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Clay Regazzoni

2021-02-12 23:00

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Clay Regazzoni

On September 5, 1939, Gianclaudio Giuseppe Regazzoni, the Formula 1 viveur, was born in Lugano. Born in a family of Italian origins, whose nobility da

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On September 5, 1939, Gianclaudio Giuseppe Regazzoni, the Formula 1 viveur, was born in Lugano. Born in a family of Italian origins, whose nobility dates back to the time of the Kingdom of Naples, Padre Pio is mayor of the municipality of Porza and owner of an established body shop in Mendrisio where Clay, after having attended school in Lugano, goes to work, and where he initially earns 700 Swiss francs, then increased to 1.000, of which half is given to the family for maintenance.

 

This is where Clay learns to drive cars, and it soon becomes his job to move the cars in and out of the garage. Subsequently discharged from military service, where he works for four months, Clay begins to nourish the desire to race in a car. To do this, Clay needs a car, so at twenty-one, with only 3.000 francs saved, he decides to buy a white MG with bills of exchange covering the missing cost for a total of 10.000 francs.

 

Clay signs them with a three-month deadline, and keeps the car for himself during this time, before selling it for another 500 francs. After this experience, his father bought him an Austin Sprite 950 in exchange for the promise that it would not be used in motor racing. Clay soon meets Silvio Moser, who will be fundamental in his life. Silvio runs by car and is an emerging talent. Clay accompanies him on the track, sometimes leaving the workshop without his father's permission. It will be Silvio himself to convince Clay to run in a car.

 

After modifying his Austin Sprite, Clay starts competing in various uphill races and tries to take part in a race in Monza, but his car does not allow him to show his talent. This pushes him to sell his Austin, thus moving to a Mini Cooper S 1071; with this, Clay begins to get great satisfaction by triumphing in some races. However, it is still Silvio Moser who invites Clay to race in Formula 3 with a car from the Martinelli and Sonvico Scuderia. Silvio convinces the two to give Clay a second car, and the future Ferrari driver willingly agrees to pay one million and five hundred thousand lire to race, which lacked five hundred thousand lire that Clay should have given Mario Casoni for the purchase. of a De Tomaso. The car, however, does not live up to expectations, having been modified before the sale. So, after a tune-up, Clay tries it, but dejectedly believes he cannot continue his adventure in the world of Motorsport.

 

It is once again Silvio Moser who helps him, lending him his Brabham and convincing him to take the license in 1963, after the previous year, for bureaucratic reasons, he was unable to take part in the piloting course. Clay starts racing, and plays a race at Imola, then at Magny Cours and at Zolder, where an accident caused by the steering box prevents him from reaching the finish line. Having discovered the reason for the debacle, Silvio Moser advises Clay to sell the car, as he would have allowed him to drive his Brabham.

 

In 1966 Clay made his debut in Formula 2 in Syracuse, always at the wheel of Brabham, immediately scoring pole position, and the following year he continued in Formula 3, moving to Tecno and winning the XV Gran Premio de España valid for both Formula 2 and for Formula 3. At the end of the season, he ranks second in the European Cup which is held in a single race on the German circuit of Hockenheim, and this placement allows the Regazzoni - Moser duo to win the championship.

 

In 1968 Clay took part in other races in Formula 3 and won the single Hockenheim race valid for the European Cup, contributing to Switzerland's second consecutive success in this event. But 1968 is also the year of his accident in Monte Carlo from which he miraculously emerges unharmed: at the exit of the chicane after the tunnel, Clay loses control of his Tecno and the collision against the barriers is extremely violent. The dimensions of the cockpit of his car are really small and this causes the car to slip under the barriers with the blade passing just a few centimeters from Clay's head, who instinctively lowered himself to avoid ending up beheaded.

 

In recent years, the Swiss driver has been mainly involved in Formula 2, where he does not participate in three races out of the nine on the calendar but gets two podiums, and at the same time disputes the XVII Temporada Argentina in South America. In 1969 Clay was still involved in the European Championship, starting at the wheel of a Ferrari Dino 166 F2 and then returning to Tecno in mid-season, with which he won fourth place at the Grand Prix of Enna. 1970 is the year of his international consecration: Clay becomes Formula 2 champion with Tecno, winning four out of eight races and ahead of Derek Bell in the standings. Then he takes part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans (his first ever race with a sports car - prototype) at the wheel of the Ferrari 512S, paired with Merzario.

 

This edition of the French race is characterized by the clash between Ferrari and Porsche: Clay's first and only adventure at Le Mans ends with a retirement after only two hours of racing, due to the accident that involved the sister car, driven by Reine Wisell. At the same time Regazzoni made his debut in Formula 1 driving the Ferrari 312 B: the Swiss disputed eight races, climbing the podium four times and obtaining his first world success in the Italian Grand Prix, in Monza.

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In 1971 and 1972 Clay divides his time between Formula 1 and prototype sports cars with Scuderia Ferrari, establishing himself in the second year at the 1000 Kilometers of Monza paired with Jacky Ickx, and at the nine Hours of Kyalami paired with Merzario. At the same time, things will not go so well in Formula 1, as he will only be on the podium on five occasions (three times third in 1971 in South Africa, Holland and Germany, and once third in Spain and second in Germany in 1972).

 

For 1973 Clay decides to change team and move to B.R.M., where he will have as teammates the French Beltoise and a young Austrian driver who is already making headlines, Niki Lauda. The season with the B.R.M. however, she is stingy with results, and her only points finishes are two sixth places in Brazil and Austria. The Swiss then decided to return to Maranello for the 1974 season, suggesting to Ferrari the engagement of Lauda and going to train with the sporting director Luca di Montezemolo, and with the technical director Mauro Forghieri, the base of that group that will bring Ferrari back to the top of Formula 1.

 

For '74, Ferrari lined up the 312 B3 / 74, with which Clay will get his best place in the final standings, contending the title to Emerson Fittipaldi until the very end. In the opening race in Argentina, Ferrari immediately demonstrates the progress made over the winter. In qualifying, Regazzoni loses pole position only in the last moments, in favor of the Swedish Peterson. The race immediately becomes uphill for the Swiss driver. In fact, in the first variant he must avoid the impact with the American Revson's Shadow, which had just hit Mike Hailwood's McLaren, and ends up spinning.

 

Regazzoni makes an excellent comeback, making the most of the difficulties of his opponents and demonstrating the excellent competitiveness of the 312 B3-74, and ends the race in second, ahead of Niki Lauda, ​​himself the author of an excellent race. In the second race held in Brazil Lauda obtained a good third time in qualifying, while Clay Regazzoni placed eighth, even if conditioned by a break in the gearbox. In a race suspended after about thirty laps, Regazzoni ranks second, while Lauda retires after a few laps due to a fault in the engine valve.

 

In the South African Grand Prix, Ferrari returned to pole position with Lauda, ​​a result that had not happened since the 1972 Italian Grand Prix, in which the pole was achieved by Jacky Ickx: for the Austrian it is the first pole position ever. The start of the race will be quite troubled with Lauda holding the lead, and Regazzoni having to put two wheels off the track, without suffering worse consequences. In the final part of the race both Lauda and Regazzoni, firmly on the podium behind Reutemann, will have to finish their race early: the Swiss will be the first for an oil pressure problem, while the Austrian just four laps to the term will stop due to a fuel injection problem and in doing so Ferrari will be forced to go home empty-handed, when it now seemed to be able to comfortably collect another double podium.

 

In the Spanish Grand Prix Niki Lauda gets his second consecutive pole, beating Peterson and teammate Regazzoni. The race will be characterized by light rain in the first part, with Ronnie Peterson taking the lead in front of the two Ferrari bishops, but will have to leave the leadership after a few laps due to engine failure. The Ferrari drivers will dominate the rest of the race, even managing to round off all the rivals remaining in the race, and obtaining a fantastic double, with Lauda's first career victory and Regazzoni's second place; a full result that was missing from the 1972 German Grand Prix.

 

In Belgium Clay Regazzoni will take pole position, the fourth in his career, which will remain the only season of the Ticino, but, in the race, it will be Fittipaldi who will triumph, with Lauda who will finish second just a few tenths from the Brazilian, although the Ferrari driver will suffer strong vibrations during the last laps due to a balancing problem of the front wheels. Regazzoni, on the other hand, runs out of petrol during the race, being pulled out by Scheckter in the final stages, and comes fourth.

 

In the Monaco City Grand Prix, the Reds dominate qualifying, with Lauda starting from pole in front of Regazzoni. The race will be remembered as the first act of a duel between the two Ferrari drivers in 1974, which, however, the engineer Forghieri does not see because he was amused and excited to see his protagonist cars again after a long time.

 

At the start, despite the recommendations of the sporting director Montezemolo not to hinder himself, and in a nutshell to keep his positions frozen, Regazzoni parades the leadership at Lauda at the start, and commands the race for several laps, but the Austrian presses him from the first around, trying to be seen behind Regazzoni and also trying to attack.

 

In the meantime, it is expected that they could intervene from the pits to communicate greater prudence and discipline to the drivers, instead it seems that everyone trusts the drivers and their common sense, until Regazzoni makes a mistake, spinning at the Rascasse during the twenty-first. round. This allows Lauda to take the lead, but after ten laps he is forced to abandon, once again due to an ignition problem.

 

Regazzoni, on the other hand, will be able to recover several positions, also taking risks in overtaking, and will finish fourth, but regret having lost a probable victory thrown to the wind. From this race onwards, the Swiss driver will be very impressed because many men in the Maranello team, including Montezemolo himself, will indicate him as the most responsible for not giving way to Lauda, ​​and consequently because he could easily win the race with the retirement of his teammate.

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The Swedish Grand Prix will be another appointment to forget for Ferrari: despite the good result in qualifying, both Regazzoni and Lauda will not finish the race, both due to a gearbox failure, allowing Fittipaldi to extend the lead in the standings in the comparisons of the Ferrari color bearers.

 

During the weekend in the Netherlands, the Red is back as the protagonist occupying the entire front row, with Niki Lauda winning his fourth start on pole. The second double of the year will arrive, thanks to the second success of Lauda, ​​who finished ahead of Regazzoni.

 

In the next stage in France Niki Lauda starts again in front of everyone, reaching five pole positions. But in the race, after being passed by Peterson, he will have to slow down his pace due to a brake problem and, afraid of being able to finish the race due to some vibrations, he will decide to consolidate the second position, leaving the victory to the driver of the Lotus. With the third place of team mate Regazzoni, Ferrari will climb to the top of the constructors' championship, while Lauda and Regazzoni will overtake leader Fittipaldi in the standings.

 

In Great Britain Niki Lauda continues his unstoppable march of pole positions, now reached six, but once again in the race, after having commanded for most of the time, the Austrian begins to slow down his pace: the driver thinks it was a suspension out of order to cause the abnormal behavior of his 312 B3-74, but in reality, it is the slow puncture of a tire that compromises his race.

 

Unaware of this, Lauda remains on the track, but is pulled out by Scheckter and Fittipaldi until he decides to return to the pits on the penultimate lap. What happened next is incredible: the Austrian, when he is about to leave the pits, is stopped by a commissioner with a red flag due to the public entering the track, and at the end of the race Lauda is classified ninth. Thanks to an appeal by Ferrari, the judges signed up for a lap to Lauda, ​​who will thus rise to fifth place, obtaining those two points that will allow him to remain in the lead in the championship.

 

Regazzoni instead closes in fourth place, remaining quietly in contention for the title. Lauda will be criticized by the press for his error of judgment and will even question the place of honor he had at Ferrari, certainly not just any team, but the young Austrian will not pay too much attention to the criticisms received.

 

In the German Grand Prix, raced in the terrifying Nurburgring circuit, once again it is Lauda who set the best time in qualifying, reaching seven pole positions of the season, beating his teammate Regazzoni by just three tenths. But at the start of the Grand Prix Lauda will not have a good start, so much so that he will be paraded by Regazzoni and Scheckter.

 

Already at the curve that leads into the Nordschleife Lauda attempts an attack that is too risky, perhaps of inexperience, against Scheckter: the Austrian delays the braking too much and ends up hitting the South African's Tyrrell, wheelies and ending the race against the guards. Regazzoni just needs to manage his own pace to easily win the race. For the Swiss this is the second success in his career, the only season, which allows him to climb to the top of the standings, thanks to the retirements of rivals Lauda and Fittipaldi.

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In his home Grand Prix in Austria, Niki Lauda signs the eighth pole position, while the championship leader Regazzoni stops only in eighth place on the grid. In the race there will be one twist after another: Scheckter breaks the engine after only eight laps, and the next will be Lauda, ​​also due to a problem with an engine valve; finally, Fittipaldi will also have to retire due to an engine failure. All this turns in favor of Clay Regazzoni, who, however, is unable to take advantage of it too much: in fact, due to a misunderstanding in the pits between him and the mechanics, the Ticinese loses about a minute, ending up losing many positions. The Swiss finished fifth, earning just two points, throwing away a golden opportunity to significantly increase the lead in the standings.

 

In the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, at Ferrari, Niki Lauda achieves a historic ninth pole position, which allows him to equal Peterson's pole position record of the season, and also sets a new record of consecutive pole positions in Formula 1, equal to six. In the race Lauda retains the leadership of the race, while Regazzoni climbs up the rankings to reach second position. When everything seems to be going well for the Maranello team, within a few laps a possible brace goes to pieces in front of all the fans: Lauda retires on lap 32 due to the breakdown of the cooling system, after spraying oil the track, while Regazzoni was forced to abandon the race eight laps later, due to engine failure.

 

A heavy defeat for Ferrari, also negatively seasoned by the presence of its fans. Despite everything Clay Regazzoni will be able to keep the top of the drivers' standings with only two races to go, but with just one length ahead of Scheckter's Tyrrell and three points against a newfound Fittipaldi, while now the Lauda's hopes of returning to the game for the world title. In the Canadian Grand Prix, the penultimate round of the world, Fittipaldi stopped Lauda's streak of six consecutive pole positions, beating the Austrian by just a few cents, with Regazzoni starting from the third row. At the start Lauda immediately jumps to Fittipaldi, while Regazzoni goes back to third place. During the race Scheckter passes the Ticino from Ferrari. For many laps this will be the order of the standings, until Scheckter breaks the brakes and ends the race prematurely with an accident.

 

Another sensational and unfortunate twist hits the Ferrari of Niki Lauda, ​​firmly in the lead up to now: due to the debris left on the track by Watson after his off-track, Lauda slips on it and ends up hitting the protective walls, losing a probable victory, but above all the possibility of continuing to play for the world championship. Emerson Fittipaldi, finding himself first, wins the race ahead of the only Ferrari left in the game, that of Regazzoni.

 

Now, with just one round from the end of the championship, Fittipaldi's McLaren and Regazzoni's Ferrari find themselves paired at the top of the standings, and with a constructors' championship still open to victory between the Woking team and the Maranello team, separated by themselves five points. The final act of the world championship is played in the US, at Watkins Glen. The week is quite troubled for the Red. Starting from the expired passport of the engineer Forghieri, who will not be able to take any flight to New York and will have to take an extraordinary one to Chicago, a city more than a thousand kilometers away from that of Watkins Glen: for the Modenese designer it will be quite a trip tormented, so much so that he will arrive at the place of the Grand Prix only at the end of the tests. In addition, Regazzoni will also have a bad week: in one of the pre-tests scheduled during the break between one Grand Prix and the next, the Swiss is the victim of an accident, in which he gets a bruise on his left foot. When Forghieri finally manages to join the team at Watkins Glen, he will notice that the atmosphere is very agitated.

 

Particularly pessimistic is Regazzoni, not only because he did not recover after the accident in the tests, but also because he does not feel comfortable with the American track, as well as feeling enormous responsibility. The drivers are not satisfied with the car's behavior and, in the absence of Forghieri, Giacomo Caliri takes on the role of team manager who decides to please the drivers by upsetting the basic set-up of the 312 B3-74, which for the whole year had offered Ferrari great performances. The results will not improve at all, and indeed the qualification will prove disappointing with Niki Lauda who will get the fifth time, despite having given up the engine, being therefore forced to use the forklift, while Regazzoni will be only ninth, noting the worst seasonal performance in testing.

 

The decisive race for the championship will prove to be a disaster because both cars will be undriveable. Regazzoni will stop in the pits after fifteen laps to ask for adjustments and to change the tires now destroyed by the suspension joints that have now worn out. This pit stop will make Regazzoni slip away from the points, while the direct opponent Fittipaldi is in sixth position.

 

Team-mate Lauda will only be able to try to steal valuable points from Fittipaldi and Scheckter, but the Austrian will be forced to retire for the fifth consecutive race. This time the cause is due to the failure of the front suspension. In the end, Regazzoni will finish only eleventh, lapsed by a few laps, while Fittipaldi will only need fourth final place to win his second world title in Formula 1. And, of course, the first place in the constructors' classification will also be won by McLaren, with the Ferrari coming just behind. A bitter epilogue this Watkins Glen for Ferrari, which will remain in the memory especially for the way in which the team from Maranello fails a decisive race for the world title, which was missing for exactly ten years.

 

Forghieri will affirm that this final result of the 1974 world championship is not so much thanks to Fittipaldi's McLaren, but a gift from Ferrari which, despite the great season experienced with high-level results, had to manage two drivers who until a few races from in the end they were practically level on points. Moreover, this season Lauda has really stood out, and Montezemolo understands that the Austrian driver is the card to play to bring the title back to Maranello. In the following two years, the relationship with Ferrari deteriorated to the point of worsening altogether in mid-1976, when the Swiss participated in a variety of Rai. Enzo Ferrari will mock him by saying of him:

 

"Viveur, danseur, footballer, tennis player and, in his spare time, pilot: this is how I defined Clay Regazzoni, the brilliant, timeless Clay, the ideal guest of honor for the most disparate fashion events, a great resource for women's magazines".

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To tell the truth, however, in the years he was at Maranello, Clay has always paid great attention to the work required, completing many more hours of testing than his teammate and winning the Italian Grand Prix again in 1975, and the Grand Prix of the USA West, in 1976. Leaving Ferrari, Clay looks for a new accommodation: at first, he tries to find a job with Brabham, but Carlos Pace's veto will be decisive for not going to Ecclestone's court. In the two-year period 1977-'78 it will therefore be the protagonist of colourless vintages due to poorly competitive cars, such as the Ensign in 1977 and the Shadow in 1978. The resurrection coincides with the signing of Frank Williams in 1979, where Clay finds Alan Jones as teammate. The Swiss will give the English team his first win at Silverstone and several good placings, including a second place in Monte Carlo, starting from the back rows of the grid, but despite this he will not be confirmed at the end of the season, but will be replaced by Carlos Reutemann, who, ironically, had already taken his place at Ferrari in 1977.

 

Clay therefore decides to return to the Ensign but fate will have a bad joke in store: on March 30, 1980, following an accident in the Grand Prix of the United States of America West, unfortunately he will remain paraplegic forever. At the Long Beach circuit, his car goes off the track on lap 51 due to a failure of the braking system, and crashes at 270 km/h into Ricardo Zunino's Brabham, which had been abandoned by the marshals on the way to escape after the withdrawal of the Argentine; Clay sustains severe injuries to his legs and spine.

 

The subsequent intervention to at least try to alleviate the problem will worsen the conditions. Despite his personal drama, Clay will never lose heart, and will never abandon the world of engines, participating in some rallies with specially modified cars and becoming an appreciated commentator and columnist at Rai for Formula 1. On December 15, 2006 he lost his life due to a road accident along the Parma-La Spezia road, near the Fontevivo junction. That day fate takes away not only one of the greatest talents the motoring world has ever known, but also one of the brightest and most positive people this world has ever seen.

 

Simone Centonze

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