25/6/1949 - 4/12/2022
Record updated 06-Dec-22
Patrick Tambay was a former French racing driver, who participated in 123 Formula One Grand Prix races between 1977 and 1986, with seven teams, winning two races and taking eleven podiums and two constructors' titles with Ferrari.
Patrick Daniel Tambay was born in Paris on June 25, 1949, was one of the most genuinely charming and popular of all F1 drivers on the scene in the early 1980s.
Educated in France and the United States, he spent his teenage years competing in skiing on both snow and water before turning to motorsport in 1972. He attended Mike Knight's Winfield Racing School at Paul Ricard, winning the celebrated Volant Elf prize. This led to support from Elf and his entering of both the French and European Formula Renault Championships.
He came close to winning the European title the following year, finishing the season on equal point to points as Rene Arnoux, but loosing out on the top spot due to Arnoux having more outright wins.
For 1974, Tambay moved up to European Formula 2, competing for the Ecurie Elf in the BMW-powered Alpine A367, finishing seventh in the points.
In 1975 he switched to a March Engineering BMW-powered March 752 and finished second overall behind fellow French racer, Jacques Laffite, taking 3 pole positions with one win and 7 podium finishes.
In the 1976 European Formula 2 season, Tambay finished third, this time with Renault-powered Martini MK19. Once again Jabouille took the title followed this time by Arnoux.
During the year he also travelled to the USA for a one-off race in the North American Formula 5000 championship with a Theodore Racing Lola T332 Chevrolet. He also made his debut at the 24 hours of Le Mans, joining Jean-Pierre Jabouille and Jose Dolhem in the Renault-Sport number 19 Alpine-Renault A442 Turbo. Started from pole, unfortunately they failed to finish due to engine problems after 135 laps.
After three seasons in Formula 2, Tambay left to concentrate on SCCA Canadian-American Challenge Cup, joining Haas-Hall Racing to drive Lola T333CS-Chevrolet. With six wins in nine races, Tambay took the title. In June 1977, he was back at Le Mans, again with Renault and the Alpine A442. Co-driving was Jean-Pierre Jaussaud, they retired after 158 laps.
Then on July 3, 1977 (my 25th birthday!), Tambay made his F1 debut entering the French Grand Prix, driving a Surtees T19, but failing to qualify. For the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, Tambay joined Theodore Racing and qualified the Ensign N177 Cosworth a respectable 10th but in the race, he retired after just three laps with electrical problems.
His third race was German Grand Prix at Hockenheimring. He qualified the Theodore Racing Ensign N177 Cosworth in 11th and frinished 6th, scoring his first Chamionship point. (Note back then points were only awarded for the first 6 finishers in the amount of 9, 6, 4, 3, 2 and 1.)
The rest of his first F1 season resulted in three more retirements (Austria, Italy, Japan), one failure to qualify (United States, Watkins Glen) and two fifth place finishes (Netherland, Canada) to end the year with fifth points and classified 18th in his F1 debut season not back for a limited campaign.
His performance brought him to the attention of McLaren. So in 1978 he joined then as team mate to James Hunt driving McLaren M26-Cosworth. Tambay finished 6th in the Argentine Grand Prix in his first outing for the team and scored points four more times (Sweden, UK, Italy and the USA) to finish 14th in the final classification, one place behind Hunt, also on eight points.
Tambay spent one more season with McLaren. Hunt had retired and so his new teammate was John Watson. It was an unhappy time for McLaren and Tambay ended up driving an M26, an M28, an M28B, an M28C and an M29! Needless to say his finished the searon on zero points with eight DNFs and two DNQ's. His best finish being 7th in the British Grand Prix
For 1980, Tambay returned to America to rejoined Carl Haas for another assault on the Can-Am Challenge. Just as three years earlier, he dominated the series taking six wins in nine races with thea Lola T530 Chevrolet.
Back with Theodore Racing for the 1981 Formula One season, he finished sixth in the season-opening United States Grand Prix West at Long Beach, scoring one point. However after seven races with Theodore, he joined Ligier partnering his friend, Jacques Laffite for the remainder of the season. Laffite was successful in the Matra-powered Ligier JS17 finishing fourth in the championship with two wins, whereas Tambay had no luck at all, retiring in all eight races.
Le Mans was another dissapointment. For his third appearance at the Circuit de la Sarthe he partnered Henri Pescarolo in Jean Rondeau's prototype Rondeau M379C. They qualified fourth but retired after just 41 laps.
For 1982 Tambay was left without a seat in F1. However that changed after the death of his close friend Gilles Villeneuve on May 8 at Zolder. After Gilles' death, Tambay invited Villeneuve's family to stay his home in Switzerland. He was also offered Villeneuve's seat at the Scuderia. Thus he joined Ferrari for round 9 of the Championship at Zandvoort. Tambay finished 8th on his Ferrari debut and at the next race, the British Grand Prix, Tambay scored his maiden F1 podium, finishing third behind McLaren's Niki Lauda and teammate Didier Pironi. Three weeks later Ferrari had mixed fortunes at the German Grand Prix, Pironi had an accident during qualifying which effectively ended his career. Tambay though had qualified fifth and went on to take his maiden Formula One victory. Tambay went on to finish fourth in Austria and second at the Italian Grand Prix, contributing to Ferrari to taking manufacturers' title in a season when they lost two main drivers.
Tambay continued to drive for Ferrari in 1983, now alongside his old friend and rival Rene Arnoux. They won four races (Arnoux three, Tambay one) to secure one more manufacturers' title for Ferrari.
In the Drivers Championship, Arnoux and Tambay finished third and fourth respectively. It was Tambay's best F1 season, with four pole positions, one victory and four more podiums. His second Formula One victory coming on May 1 at Imola when Ricciardo Patrese crashed his Brabham out of the lead in the final stages sending the crowd into raptures. Tambay dedicated the victory to Gilles Villeneuve. Later in the season, he had two second place finishes (Spa, Zandvoort) and two third place. (Montreal, Silverstone).
Ferrari dropped Italian in 1984 in favour of Michele Alboreto. Tambay moved to Equipe Renault Elf to partner Derek Warwick. The highlight of slightly dissapointing season was at the French Grand Prix at Dijon on May 20. Tambay took pole and finished second behind Niki Lauda. In the 15 races that year, Tambay scored points just four times, finishing 11th in the overall standings.
In 1985, still with Renault, Patrick scored two more podiums, finishing third in Portugal and San Marino. In the championship classification, he was 12th.
His final season in F1 came in 1986. Driving for his old boss Carl Haas. After the team's experimental 1985 season they hoped to have the new THL2 ready for the new Ford engines. However Cosworth's efforts to build the new Ford engines had been delayed forcing the team to start the season with the previous year's car and the Hart 415T engine. Driving alongside Alaon Jones, Tambay was able to qualify 13th for the Brazilian Grand Prix, although he and Jones both retired. Tambay improved at the Spanish Grand Prix, as he succeeded in finishing the first race for the team, all be it the last of the eight cars to crossed the finish line and 6 laps behing the winner Ayrton Senna. 17 cars retired 15 with mechanical failure and two with a collision on the opening lap (Jones and Palmer). Tambay missed two rounds of the championship. At the Canadian Grand Prix in June, he was injured in the accident during the pre-race warm up. Still nursing injuries sustained he was not ready for the Detroit Grand Prix, so Eddie Cheever stood in. For the rest of the season, Tambay scored his last F1 points at Austrian Grand Prix, finishing fifth. Back in the days of qualifying engines and tyres, Jomnes was once heard saying that when they were running the Hart 415T motors they were the only team whose qualifying tires lasted longer than their qualifying engines!
After Formula One, Tambay entered other forms of motor sport entering the famous Paris-Dakar Rally for three years in a row. In 1987, together with co-driver Dominique Lemoyne they won one stage and in 1988, Tambay was one of the favorites and finished third overall with a Range Rover. In 1989 Tambay was back with a Mitsubishi Pajero and he again finished third. In 1991, he returned to the Dakar Rally with Lada.
In 1987, Tambay formed his own sports promotion company in Switzerland, but gave this up in 1989 to return to circuit racing, joining Jaguar for the World Sports Prototype Championship campaign. He debuted with Jaguar XJR-9 at 24 hours of Daytona, sharing the car with Derek Bell and Martin Donnelly. They retired after an accident. In the 1989 World Sports Prototype Championship, Tambay scored only one podium in seven races, finishing second at Jarama, to take eighth place in the final standings.
At 1989 24 hours of Le Mans he drove the Silk Cut Jaguar XJR-9 LM with Jan Lammers and Andrew Gilbert-Scott. In the last Le Mans race on the Circuit de la Sarthe without chicanes at Mulsanne Straight they finished fourth overall, the best of all the Jaguars.
In 1994 he was one of the shareholders of the Larrousse F1 team in its last season.
In 1995 he participated in an IMSA GT race at Watkins Glen, driving the Bugatti EB110 SC for Monaco Racing Team and in 1996, he failed to qualify for 24 hours of Le Mans, again driving the Bugatti.
Tambay's next appearance on the race track was in 2005, when he entered the short-lived GP Masters series together with other retired F1 drivers. He participated in one race in 2005 and two races in 2006 season. Additionally, he was involved in ice races and the Tour de Corse jet ski race.
After retiring from full-time racing, Tambay worked as a commentator for French television. He also served as the deputy mayor of Le Cannet, a suburb of Cannes. He was the godfather to 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve 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.
He was married twice. In 1991, his son Adrien was born. He has followed in his father's footsteps becoming a racing driver, racing for Audi in the DTM championship between 2012 and 2016 and winning the 2021 ETCR Champion.
His family announced his death on December 4th 2022, after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.