A cosmopolitan and cultured individual, Tambay was educated in France and the USA and made a name for himself as a talented downhill ski racer before motor racing caught his eye at the end of 1971. Although he would widely become acknowledged as one of the most genuinely charming personalities on the F1 stage by the early 1980s, this debonair Frenchman never quite reaped the hard results suggested by his early promise.
Nevertheless, it seemed from the outset that Patrick would become a high flier, winning the prestigious Volant Elf competition at the Paul Ricard driving school after which he successfully bypassed F3 after two seasons in Formula Renault. Then he moved smoothly into the European F2 championship arena and also sampled Can-Am sports cars in North America before his F2 exploits earned him an F1 chance at the wheel of an Ensign entered by wealthy Hong Kong enthusiast Teddy Yip in the 1977 British GP. After scoring no fewer than five championship points in his first six Grands Prix, Patrick earned a place in the McLaren squad for 1978 as James Hunt’s team-mate.
Disappointingly by this stage, McLaren was losing its competitive edge as rival teams’ ground effect chassis technology outperformed their own. As a result, Tambay found the M28 instantly outclassed from the start of 1978 and had two very lean seasons before being replaced by compatriot Alain Prost from the start of 1980. But, as events proved, Patrick’s best days were ahead of him as far as F1 was concerned, including a couple of wins for Ferrari which certainly perked up his CV and helped him land a works Renault drive for two years in the mid-1980s.