two championship race at Zandvoort. After a lengthy inquiry, Regazzoni was exonerated. 

Clay had originally made his name driving for the Pederzani family’s Tecno marque in F3 before moving up into F2 and by 1970 had moderated his driving style impressively and strung together a run of consistent successes to claim the European F2 crown. Even before Regazzoni had clinched that title he’d made his F1 debut for Ferrari, finishing fourth in the tragic Dutch GP at Zandvoort which claimed the life of British driver Piers Courage. 

Regazzoni won in only the fourth GP of his career at Monza, although this was quite a controversial success – he was heavily criticised by Jackie Stewart for weaving on the straight in order to break the ‘tow’ the Scot was getting in his Tyrrell March 701. “I have to say that what I saw that day at Monza was unethical, unsporting and dangerous,” Stewart recalled. 

“It was the start of a breakdown in discipline among grand prix drivers and the beginning of an unfortunate trend. Weaving around on the straight at that sort of speed is downright dangerous.”

Stewart was also elbowed off the road by Regazzoni’s Ferrari – “Clay was always much nicer to me on the track than off,” he recalled – but the triple world champion retained a sneaking affection for the Swiss driver and was among the hundreds of racing folk who turned out for Clay’s funeral in Lugano.

British fans recall Regazzoni affectionately as the man who scored the Williams team’s maiden F1 success, winning the 1979 British GP at Silverstone in their ground-effect FW07.

“Clay was the sort of character you could never forget,” said Niki Lauda, his Ferrari team-mate from 1974-1976. “He died as he lived, taking life as it came. He was a great blend of professional and playboy. He enjoyed life and was never negative.

“Even after the accident when he crashed his Ensign in the US Grand Prix at Long Beach in 1980, a crash which left him paralysed from the waist down, he made the best out of his circumstances and was soon driving again in cars with hand controls. He was a great guy.” AH