Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler BlackJack’sBriefs
Such a list is not easy to compile, and it is even harder to be objective.
The way I reduced 830 F1 drivers to 20 is detailed in Part I. I wanted twenty top drivers (top No.2’s who might have been a team leader.) who had proved their ability to win – not drivers who showed talent but were unable to realise their potential, including drivers whose career was brought to an untimely end, for whatever reason.
. . . was born in 1939, in Mendrisio, Switzerland and had a dramatic and meteoric rise to stardom. Like other drivers on this list Regazzoni was not one to sit back and see how a race developed – love it or hate it, it’s what makes non-champions, as well as Champions. Regazzoni had several crashes in his eleven seasons, two of which only miraculously didn’t kill him, but a third paralysed him below the waist, and ended his F1 career.
Clay Regazzoni started racing aged 24 in small club events in Switzerland but jumped to European F3 after two years, and steadily improving results in 1965-67 in a Brabham, De Tomaso, and Tecno, gained him a Tecno F2 seat for 1968… when he had his first horrendous crash. In the F3 race (Regazzoni seemed prepared to drive almost anything, any time) at Monaco he collided with the armco barrier and the car actually slid underneath. Seeing the metal edge approaching Regazzoni somehow pushed himself down into the cockpit and the rail passed over his helmet and struck the roll-over hoop – which was actually lower than his normal helmet height. Just the thought of it is horrifying!
Regazzoni stayed with Tecno for three years (as well as driving for the Ferrari F2 team in 1969) and finished by winning the European F2 Championship in 1970. During this third year he was also offered drives in the Ferrari F1 team and in just eight starts (out of thirteen events) he scored two 4th places, two 2nd’s and a win at Monza, which placed him 3rd in the Championship. He also recorded three fastest laps, one pole position and captured the hearts of many.
Remaining with Ferrari, and team-mate Jacky Ickx, 1971 was disastrous. Regazzoni retired from seven of the eleven events but, when the car held together he finished in the points every time – on the podium three times and was on pole for the British GP. He also won the non-championship Race of Champions at Brands Hatch. 1972 was little better. Ferrari were languishing in 4th place in the championship and needed success. Regazzoni had to sit out two races so a couple of young newcomers could have a go but they fared no better.
For 1973 Regazzoni opted to try elsewhere and moved to BRM. In 1972 BRM had used four different cars, trying out as many as eight drivers, none of whom might be regarded (now) as a ‘great’. It was suggested Regazzoni received ‘an astronomical fee’ to join Jean-Pierre Beltoise and newcomer, Niki Lauda. Although Regazzoni astonished the world with pole position in the first race in Buenos Aires, the team finished the season in 7th place, equal to Ferrari. Regazzoni and Lauda finished equal 17th in the drivers championship.
At Kyalami Regazzoni had another horrendous crash after colliding with Mike Hailwood on the second lap. The BRM burst into flames and, as Hailwood tried desperately to drag Regazzoni clear, his clothing also caught alight. After being extinguished by marshals Hailwood returned successfully to Regazzoni’s aid and later received Britain’s George Medal, awarded for acts of great bravery by civilians.
For 1974 a new brush arrived at Maranello in the form of Luca di Montezemolo, who made a number of changes to the Scuderia including reenlisting the services of Regazzoni along with his friend Lauda. Regazzoni was immediately back in the groove, taking his second win (in Germany) after a four year gap. He had six more podium finishes, one pole place, and three fastest laps. Going into the last race Regazzoni was equal on points with Emerson Fittipaldi but had a dreadful race, finishing eleventh after two pit-stops. This left him second in the Championship, three points down. McLaren also beat Ferrari to take their first ever Constructors title.
However… the fast-rising Lauda had been leading the championship at one point during the season, after two wins and three fastest laps, and had also taken pole nine times in fifteen events. The calligraphy was on the brickwork.
In 1975 the pair took six victories between them… but only one went to Regazzoni… along with four fastest laps. Lauda also posted nine poles from fourteen events, to take his first Drivers World Championship, with 50% more points than Fittipaldi in second while Regazzoni could only manage fifth place overall. Ferrari also dominated the Constructor’s championship.
We now all now know what happened in 1976, and some of us are probably acquainted with various versions of the events… but for Regazzoni the year perhaps started a downhill slide. One win and three second places kept him in fifth place in the championship.
After Lauda’s crash Carlos Reutemann was drafted into Ferrari as a substitute (after being released from Brabham) but only did one race, because Lauda unexpectedly returned. However, Reutemann impressed sufficiently to replace Regazzoni for 1977 who, at the time of leaving the Scuderia, had been the longest-serving driver at Ferrari.
Regazzoni was offered Reutemann’s seat at Brabham by Bernie Ecclestone but surprised everyone by moving to Mo Nunn’s fledgling Ensign team, apparently declaring he preferred ‘…to race with nice people.’ Did Reutemann tell Regazzoni something the rest of us have only learned more recently…?
But despite showing considerable promise the severely under-financed Ensign team failed to do anything for Regazzoni’s career and he swapped to Shadow for 1978… while Nunn eventually gave up F1 and moved to Champ- Cars in America where he enjoyed considerable success. Shadow had been improving during the mid-70’s, and gained their first win with Alan Jones in 1977 (who had now moved to Williams) but their fall from grace was even more rapid than Regazzoni’s – in thirty-two starts they finished in the points only three times – the graffiti was now indelible.
For 1979 Sir Frank slotted Regazzoni in alongside Jones and, at Silverstone, he gave Williams their first ever F1 victory plus four more podiums to place fifth in the drivers championship, quite respectable at the age of 40. Despite this Regazzoni was obliged to move over once again in 1980, and again for Reutemann. In the absence of a better offer Regazzoni returned to Ensign. After not finishing the first two races, and placing ninth in the third, he started from the back row at Long Beach. After sixteen laps he was running 9th. By lap fifty he had reached 4th when his brake- pedal broke (apparently…) and he hit Zunino’s parked car and crashed into the concrete barriers. His injuries left him paralysed from the waist down.
Emerson Fittipaldi: “The crash really affected me for a couple of laps, It was dreadful, my legs were trembling, and I don’t think John Watson who was behind me could race either. He slowed down as well. Only a miracle allows one to come out of an accident like that alive.”
Despite his disability Clay Regazzoni never gave up and was very active in supporting other disabled people to strive for higher achievements. He was also able to recover his racing license and competed in long-distance sportscar races (12hrs of Sebring) as well as grueling events like the Paris-Dakar, London-Sydney, and the Panama – Alaska rallies, and was still competing in 2000 at the age of 61. He published an autobiography, È questione di cuore,
In later years Regazzoni became quite scathing of the state of F1, being ‘…only about the money, and no longer the sport.’ When they were team-mates he told Lauda: ‘If you block cars, and drive like a woman, you will never become great.’ [Apologies to women – BlackJackFan.]
Clay Regazzoni died in a car crash near Parma in 2006. A heart attack was apparently ruled out. No other reason was given.
Frank Williams: “He was a gentleman and always a pleasure to have with us in the team.”
Niki Lauda: “Clay was the sort of guy you could never forget, He died as he lived, simply taking life as it came. He was a great blend of the professional and the playboy. He enjoyed life and was never negative. Even after the accident in 1980, he made the best out of his circumstances. When I joined BRM, he was the star and I was the young kid, and I learned a great deal from him.
to be continued, next week…