Patrick Nève, the Williams team’s first Grand Prix driver, has died at the age of 67.
The Belgian, whose full name was Patrick Marie Ghislain Pierre Simon Stanislas Nève de Mévergnies, was born in the Belgian town of Liège in a wealthy family, was a one-time pupil of the Jim Russell racing school.
Later using his experience as a student to tutor other up-and-coming drivers as a means of financing his own racing exploits. He performed well enough in the school’s Merlyn to set himself up for success in 1974, winning the STP Formula Ford 1600 championship in a Lola T340.
He graduated to the British BP Formula 3 Championship in 1975, performing well enough in the less-fancied Ford-powered Safir to finish fourth overall in the Drivers’ Championship standings. His standout performance was a fine second place in the supporting race at the Monaco Grand Prix.
His achievements earned him a test drive and then a contract to join the RAM Formula 1 team in 1976, which was running a customer Brabham BT44B chassis. After a handful of non-championship races, he looked set to make his Grand Prix debut in Spain until he was outbid by local driver Emilio de Villota.
His debut was instead delayed to his home Grand Prix at Zolder, where Nève qualified 19th-fastest and subsequently retired with a broken CV joint in his driveshaft.
Back on the grid for the French Grand Prix – this time in a one-off drive for the Ensign team in place of the injured Chris Amon – he qualified last and finished a lapped 18th.
The next year should have seen Nève break through into true prominence. He secured a works March drive in Formula 2 and sensationally led on debut at Silverstone until a loose wheel nut dropped him to third place by the chequered flag.
His sponsorship backing from the Belle-Vue brewery landed him a drive at Frank Williams’ team, which was set up after the Englishman’s split with Canadian oil magnate Walter Wolf. The team ran a year-old March 761 for the 1977 season.
The car (which later turned out to be a 1975 model design) and driver never had the pace to break out of the final few rows of the grid – he failed to qualify three times. His best finish was seventh place, just out of the points, at the Italian Grand Prix. After retiring from the Canadian Grand Prix, the relationship between the team and Nève completely broke down and he was fired.
He had one further crack at Formula 1, privately entering a March 781S at his home Grand Prix in 1978, but failed to qualify. He had planned to race for the Kauhsen team in Formula 2, but that fell through when the team’s sponsors bailed, and so he was saddled with the far less competitive Project Four designed Pilbeam and retired from all four races he entered.
Back with Kauhsen when it tried to make its Formula 1 debut in 1979, Nève walked out on the team after a single test, declaring the car completely undriveable.
Thereafter, Nève made sporadic race outings through to the 1980s in BMW Procars and touring cars, with highlights including victory on home soil in a European Touring Car Championship outing in 1977 and a third place in the Spa 24 Hours in 1978.
In the 1990s he made a number of entries under his eponymous Patrick Nève Racing team having also founded his own Brussels-based sports promotion agency.