Posted on December 11, 2022.
Sometimes there are more important issues than winning races. Patrick Tambay won only two races for Ferrari in a season and a half, but following the turmoil after his friend Gilles Villeneuve was killed in 1982 at Zolder, he joined the Scuderia at the Dutch Grand Prix, proving to be an inspiration that kept the devastated team together. His first win for them was 4 races into his tenure of the fabled “27”, at Hockenheim. This was made all the braver and poignant by the career-ending injuries suffered by his team-mate Didier Pironi in practice for the race, in an accident eerily reminiscent of Gilles’s.
Words frequently used about Tambay are “urbane”, “cultured”, and “cosmopolitan”. He was known for his good looks, his charm and, increasingly unlikely in an F1 paddock by the 1980s, for his ethics of an old school gentleman. Together with his race performances, this cemented his place in the heart of the team. Or at least it did for most of the time. His loyalty to his friends meant he missed a post-race debrief to watch Yannick Noah win the French Open Tennis, which perhaps formed a brief black mark with management.
Paris-born Tambay spent 2 years at university in Colorado and subsequently joined the French alpine skiing team. Aged 22, he took a Winfield course and won the Elf scholarship leading to drives in Formula Renault and Formula 2. A move to the USA led to drives with Carl Haas in F5000 and CanAm where he won the 1977 championship. F1 drives followed with Surtees, Theodore and McLaren followed by a sabbatical in CanAm, where he again won the championship. His 1981 return to F1 with Theodore and Ligier was followed by the 1982 call to Maranello.
How could Tambay top his win at Hockenheim? There was only one way, and it happened in 1983 at Imola where, in front of the Tifosi he brought “27” to an emotional victory.
For 1984 he moved to Renault and in 1986 to his old friend Carl Haas’s Lola team. A 1989 4th at LeMans in a Jaguar, three top 3 Paris-Dakar finishes, ice-races and, in 2005/6, the three one-make “Grand Prix Masters” races, formed the latter years of a well-rounded racing career. He commentated for RMC, a French channel, and became deputy mayor of a Cannes suburb. He was also godfather to Jacques Villeneuve, but let’s not hold that against him.
Sadly, his later years were marred by Parkinson’s disease, which took his life on 4 December. He is survived by his second wife, Dominique, and their son, professional racer Adrien; and by a daughter Esti, and son Loïc, from his first marriage.
The Club sends its condolences to his family and friends.