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Patrick Tambay

2021-01-29 23:00

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Patrick Tambay

Daniel Patrick Charles Maurice Nasri Tambay, known by many simply as Patrick Tambay, was born in Paris on June 25, 1949. From a wealthy family, since

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Daniel Patrick Charles Maurice Nasri Tambay, known by many simply as Patrick Tambay, was born in Paris on June 25, 1949. From a wealthy family, since he was ten years old he feels within himself the passion for sport, whatever it may be. He starts with skiing, managing to enter the French B national team, and then, at the age of twenty-one, he moves to the States, where he divides himself between sport and study. In the meantime, he meets Christina Cutter, the first American to win the Alpine Ski World Cup, with whom he begins a romantic relationship. But for the Frenchman, winter sport is not enough to satisfy his will as an athlete, so he decides to return to his homeland looking for a new beginning.When Patrick returns to France, a new passion is born within him, that for the world of racing. Therefore, in 1970 he decided to participate in the inauguration of the circuit in Le Castellet, in the south of France. The young Patrick is tormented within himself because on the one hand he would like to continue with his first love, skiing, but on the other hand the passion for racing grows strong inside him.

 

In the end, the love of racing took over, and in 1972 Patrick left skiing to participate in the Volante Elf, a very prestigious French preparatory race for those aspiring to enter the world of Motorsport. Patrick wins on his debut, and thanks to this success he wins the funding to enter the Formula Renault championship. In his first year of participation, the French driver finishes in second place in the classic. Not many years pass for the category jump: it is 1974 when Patrick moves to Formula 2, and in his first season he gets three fourth places as best results. The following year, still in Formula 2, driving a March-BMW, ​​he obtained his first success in Nogaro and won the fight with his teammate Michel Leclere for the conquest of the second position in the championship, dominated by Jacques Lafitte.

 

In his third participation in the category, in 1976 the Frenchman was hired by Martini Racing, which has the new six-cylinder Renault engine, and therefore is considered among the favourites for the victory of the European title. The forecasts are not entirely wrong, given that already in the second race he takes the lead of the standings, but some retirements in the highlight of the championship will make him lose contact with Arnoux and Jabouille in the standings. Despite Patrick obtaining his second triumph on the Nogaro circuit, he will close in third place in the standings. Nonetheless, Tambay receives a call from former professional racing driver Carl Haas who has become a dealer of Lola Racing Cars and owns a team in the Can-Am series.

 

The team manager is looking for a driver who can replace Brian Redman, who is out of action with an injury, and thinks that the Frenchman can do for him. Patrick accepts the offer, and in his debut he wins his first race in the category. At the end of the 1977 season Tambay became champion with six wins. Thanks to the excellent results obtained in America, the Parisian made his parallel debut in Formula 1, at the French Grand Prix driving a Surtees, but was unable to qualify. At Silverstone, upon payment of $ 80.000, Tambay participates in the Grand Prix with Theodore Racing, which runs on Ensign chassis. Subsequently, Teddy Yip, manager of the team, on the occasion of the race in Germany will try to get him to sign a contract written completely in Chinese, but the Frenchman will refuse to sign it, also forcing Bernie Ecclestone to intervene to resolve the issue and guarantee him the possibility of racing.

 

It was at Hockenheim that Patrick got his first points in his career by taking a precious sixth place, and as a result the paddock began to consider him one of the most shining promises in motoring. This forecast is not entirely wrong, given that the Frenchman is on the verge of winning his first podium in Holland, when he runs out of fuel on the penultimate lap; he is however classified in fifth place. Thanks to these excellent results, the transition to McLaren for 1978 was made official at the beginning of September, also due to pressure from Marlboro, and shortly afterwards he took another fifth place in Canada, concluding his first year in eighteenth place overall in the drivers' standings. Two years with the British team raise the hopes of the young Frenchman, who however underestimates the decline McLaren is facing. Furthermore, Teddy Mayer, owner of the team, fails to bond with Tambay and the development of the car will never find the right path. The M26 used in 1978 will not show up to the previous ones, and although several updates will be proposed, the Lotus will be impregnable.

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Colin Champman had brought a novelty that would have upset Formula 1, the ground effect. This had led to a much higher level of aerodynamics and a corner gain that was difficult to match. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, Patrick Tambay achieves an excellent sixth place, but it is the rest of the season that is a disaster, and the Frenchman will eventually score only eight points. The premises for an equally disastrous 1979 are all there: Hunt leaves McLaren to go to Wolf, and Patrick remains in the team alongside which James Watson is called.

 

Gordon Coppuck is the designer of the English team, and for 1979 he tries to repeat the move that Chapman had successfully made for Lotus. But the attempt turns out to be a failure across the board. McLaren gets one point less than the previous season and with only one driver, as Tambay doesn't even get a useful result. Disappointed by this experience, the Frenchman decides to leave Formula 1 to return to America and participate again in the CanAm championship, where in 1980 he triumphs for the second time. Nonetheless, in 1981 the Frenchman returned to the top racing series by agreeing with Theodore Racing.

 

At the first race of the season, the US-West Grand Prix, Patrick manages to win his first and only point of the season by finishing sixth. Then, starting from the French Grand Prix, Tambay left the team and moved to Ligier, having been called to replace Jean-Pierre Jabouille. With the French manufacturer he will compete in the remaining Grands Prix without ever finishing one; in particular he will be forced to retire at Monza, while fighting for the podium, due to a puncture, and will be the victim of a spin, due to his mistake, at the Canadian Grand Prix where he could have achieved a good result. At the end of the season Guy Ligier, dissatisfied with his performance, replaced Tambay with Eddie Cheever, leaving him without a steering wheel for the 1982 championship. But despite this, 1982 will be a very important year in the French driver's career. Initially agreeing with Arrows to replace Marc Surer, recovering from an accident in pre-season tests, the Frenchman left the team before the start of the season disappointed by the environment. He returns to America to face the season, but the disappearance of his close friend Villeneuve, in Zolder, changes his career. Patrick receives the call from Enzo Ferrari, who needs to replace Gilles, but at first the French driver asks for time to think about it.

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The friendship that bound him to Gilles is important, so he calls the Canadian's ex-wife, from whom he asks for an opinion. Having obtained the consent, the Frenchman makes an agreement with Ferrari, and in June the preparation for the debut, which would take place in the Dutch Grand Prix, begins. In Zandvoort he finished eighth, accusing a feeding problem, but he himself admits that, even if it is true that he could have reached the points, he would hardly have been able to maintain a race pace that is too high due to his physical preparation not yet excellent.

 

But already from the next race, held in Great Britain, the Frenchman shows enormous progress by finishing third, and getting on the podium for the first time in his career. In France, on the other hand, he finished fourth behind his teammate Didier Pironi, who was on the verge of conquering the world championship, and to whom he was a follower for the entire race. Pironi will then be the victim of a serious accident during practice for the German Grand Prix, in which he risks losing his legs. Tambay will thus find himself to be the only Ferrari driver for some races. In the meantime, however, it was at Hockenheim that the Frenchman managed, for the first time in his career, to win a Formula 1 race and dedicated his victory to Villeneuve, Pironi and Enzo Ferrari, receiving unanimous compliments from the of the drivers of the other teams.

 

At this point it seems that Patrick could even enter the competition for the world championship, even if this prediction seemed somewhat complex. But after a fourth place in Austria, at the end of a furious comeback caused by a tire burst in the first laps, Patrick will have to miss the Swiss Grand Prix, in Dijon, due to an inflammation of the shoulder nerve due to the very strong vibrations developed from the stiffness of the Ferrari chassis. Tambay returns for the Monza Grand Prix and gets an excellent second place, but shoulder problems prevent him again from taking part in the last race in Las Vegas. Patrick closes his first championship with the Maranello team in seventh place, thanks to 25 points won in just six races. Confirmed by Ferrari also for the 1983 season, Tambay finds his compatriot René Arnoux alongside him. At the first round of the season, in Brazil, Tambay did not go beyond fifth place, but said he was satisfied with the placement, considering that the car showed excessive tire wear and grip problems.

 

In Long Beach, the Frenchman conquers his first pole position in his career, ahead of Arnoux, but in the race he is rammed by Keke Rosberg while he is in command, and will be forced to retire. Despite the harsh words towards the Finn, Patrick will prove to be very optimistic about the rest of the season and will say he can aim for success in the following races. And in fact, after a fourth place in France, the apotheosis arrives in Imola which gives him his second success with Ferrari. On Saturday René Arnoux is already making the fans' hearts beat faster by obtaining pole, while Tambay is third. At the start Piquet remains stationary with his Brabham and the Ferraris are in the lead. The threat to the Reds is represented by the other Brabham, that of Patrese.

 

On lap fifty Patrick leads the Grand Prix but five laps later his Ferrari loses power: freezing falls on Imola. The crowd shouts, urges, pushes the Frenchman not to give up, however Patrese is much faster and passes him. But May 1, 1983 is the day of the Parisian, as a few moments later Patrese is the victim of a fatal error coming out of the chicane of the Mineral Waters, crashing into the barriers. The last laps for the Frenchman are a triumphal catwalk. It was probably destiny that on this day it was Ferrari number 27, the number of the unforgettable Canadian, to win on the Santerno track. The fact is that the podium is entirely French, because Prost is in second place and Arnoux in third with the other Ferrari. The stands of Imola don't hold up, the fans are crazy with joy and it doesn't take long before they invade the track.

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Patrick Tambay arrives in front of the Ferrari grandstand and his car, the one with the number 27, goes out. It's time for the party: the invasion of the track becomes a river in flood, the road surface is covered with flags, trumpets, shouts of joy and fans who bring the French into triumph. Patrick, a little shocked by all this enthusiasm, cannot help but walk away to get on the podium, but many years later he will tell:

 

"I was moved to see the banner: Tambay avenged Gilles. For twenty minutes I cried, unable to control my emotions. He was stronger than me, I told myself to stop, but I couldn't. The mechanics noticed and left me alone. I didn't know if I would be able to leave".

 

At the United States-East Grand Prix, however, the relationship with the Maranello house, up to this moment excellent, begins to decline: Tambay will participate in a strong argument with the sporting director Marco Piccinini, who had accused him of failing to professionalism since, while the meeting of the technicians in preparation for the match was taking place, the Frenchman had not attended it, preferring to watch a tennis match on television (the 1983 French Open final won by compatriot Yannick Noah, who is very much in France because a Frenchman had not won the Open for thirty-seven years), and in the race he will not even be able to take the start because the engine is switched off at the start.

 

At the Canadian Grand Prix, won by Arnoux, he will finish third at the finish line, replicating the same result also in Great Britain, a race that will mark the debut of the new Ferrari 126 C3, of which they are enthusiastic in Maranello. In Germany and Austria Patrick obtained two consecutive pole positions, which in both cases did not turn into victories, prompting Enzo Ferrari to define him as a driver with a traffic light complex. These two retirements will remove him from the fight for the world championship, in which his teammate Arnoux returns, thus earning the captain's chevrons and reconfirming it for the 1984 season.

 

In conclusion, at Monza Ferrari will announce that Michele Alboreto would arrive alongside René Arnoux, and so Tambay will again find himself without a contract for the following season. The Frenchman will close the championship in fourth place with 40 points and fourth place overall. Compared to what happened in the past, Patrick will not be without a team for a long time, given that Renault, orphaned of Alain Prost, falls back on him by winning his performances for 1984; Tambay stands alongside him as teammate Derek Warwick.

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During the winter tests, the French manufacturer's car seems to be among the best performing, with Patrick being the fastest at Le Castellet at the beginning of February. But starting from this season refuelling in the race is forbidden, and it is the French driver who at the first Grand Prix in Brazil, while in second place, runs out of petrol two laps from the end. In South Africa, during Friday practice Tambay made the best partials, stating that the car is constantly growing, but, once again, he will not be able to finish the race due to an incorrect calculation on the amount of fuel needed. The only peak of the season will arrive in France, in Dijon, where Patrick will take pole position and second place in the race behind Lauda’s unbeatable McLaren.

 

Two weeks later, at the Monaco Grand Prix, he will be the victim, together with his team-mate Warwick, of an accident at the start that will cost him a broken fibula and forfeit the Canadian Grand Prix. Overall, the 1984 season will prove to be below expectations, to the point that he will finish eleventh in the overall standings with 11 points. For 1985 Renault will present a new car, the RE60, in mid-February, offering some innovative solutions. But if Warwick will declare himself optimistic from the start, Tambay's attitude is very different, much more cautious. The season will prove the Frenchman right, who will still get good results, such as fifth place in Brazil and two third places in Portugal and Imola. At the end of the season, Renault leaves Formula 1 and the Parisian finds himself without a team.

 

But knocking on the Frenchman's doors is once again an old acquaintance of him: Carl Haas. The American manager decides to invest in Formula 1 by hiring the Frenchman, hoping to repeat the successes in Can-Am. But Formula 1 is not comparable to the American series, so the 1986 season will prove to be a total flop. The best result of the Frenchman will be a fifth place at the Austrian Grand Prix. At the end of this disappointing season, Patrick decides to leave Formula 1 after one hundred and fourteen Grand Prix races, in which he obtained 103 world championship points, eleven podiums, two wins, five pole positions and two fastest laps.

 

Despite the farewell to Formula 1, the fever of speed continues to remain in the mind of the Frenchman, who participates several times in the Paris Dakar (the first in 1987) obtaining two third places in 1988 and 1989 as best results, takes part in both the World Sports Prototypes Championship, paired with Jan Lammers driving a Jaguar, and in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where he finishes in fourth place.

Starting from 1991 Patrick tried his hand as a television commentator for Cinq, and subsequently Canal +, and a few years later he decided, together with his friend and partner Michel Golay, to buy some shares of the Larrousse team, which he would then resell after the bankruptcy of the team. Despite a particular career, made up of shadows and flashes of success, the name of Patrick Tambay remains and will remain linked to that unforgettable 1st May 1983, in Imola, as the Ferrari people will never forget.

 

Simone Centonze

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