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.