He may have never won a championship title in Formula 1, but he is still considered one of the legends of the sport. That’s right, we’re talking about the F1 driver Gianclaudio Giuseppe Regazzoni, better known as Clay. He was born in Mendrisio, in Ticino Canton in Switzerland, on 5th of September 1939, just a few days after the start of World War II.
Clay Regazzoni driving his last Formula 1 Grand Prix for Ensign in 1980
From Switzerland to Italy
Regazzoni started competing in car races in 1963 in Italy, after Switzerland banned racing post the horrible crash at Le Mans back in 1955. His first outings were in his own Austin-Healey Sprite and after some early successes, Clay was encouraged to move up to a Mini Cooper in 1964.
In 1965, Regazzoni experienced the open-wheel races with Brabham in European Formula 3. He later moved to De Tomaso, and finally to the ambitious Italian constructor Tecno. In 1968, he survived a hard crash in Monaco. Clay stayed with Tecno and moved up to Formula 2 and quickly established himself as a tough pilot with a hard-charging style.
Clay Regazzoni in Ferrari 312B
In 1968, Clay was implicated in the death of the young British racer Chris Lambert during the 1968 Formula 2 Dutch Grand Prix. Regazzoni was accused by some observers, who was running well up the field, of intentionally pushing Lambert's Brabham off the track while overtaking him. Sadly, Lambert lost control of his car and crashed into a bridge.
Next step in his career was Formula 1 racing with Ferrari
In his last year in Formula 2, Regazzoni won the championship with Tecno and moved up to Formula 1. He spent three seasons with Ferrari, finishing third in the overall standings in his debut season in which he won his first Grand Prix in Monza. In 1973, he opted to leave Scuderia and moved to BRM where he joined the youngster Niki Lauda. Miraculously, he survived a huge crash once again, this time in South Africa, where he was pulled out of the blazing wreckage by Mike Hailwood.
Clay Regazzoni driving a Ferrari at Nurburgring at the 1974 German Grand Prix
Poor results with the Ensign Formula 1 team
After a disappointing season with BRM, Regazzoni returned to Ferrari in 1974. That year, he finished as an F1 runner-up, making seven podium appearances. The next two seasons were not too good for the Swiss racer who, in the meantime, became very popular, and he surprised the F1 world when he decided to join the small outfit called Ensign for the 1977 season. 1978 proved to be another poor season, this time with the Shadow team, but his performance improved over the next season.
Regazzoni was offered a seat in Williams and he proved worthy of the faith of the team’s boss Frank Williams by winning the race at Silverstone. It was a maiden victory for the British team and the start of a successful era for Williams.
Video : Clay Regazzoni accident at Long Beach, 1980 Formula 1 World Championship
1980 crash at the US Grand Prix race and charity activity
The season of 1980 was the last Regazzoni's year in Formula 1. Already a veteran, he re-joined outsiders Ensign and had another crash, this time at Long Beach. The brake pedal of his Ensign failed at the end of a high-speed straight travelling at approximately 280 km/h. After the crash, Regazzoni was paralyzed from the waist down and that was the end of his competitive career.
Ferrari legends - Clay Regazzoni teams up with the young Lauda in 1974
After this accident, Regazzoni became known as a man who was involved in the activities for helping disabled people to get proper life conditions and helped them to exercise their rights in life and society. After a long battle, Regazzoni won back his racing license to become one of the first disabled drivers to compete in high-level motorsports, paving the way for disabled persons in motorsport.
Ferrari racer Clay Regazzoni
Fatal crash in Italy
On 15th of December, 2006, Regazzoni was killed when his car hit the back of a lorry on a highway in Italy. Clay's funeral was held on 23rd of December, in Lugano, and was attended by Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi, his close friend Niki and many other legends from the F1 world.
"I was just enjoying racing day by day. With Lauda, every race was to be on the top. He programmed his life to be a champion while I enjoyed life. That was the maximum for me..." was one of the best known Regazzoni's quotes which in a good way describes his life in general.