Patrick Tambay 1949 – 2022

It is with great sadness that we must report the death at 73 of former Grand Prix driver Patrick Tambay, one of the most charming and charismatic racers of the late 1970s and 1980s.

Tambay was educated in France and in the United States and was an old school gentleman. He came to prominence through support from Elf, after he won the celebrated Volant Elf racing school prize at Paul Ricard and moved quickly up the racing ladder to become a star of Formula 2. There were so many Frenchmen at that time that he struggled to break into Formula 1, but was helped on his way by a relationship with Carl Haas, for whom he raced Formula 5000 and then won the 1977 CanAm Championship for the team. He made his F1 debut at the French GP in 1977 with Surtees but then moved on to Theodore, run by Teddy Yip, who had a good eye for racing talent. His promise was such that McLaren signed him for 1978 and 1979, although these were not good years for the team and in 1980 he had to return to CanAm with Carl Haas, which led to a second CanAm title.

He was back in F1 in 1981 with Theodore and then with Ligier but was then out again until the traumatic 1982 season when Gilles Villeneuve was killed and Tambay was drafted in at Ferrari to replace his friend. Tambay was godfather to Jacques Villeneuve and later played an important role in his development after his father had been killed. His first victory for Ferrari came at the German GP the same weekend that saw his team-mate Didier Pironi seriously injured in another terrible crash.

He won a second victory for Ferrari at Imola the following year, but he was dropped by Ferrari to make way for Michele Alboreto in 1984 and then moved to Renault, although the team was then past its best and he failed to win any more races. In 1986 he joined Carl Haas’s Beatrice Lola team, although it did not last long. He stayed out of racing for a couple of years after that, building up a sports promotion business but then returned to drive a Jaguar in the 1989 World Sportscar Championship, which led to a fourth place at Le Mans. He would go on to become enamoured by desert raids and competed regularly on the Paris-Dakar, twice finishing in the top three. He was breifly involved with the Larrousse team in 1994 as a partnership with friend and business associate Michael Golay but that did not last long.

He went on to a long and successful career as a TV commentator, while also serving as the deputy mayor of the town of Le Cannet, in the south of France. His son Adrien took up racing and achieved some success in DTM. Sadly Patrick was afflicted by Parkinson’s Disease for the latter part of his life, which meant hat he stayed out of the public eye as he found it difficult to communicate.

15 thoughts on “Patrick Tambay 1949 – 2022

  1. Thank you Joe for your historical work that keeps motorsport as a continuum. I saw Tambay and Gilles in the race in Long Beach early ‘80s as a young lad. I’m glad it looks like we have more young blood given the chance to prove themselves in this sport. As you say, it’s about the passion. Hope to see you soon in An Evening With…

  2. It is my opinion Patrick Tambay was a better driver than history gives him credit for. He, was also a wonderful human being.

  3. He used to drop in to discussions on F1 in a forum I used to be a member of under the name Rossocorso. His input was always well come. So sad to hear of his passing. R.I.P. Patrick.

  4. Such a sad loss, I remember him racing the Renault and then the desultory year with Haas and Alan Jones.
    He always came across as a very likeable racer and it’s an old school loss.

  5. I met Patrick at a Goodyear day at Donington Park in 1983. He was a proper gentleman.

    Condolences to his family on his departure

  6. A true gentleman and greet friend to GV..
    Will always remember his first WC point in Mosport 1977, where GV debuted. His family from France
    attended and he was as excited as if he won the race !
    He also had great respect for track safety and assorted in helping laying out the stations for the course safety /rescue workers at the track in Montreal.

  7. I was working for the Jaguar (TWR) when Patrick was driving there , nice nice guy and the same nice guy in the F1 paddock whilst I was there in the 80,s great memories for sure sadly missed .

  8. Indeed sad news, one of those drivers you could just not like. An engaging smile and sportsman from a different age.

    If he was not tripped up by Keke Rosberg at Long Beach in 1983, you wonder if that inevitable win may not have given the confidence boost that seemed lack. Cest le vie as the Germans don’t say.

  9. An absolutely super bloke. In 1980 I did an interview with him prior to the Mosport Can Am race, I couldn’t shut him up and we went to about 25 minutes, Later in September we ran into each other waiting for the Metro in downtown Montreal on race morning for the GP, then walked onto Isle Notre Dame together. I told him where I liked to watch the race trackside (just behind the catch fencing between the exit of the hairpin and the old pits entrance), and sure enough about half an hour before the race Patrick turned up. I will NEVER forget the look on his face and the sheer joy on the first lap when he found that the cars passed no more tan 10 feet from us going balls out. He was like a little kid, cackling with glee and wiping his forehead in feigned terror.

  10. Very sad news about Patrick Tambay. I remember watching his emotional wins for Ferrari at Hockenheim in 1982 and Imola 1983 where the crowd were happier to see a Frenchman win in an Italian car than an Italian win in a British car and struggle with the Beatrice at Adelaide when his more illustrious team mate had given up on a dog of a car.

  11. Joe: Thanks for the note about Patrick Tambay. A close family friend, Horst Kahlert, was the longtime automotive writer for Austria’s Kronen Zeitung newspaper. Horst was a lovely character who always had 5 latest cars from the OEMs parked on the street outside his apartment in Vienna.

    Horst knew of my love for F1 and while I was in Vienna with my family for Xmas holidays (1984), he gave me a letter from Niki Lauda thanking him for the review that Horst had written. Horst also gave me a post card that featured Tambay standing next to his Ferrari F1 car. I thought this was very cool, but it wasn’t until I looked at the back of that postcard amd saw the real autograph of Il Commendatore, Enzo Ferrari.

    I know you have millions of pieces of priceless F1 memorabilia from your 45 years in F1. These are my two. To that end, it would be amazing to see a Joe Saward exhibit at Goodwood some time. You deserve a wing at Silverstone. Recommending they archive your collections in what should be a permanent collection in what should be named Saward Hall.

  12. Thank you Joe for your words. We were together at Retromobile a few years ago when Patrick Tambay had a few words with us. I remember him at Le Mans driving a Renault, but still having some time to smile and say hello to his friends. He was such a kind man.

  13. Sad news.

    I had the good fortune to meet Patrick Tambay a number of times and he was always the epitome of charm and good manners.

    I’m guessing his last win may have been at Goodwood sometime in the mid-noughties, when he shared an AC Cobra with Henri Pescarolo, describing the achievement with great self-deprecation as “not bad for a couple of old Frogs!”

    RIP.

  14. I am very sad to hear this news. I heard him on a long online interview a couple of years ago and he was clearly beginning to find things difficult, indeed he was quite open about his condition during the interview. That was already sad to hear.
    Patrick was one of those rare F1 drivers whom everybody seemed to like, and with good reason.
    Those who knew him all use the word “gentleman”. Those of us who did not have the privilege of knowing him were still able to see a patently nice guy when he gave interviews, and an amusing character too. My abiding memory in that regard was after the British GP in 1983, when Barrie Gill was doing the post race interviews on the podium, or more precisely on the flatbed truck as it still was at Silverstone in those less precious days.
    Race winner Alain Prost was asked if he thought he could go on to become France’s first world champion that year. While Alain was giving the standard replies along the lines of “we’ll see… long way to go…. etc etc”, third-placed Patrick could be seen behind him pointing at himself and mouthing “Me! Me!” The fact is, he *was* in with a chance of the title and a more precious driver might have taken the huff at all the attention going to his compatriot, but typically he simply made a joke of it. And as the season progressed towards its climax, we saw that he hadn’t been a million miles out in his prediction.
    Yes, a gentleman and quite a driver too.
    RIP Patrick.

  15. I was at Hockenheim in 1982 to see Patrick’s first win.

    I always had a soft spot for him as a driver. A great and friendly person. He will be sorely missed.

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