Gianclaudio ‘Clay’ Regazzoni came to motor racing relatively late, when at the age of 24 he began racing his Austin Healey Sprite in Italy, across the border from his native Switzerland where they’d banned motor racing after the 1955 Le Mans disaster.
Instant success encouraged him to move up a class to race a Mini-Cooper for the following year. More success followed and Clay moved up to European Formula 3 for 1965, his first experience of single seaters.
Gradual improvements in performance and results in 1966 and 1967, when he was lucky to escape without serious injury or death at the Monaco Grand Prix, where his F3 Techno went through the armco barrier, Regazzoni just managing to duck in time for the metal strip to pass over his head, and the car stop with the roll hoop touching the barrier where his head should have been, his head on the opposite side.
His Ferrari adventure began in 1969 where they signed him up to drive one of their 166 Formula 2 cars. So impressed were they that they offered him a works Formula 1 drive (albeit part-time while they weighed up the comparative abilities of a few drivers) for 1970.
A win at the Italian Grand Prix and a further three podiums followed in his debut season of eight Grands Prix, and Ferrari duly retained his services for 1971.
Here he remained for a further two winless seasons before choosing to jump ship to Marlboro sponsored BRM, who reportedly paid megabucks to lure him away from the Scuderia.
Partnering Niki Lauda, 1973 proved to be disappointing. After a dream start at the opening round in South Africa where he qualified on pole position, he would find top six finishes hard to come by, and finished the season with a measly two points (the same number as Lauda, incidentally).
The two BRM drivers, now firm friends, would move together to Ferrari for 1974, where they remained for three seasons that saw Clay largely playing a supporting role to the precocious Lauda. Despite being runner-up in the World Drivers Championship in 1974, Lauda took the title in 1975 and Regazzoni was ousted to make way for Argentine Carlos Reutemann.
Regazzoni chose small British outfit Ensign for 1977, rejecting an offer from Bernie Ecclestone to drive for Brabham, preferring ‘to race with nice people’ #ouch.
The season proved unsuccessful and Clay left to join Shadow for 1978 where again he found results difficult to come by, amassing just fur points, one fewer than in 1977.
Clay Regazzoni and Williams
At the ripe old age of 39, Clay was given his final (as it would turn out) competitive drive in Formula 1 when Frank Williams signed him to drive alongside Alan Jones in the 1979 season.
Williams were steadily gaining momentum with their Williams FW06, but were yet to win a Grand Prix. In the FW07 they had a real beauty and as soon as it was launched it looked like a winner. Two DNFs later and Clay finished runner up to Scheckter in the Ferrari at the Monaco Grand Prix, but he wouldn’t have to wait long for his moment of glory.
Three further podiums followed, but Jones won four of the last six races, and once again poor Clay was replaced by Carlos Reutemann for 1980.
At the age of 40, Regazzoni joined Ensign or what many thought would be his swansong. In the fourth race of the season at Long Beach his throttle jammed open and he hit a concrete wall head on at round 180mph, sustaining back injuries that would paralyse him from the waist down.
His passion for motor sports undeterred, Clay continued to race in top level motorsport, completing the Sebring 12h and the Paris-Dakar Rally in modified vehicles.
He was killed in a road traffic accident on the Italian Auto-strada in 2006.