Patrick Depailler

9/8/1944 - 1/8/1980

Record updated 10-Mar-08

Patrick Depailler was a Formula One driver from France who participated in 95 Grands Prix. As a child, he was inspired by Jean Behra. Talented and charismatic, Depailler never quite drove the kind of machinery his talent deserved.

Patrick Depailler
Patrick André Eugène Joseph Depailler was born in the Auvergne in Central France, the son of an architect. He qualified as a dental technician although he had by now developed a passion for motorbikes and racing. He started racing in in 1962 and was immediately spotted as a potential champion by Jean-Pierre Beltoise. His career then had to be put on hold while he completed his military service, but then, in 1964, Beltoise helped him get a drive representing the Auvergne in the Coupe des Provinces raced in Lotus Sevens. Depailler was second in his first race and by the summer was winning.

In 1965 lack of budget saw him return to motorbikes. In 1966 he went to the Winfield School at Magny-Cours in order to try to win the Volant Shell. He lost out to Francois Cevert but Beltoise convinced Alpine to sign Patrick on a three-year contract.

He then raced in French F3 and drove sports cars for Alpine winning on a regular basis but not standing out until 1971 when he won the French F3 title. Later in the year he went to England and won again though the win was taken away for overtaking under yellow flags.

This led to an offer from John Coombs to race in F2 with a March in 1972. Pushed by Elf and Coombs, he made his F1 debut with Tyrrell at the French GP at Clermont Ferrand alongside Jackie Stewart and Francois Cevert.

In 1973 he continued in F2 with an Elf chassis and he further confirmed his status as a rising star with victory for Alpine in the Monaco F3 race. He was due to race for Tyrrell in the final two races of the year but broke a leg horsing around on a motorcycle. He won the European Formula Two title that year and joined Tyrrell on a full-time basis the following year replacing the late Francois Cevert.

For the next five years, Depailler was a loyal and audacious member of the Tyrrell lineup, trying hard on every race outing and being rewarded for his efforts with a fine victory in the 1978 Monaco Grand Prix. He was the first to drive a six-wheeler, the Tyrrell P34, at the 1976 Spanish Grand Prix.

In 1979 he switched to Ligier, winning the Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama before sustaining serious injuries in a hang gliding accident which invalided him out for the rest of the season. He struggled back to fitness for the following year and signed to drive for Alfa Romeo and it was for this final team, at a private test session at Hockenheim on August 1st, 1980, when suspension failure pitched his car into the Armco at the high-speed Ostkurve, inflicting fatal head injuries when the vehicle overturned and vaulted the barrier.