Clay Regazzoni

Formula One racing driver who earned a tough-guy reputation


Gianclaudio "Clay" Regazzoni, racing driver: born Mendrisio, Switzerland 5 September 1939; died Parma, Italy 15 December 2006.

Clay Regazzoni, who was killed in a road accident on his way to the Bologna Motor Show on Friday, was the archetypal tough-guy race driver. His dauntless brio led him into many situations from which he was lucky to escape. At Monaco in 1968, he crashed his Formula Three Tecno exiting the chicane, and the steel guardrail sliced over the cockpit. Somehow, Regazzoni was able to duck down sufficiently to avoid decapitation, sitting up again to find the barrier behind him, jammed up against the rollover bar.

In 1973, only the intervention of that great cavalier Mike Hailwood saved "Regga" from death in a blazing inferno after he crashed his BRM in the South African Grand Prix at Kyalami.

Sometimes he was too tough. At the Nürburgring in Germany in 1972, Jackie Stewart branded him crazy after a coming together had seen the Swiss driver's Ferrari force the Scot's Tyrrell off the road as they fought over second place. Worse, many blamed Regazzoni for the death of the English privateer Chris Lambert in a Formula Two race at Zandvoort in the Netherlands in 1968. Regazzoni's Tecno collided with Lambert's Brabham, which crashed into a bridge abutment. An inquiry exonerated Regazzoni, but Lambert's father, John, never forgave him.

In 1974, the only season in which he was in contention for the world championship until the final race at Watkins Glen in America, Regazzoni ruthlessly blocked the eventual champion Emerson Fittipaldi after falling back with a pit-stop.

Yet, Gianclaudio "Clay" Regazzoni was also a great racer. Raised in Ticino, a predominantly Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, he did not begin competing until 1963, taking two thirds and a fourth in three races with an Austin Healey Sprite before switching to a Mini Cooper. From 1965 he quickly graduated through the ranks in Formula Three with the Brabham, de Tomaso and Tecno marques. In 1970, the year he would win the European Formula Two Championship, he graduated mid-season to Formula One with Ferrari, alternating with Ignazio Giunti. He finished fourth in his first two races, in Holland and Britain, then second in his fourth, in Austria. He then won his fifth, in Italy, the weekend that Jochen Rindt was killed. Despite only competing in seven races, he finished third in the world championship.

He won the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch in 1971, but had to wait until the German Grand Prix in 1974 to win again. Other victories followed, at Monza again in 1975 and Long Beach in 1976. But when Niki Lauda returned to race again for Ferrari, after his fiery crash at the Nürburgring in 1976, Enzo Ferrari had already written off his Austrian star and signed the Argentinian Carlos Reutemann. With Lauda back, there was suddenly no room for Regazzoni, who drifted off to race for Morris Nunn's private Ensign team from Walsall. It might have been a step from the sublime to the ridiculous, but Nunn's car was neat and Regazzoni got on famously with him and his wife Sylvia.

The following year, he partnered with Hans Stuck at Shadow, before being rescued by an emergent Frank Williams as number two to the ebullient Australian Alan Jones for 1979. Jones was quicker, but his car was more fragile than Regazzoni's, and it fell to the latter in his Indian summer to score the team's first victory, fittingly enough in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. It was a massively popular success, and Regazzoni's last. He finished fifth in the championship that year. Williams described him as "an absolute gentleman," but at the end of the season Regazzoni was on the move again, as Williams had signed Carlos Reutemann.

Many drivers would not have been able to bear the ignominy of being dropped by another major team. But Regazzoni adored racing. "I love it like Graham Hill did," he said.

For me, it is not a matter of winning all the time. I am quite happy just to be a part of Formula One. I love it, and most of all I love to drive racing cars. So why should I stop when I feel this way?

With backing from Unipart, he went back to Mo and Sylvia Nunn at Ensign, and a brand new car. Then, at Long Beach, the fourth race of the 1980 season, a titanium brake-pedal broke. Riccardo Zunini's abandoned Brabham was still parked in the hairpin escape road, and as the brakeless Regazzoni struck it he sustained injuries that left him paralysed from the waist downwards.

Soon, he was back at the wheel of a specially converted roadcar, fighting campaigns for disabled drivers and the greatest challenge of his life with his habitual enthusiasm and pride. He pursued the hope that his damaged spinal cord might be repaired, undergoing many operations, before finally accepting that the miracle would not happen for him.

"Clay was the sort of guy you could never forget," said Lauda, who partnered him at BRM in 1973 and then at Ferrari.

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, but I learned a great deal from him.

Regazzoni commentated on some grands prix, then competed in the Paris-Dakar and London to Sydney Marathon events. In later years he would always appear at Monaco in his electric wheelchair. He would happily sign autographs for the many fans who still remembered with great affection the tough guy with the cloth cap and the famous bandit moustache.

His body might have been broken, but nothing that life threw at him ever overcame his unquenchable dignity and spirit. Fittingly, his 1982 autobiography was entitled E questione di cuore - "It's a matter of heart".

David Tremayne

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Sport
Robin van Persie scores the third for Manchester United with a perfectly-guided header
footballLive! Chelsea vs West Ham kicked off 10 Boxing Day matches, with Arsenal vs QPR closing the action
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all