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Clay Regazzoni

One of the great characters of motor racing, Clay Regazzoni, died in a road accident yesterday. Over his ten year racing career, we came to know him not only as an aggressive and unpredictable driver but also as an ebullient and tenacious personality. The terrible accident at Long Beach in 1980 that left him paralyzed from the waist down did not defeat him – he learned to drive with hand controls and even competed in motor sport again.

Clay

Clay in the Williams FW07 of 1979

Clay’s great years were with Ferrari and he finished third in the Championship in 1970, second in 1974. But the moment I remember best was the British Grand Prix of 1979, when Clay gave the Williams team their first ever victory. His teammate, Alan Jones, had been threatening to win all year but it was somehow fitting that Clay should get there first; his fluctuating fortunes deserved that success at last.

And that was the thing about Clay – you could never tell how he was going to drive. At times he seemed lackluster, content to stroll around in mid-field; at others he was sensational, finding unexpected speed and determination. Perhaps this explains why he did not become a fixture at Ferrari, in spite of his enormous popularity with the Italian fans.

Clay was consistent in his cheerfulness, however, never letting his waning fortune get him down. This became enormously important to his recovery after the Long Beach accident.

For a decade Clay was the smiling, mustachioed face of F1, the driver everyone liked. He was all entertainment with his uninhibited driving and occasional upsetting of the status quo. F1 could do with more like him.

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