Derek Bell on Clay Regazzoni: My Greatest Rival

Although their paths rarely crossed in Formula 1, in European F3 and F2 earlier in their careers Derek Bell and Clay Regazzoni were inseparable, culminating in a slug out for the 1970 F2 title

Derek Bell and Clay Regazzoni
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“I had many great rivals over the years but the one who stands above the rest has to be Clay Regazzoni. He was my nemesis in both Formula 3 and Formula 2 in the late 1960s and early ’70s.

Clay was a hard racer and we had some mighty battles. You never knew exactly what he was going to do – there were many great tussles. The last race of the 1967 Formula 3 season is a good example of this.

In Formula 3 Clay was with Tecno and I had my Brabham BT21. At Hockenheim in October we went to the Preis der Nationen, which was a one-off championship of national teams, so there was a lot at stake. It was a crazy race, all of us nose to tail on those long straights in the forest. It was an accident waiting to happen.

As we made our way into the stadium section on the last lap Clay came past me, took Jean-Pierre Jabouille in the Matra off at the right hander, came across the grass and took me out at the left hander, managed to scrabble past Jean-Pierre Jaussaud, who was also in a Matra, and by now Clay had no bodywork left on his car. He finished second to Kurt Ahrens in another BT21 by less than half a second.

In 1970 we were battling again, in Formula 2, and I should have beaten Clay to the European Championship in the Wheatcroft Racing Brabham. It was a little private team backed by Tom Wheatcroft and my stepfather and based at a farm in Sussex. We only had one engine while Clay seemed to have as many engines as he wanted in the works Tecno. It was an epic battle that lasted all year long, our little team up against the Tecnos, and Clay was a very, very tough rival.

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Regazzoni at Hockenheim, 1970; Bell is in the orange car, right

I thought I had him beaten when I won at Montjuich Park in Barcelona, and he was down in eighth, but he still overhauled me by the end of the season. Yet again he was my nemesis. He was the one I had to beat and you always had to keep a close eye on him. He took a lot of chances, some big risks. Everything he did was flat out while I was maybe a more balanced driver.

With Clay on the grid you just knew he could win. He was always on the limit, and I was pleased he did so well when he went to Formula 1. The irony here is that in 1972 I joined Martini Racing which ran the Tecnos in Formula 1 and by this time Clay was at Scuderia Ferrari, so we were at opposite ends of the grid.

I always admired him, always respected him, and we became very good friends. He was a cracking bloke. The accident at Long Beach in the 1980 US Grand Prix that left him so badly injured was just such a tragedy and then the car crash on the road in Italy was such a sad ending.”

Derek Bell and Clay Regazzoni head to head

Driver stats for the Formula 2 European Championship 1968-70.

Bell vs Regazzoni
1 Wins* 3
2 Poles 3
1 Fastest laps 1
8 Podiums 8
61 Points 62

*Outright victories. Both received one extra maximum score in races won by ineligible ‘graded’ drivers