Patrick Nève

When Belgian Patrick Nève took the start of the 1977 Spanish Grand Prix, he was the first driver to take part in a Formula 1 Grand Prix for Williams Grand Prix Engineering. It was Williams' debut season, and their first car: the Williams FW06, was still in the pipeline and so the team gave Nève a year old March 761 to drive. With it he enjoyed limited success: a seventh place in the Italian Grand Prix being the highlight of his solitary season with the team.

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Best WDC result

7

Best race result

11

Races

1977

Team Debut

0

Poles

1

Seasons

0

Fastest Laps

0

Total Points

Born Patrick Marie Ghislain Pierre Simon Stanislas Nève de Mevergnies (try getting that on a passport application form!) in Liege, Belgium on 13th October 1949, a young Patrick Nève left the continent to work as a driving instructor for the Jim Russell driving school in Britain.

His job with Jim Russell and the exposure this gave him led to the opportunity for Nève to try his hand at Formula Ford 1600 in 1970.

Three seasons later, and with a dozen or so FF1600 starts under his belt, he was offered a drive in a works Lola, with which he secured the 1974 STP Formula Ford 1600 championship crown.

Moving up to Formula 3 for 1975 driving a Safir – a British racecar engineering firm of the 1970s – where, despite being disadvantaged by an underpowered Ford engine when all his competitors were using the latest Toyota powerplant and a lack of funds, Nève was able to secure fourth place in the F3 championship – a win at Monaco being the undoubted highlight of his campaign.

His impressive car-craft with ageing equipment brought Nève to the attention of the RAM Formula 1 team, with whom, after a couple of non-championship Formula 1 races, he was able to make his Grand Prix debut in the 1976 Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder.

RAM contested seven of the 16 Grands Prix that counted towards the 1976 Formula 1 World Championship, and they did so with a pair of BT44Bs they’d bought from Brabham.

To finance the operation RAM were forced to offer drives to pay-drivers and Nève, being one, was forced to make way after his solitary drive (incidentally in RAM’s first Grand Prix start) for one of the seven other drivers that would drive their cars in 1976.

Being a free agent, and now with (albeit limited) Grand Prix experience when Ensign’s Chris Amon decided to sit out a race after narrowly avoiding serious injury through suspension failure at the Swedish Grand Prix of the same year, Nève got the call to race for Ensign at the French GP where he finished an inauspicious 18th and last of those who took the chequered flag.

Interestingly, Amon was fired by Ensign two Grands Prix later, but the team chose not to pursue Nève, but his Belgian counterpart Jacky Ickx as a full time replacement.

Meanwhile, Frank Williams was going through a messy divorce with Walter Wolf leading to the demise of the Wolf-Williams Grand Prix team, and signalling the end of the project that began life as Frank Williams Racing Cars.

But Sir Frank wasn’t done with Formula 1 just yet, and he was eyeing a way back into the sport with a brand new team, away from all the complicated Wolf business.

A sterling drive in the opening round of the 1977 European Formula 2 season at Silverstone where Nève left a field including future F1 stars such as Keke Rosberg, Didier Pironi, Riccardo Patrese and eventual winner Rene Arnoux for dead until a loose wheel caused him to pit and drop to third at the flag brought him to the notice of the bods in F1.

Meanwhile, Nève had had landed himself a sponsorship deal with Belgian Belle-Vue Brewery which would benefit the coffers of any F1 team who’d give him a car to drive to the tune of around £200k.

Frank Williams, seeking funding for his new enterprise said thank you very much and recruited Nève to drive his Williams Grand Prix Engineering entered March 761 in the 1977 Formula 1 Grand Prix season.

Williams struggled in their debut season, with their lone driver Nève failing to pick up a single point in the ageing (and reportedly a year older than Williams was told when he and Patrick Head bought it) March – the undoubted highlight being a seventh place finish in the 1977 Italian Grand Prix at Monza – a career best for Nève.

By the season’s close, Williams has secured sponsorship from Saudi Arabian airline Saudia which meant Williams no longer needed a pay driver, Nève was surplus to requirements and out he went in favour of Australian Alan Jones.

Nève only attempted one further Formula 1 Grand Prix start in a privately entered March 781 in the Belgian Grand Prix of 1978, but sadly he failed to pre-qualify.

Keeping his hand in with the odd Formula 2 start here and there, Nève was signed up by  Kauhsen – a German  Formula 1 car constructor of limited repute, to develop a Formula 1 car with the intention of contesting the 1979 F1 season.

Somewhat predictably the car was a disaster, Kauhsen struggling to master ground-effects that were necessary to building a competitive F1 car in the late seventies, and Nève walked away from it and Formula 1 saying the car was undriveable.

Post Formula 1 Nève took part in various sportscar races, finishing third in the 1978 Spa 24 Hours in a BMW 530i and winning the Zolder round of the 1977 European Touring Car Championship: again in a BMW.

After attempting and retiring from Le Mans in 1980 and 1982, Nève continued to race sportscars in Europe and touring cars in his native Belgium into the early 1990s, when he gave up racing to concentrate on his sports-promotion agency.

He died in 2017 at the age of 67.

Image courtesy of LAT

Categories: Drivers

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