Patrick Depailler

Full Name:
Patrick Andre Eugene Joseph Depailler
Born:
9th August 1944
Clermont-Ferrand, Auvergne
Died:
1st August 1980 (Aged 35)
Hockenheim, Baden-Wurttemberg (D), testing
Nationality:
French
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

For the first 68 Grand Prix starts of Patrick Depailler’s Formula 1 career it appeared that this charismatic and happy-go-lucky Frenchman was the new Chris Amon. Talent in abundance but without an ounce of luck, he held the unwanted record at the time of most second place finishes without winning (eight). He had just been robbed of victory at Kyalami before the 1978 Monaco GP changed all that.

Upbringing and early racing career

The son of an architect, Depailler was studying dentistry when he began racing motorcycles. Spotted by Jean-Pierre Beltoise, military service and a lack of finance stymied early progress. Enrolled at the famous Winfield Racing School in 1966, he lost the prestigious Volant Shell scholarship to François Cevert although he had impressed sufficiently (with Beltoise’s prompting) to earn a three-year contract with Automobiles Alpine.

Formula 3 and sports cars followed for the marque in 1967 and Depailler won races in the former as well as making his debut at Le Mans. Third in the 1968 Monza 1000Kms with André de Cortanze was his first international result of note and he made his Formula 2 debut with a Pygmée MDB15 in 1970.

However that was an unhappy campaign with an uncompetitive car and Depailler was lucky to escape serious injury at the Salzburgring. It was a return to F3 in 1971 that re-established Depailler’s reputation as he dominated the French Championship with a works Alpine A360-Renault.

Formula 1 with Tyrrell

Now backed by Elf, 1972 was a busy year. He won the prestigious Monaco F3 race, was third in the European F2 Championship with John Coombs’ March 722-Ford and a GP driver for Tyrrell in France and the United States. Further outings for the team at the end of 1973 were planned before Depailler was side-lined when he broke his leg in a motorcycle accident.

He earned a fulltime drive for 1974 in tragic circumstances. With Cevert killed and Jackie Stewart now retired, Depailler combined racing for Tyrrell in F1 with a fifth F2 season. Success that had previously eluded Depailler finally materialised. Pole position and second in the Swedish GP, he also won four times in a works March 742-BMW to clinch the European F2 Championship.

The six-wheel Tyrrell

Tyrrell ensured that its drivers would be the centre of attention in 1976 by introducing the new Derek Gardner-designed six-wheel Project 34. It scored a 1-2 victory in Sweden but, a theme was beginning to develop, Depailler finished second once again behind team-mate Jody Scheckter.

Scheckter and Depailler were third and fourth in the 1976 World Championship but rather than being a step towards the future, the P34 concept was abandoned after a disappointing 1977 season. Depailler was F1’s free spirit – forever with cigarette in hand – but he now seemed consigned to being GP racing’s nearly man.

Formula 1 breakthrough

That feeling was reinforced when Ronnie Peterson’s Lotus swept passed Depailler’s conventional Tyrrell 008-Ford to steal victory on the last lap of the 1978 South African GP. Third at Long Beach, the championship then moved onto Monte Carlo. A great start put Depailler between the Brabham-Alfa Romeos of John Watson and reigning champion Niki Lauda. When the Ulsterman’s brakes faded, Depailler took the lead to score a long-awaited first win and take a short-lived championship lead.

He was fifth in the points that year but Depailler moved to Ligier for 1979. Although outpaced by team-mate and race winner Jacques Laffite in the opening two races, Depailler led from start-to-finish to win in Spain. That augured well for a sustained title challenge but the ever-adventurous Frenchman broke both legs in a hang gliding accident shortly afterwards.

Return with Alfa Romeo

Those injuries were scarcely healed at the start of 1980 but he signed for Alfa Romeo with his skills as a test driver much needed by the developing team. Slow-but-sure progress was being made when Depailler was killed on impact at Hockenheim’s Ostkurve while testing alone before the German GP.

His fame outweighed the statistics – only two wins from 95 GP starts. Tributes reflected a heartfelt sense of grief at a unique character lost. The sport was lesser for his passing.

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
1980 F1 World Championship
Marlboro Team Alfa Romeo
8 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1979 F1 World Championship
Equipe Ligier Gitanes
7 0 2 1
15% win rate
6th 20 (22)
1979 BMW M1 Procar
BMW Motorsport
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1978 F1 World Championship
Elf Team Tyrrell
16 0 5 1
7% win rate
5th 34
1977 F1 World Championship
Elf Team Tyrrell
17 0 3 0
0% win rate
8th 20
1976 F1 World Championship
Elf Team Tyrrell
16 0 7 0
0% win rate
4th 39
1976 World Championship of Sportscars
Equipe Renault Elf
4 3 1 0 30
1975 F1 World Championship
Elf Team Tyrrell
14 0 1 0
0% win rate
9th 12
1975 European F2 Championship
Project 3 Racing
1 0 1 0
0% win rate
0
1975 World Championship of Makes
Equipe Renault Elf
2 1 0 0 0
1974 F1 World Championship
Elf Team Tyrrell
15 1 1 0
0% win rate
9th 14
1974 European F2 Championship
March Racing Team
8 (1) 3 6 4
50% win rate
1st 54
1973 European F2 Championship
Elf John Coombs
10 4 5 0
0% win rate
3rd 38
1973 World Championship of Makes
Equipe Matra-Simca Shell
1 0 0 0 0
1972 F1 World Championship
Elf Team Tyrrell
2 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1972 European F2 Trophy
Elf John Coombs
11 (1) 1 3 0
0% win rate
3rd 27
1972 John Player British F2 Championship
Elf John Coombs
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1971 European F2 Trophy
Equipe Elf Tecno
6 (1) 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1971 International Championship of Makes
Automobiles Ligier
1 0 0 0 0
1971 French F3 Championship 1st -
1970 European F2 Trophy
Constructions Mechanique Pygmee
1 (2) 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1970 International Championship of Makes
Equipe Matra Elf
1 0 0 0 0
1969 International Championship of Makes
Ecurie Savin-Calberson
Automobiles Alpine
2 0 0 0 1
1968 International Championship of Makes
Ecurie Savin-Calberson
Automobiles Alpine
2 0 1 0 4
1967 International Championship of Makes
Automobiles Alpine
1 0 0 0 0