Patrick Tambay: Former Formula 1 Ferrari driver Tambay dies aged 73

Former Formula 1 driver Patrick Tambay has died aged 73.

The Frenchman, whose teams included McLaren, Ferrari and Renault, won two grands prix in a career of 114 race starts stretching from 1977 to 1986.

Tambay, who had been suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, was most famous for his association with Ferrari.

He was a leading member of a generation of top French F1 drivers that included the likes of Alain Prost, Rene Arnoux, Didier Pironi and Jacques Laffite.

Tambay was most famous for his emotional season and a half with Ferrari in 1982 and 1983, and the way his career was intertwined with his friend, the legendary Gilles Villeneuve.

The pair made their grand prix debuts together at the 1977 British Grand Prix; Villeneuve for McLaren, Tambay for Theodore.

Despite a starring debut by Villeneuve at Silverstone, which has gone down in F1 legend, McLaren preferred Tambay for a full-time drive in 1978.

That freed up Villeneuve for a move to Ferrari, where the Canadian became an iconic figure for his bravery, speed and daringly acrobatic style through just over four seasons with the team.

Tambay’s career, by contrast, stalled after two years with McLaren, as he returned to struggling Theodore for 1980, and then finished the second half of 1981 with a move to Ligier.

In 1982, his time in F1 seemed to be over, but when Villeneuve was killed in a horrific crash in qualifying at the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix, Ferrari turned to Tambay as his replacement.

Tambay made his debut for the team at the Dutch Grand Prix alongside Pironi, whose victory at Zandvoort confirmed his status as championship favourite.

But three races later, Pironi suffered career-ending leg injuries in a crash in qualifying in Germany that bore remarkable similarities to the accident that had killed Villeneuve.

Tambay won the race the following day, in a car bearing Villeneuve’s famous number 27, and immediately secured a place in the hearts of the famous Ferrari fans, the tifosi.

“We are all truly saddened by the news of the passing of Patrick Tambay,” read a Ferrari statement.

“He was one of the true stars of the 80s, winning two races with the Scuderia and contributing to winning the manufacturers’ titles in 1982 and 1983.”

Patrick Tambay, Ferrari 126C2B, Grand Prix of Canada, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 12 June 1983

His position as a Ferrari hero was secured at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1983.

The race at Imola the previous year had marked the collapse of Villeneuve’s relationship with Ferrari.

Pironi stole victory from under his team-mate’s nose when Villeneuve thought they were under team orders to cruise one-two to the finish. Team principal Marco Piccinini sided with Pironi, and Villeneuve vowed never to speak to the Frenchman again.

Two weeks later, Villeneuve had crashed to his death, still furious with the way events had played out, and aware his time at Ferrari would be over at the end of the year.

At Imola in 1983, Tambay started from the same third place on the grid as Villeneuve had the year before, and a Canadian flag had been painted on to the track in front of his car.

And when Ricciardo Patrese crashed his Brabham out of the lead in the final stages, Tambay inherited a victory many in Italy saw as destiny, sending the crowd into raptures.

Tambay and team-mate Rene Arnoux were title contenders that year but both lost out to eventual champion Nelson Piquet of Brabham and Prost at Renault.

And when Ferrari signed Michele Alboreto alongside Arnoux for 1984, Tambay moved to Renault for two years.

The team, who had just fired Prost after they failed to win the 1983 title together, were beginning a decline. They failed to win a race in the two seasons Tambay partnered Englishman Derek Warwick, although Tambay did take pole position at the 1984 French Grand Prix.

He joined the new US-based Haas team for 1986, but the outfit were uncompetitive. They collapsed after just one season and Tambay’s F1 career ended with it.

After a two-year break from the sport, Tambay returned to the cockpit in the world sportscar championship in 1989, finishing fourth at Le Mans in a Jaguar, and then took up desert rallying, twice finishing in the top three of the famous Paris-Dakar Rally.

Tambay was also godfather to Gilles Villeneuve’s son Jacques, and was involved in his racing development in a career in which he won the 1995 IndyCar title and Indianapolis 500, and then the F1 world championship with Williams in 1997.

Alpine’s French driver Esteban Ocon said: “An icon of French motorsport has left us. My thoughts go out to his family, friends and loved ones.”

French sports journalist and presenter Alexandre Delperier added: “You are gone my dear friend. So much memories. What a passion for F1 shared on (television channel) RMC Sport. I mourn the marvellous man that you were.”

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