Tarquini began karting in 1976. By 1985 he was driving in Formula 3000, spending three seasons with underfunded outfits. His best result was 2nd at Imola in 1987, by which time he had already made his Grand Prix debut in a one-off drive for Osella at the 1987 San Marino Grand Prix. He joined Coloni's Grand Prix team for 1988, having driven for them in F3000 in 1986. He drew good notices for his performance overall, however - his 8th place at the Canadian Grand Prix would stand as the team's best ever result and his eight starts the most ever garnered by a Coloni driver.

Tarquini signed to drive for the FIRST team (again a former employer in F3000) and drove for them at the Formula One Indoor Trophy, but when their car failed crash tests he started 1989 without a ride. Following Philippe Streiff's career-ending pre-season testing crash, Tarquini joined Joachim Winkelhock in the AGS team from the second round of the series. There he finished a fine 8th on the road, being promoted to 6th after the exclusion of Thierry Boutsen and Alex Caffi. He was then one of the stars of the weekend in Monaco, threatening to qualify in the top 6 before ending up 13th on the grid. In the race he advanced to a strong 4th before being sidelined by an electrical problem. AGS attempted to move to larger premises for 1990 but a lack of resources and the late arrival of the JH25 left Tarquini and Dalmas again struggling to get past prequalifying, Tarquini only making it into four races (finishing just once - 13th in the Hungarian Grand Prix), his early 1989 form long forgotten by most. The team were under even more severe financial constraints for 1991, though they would initially at least avoid prequalifying. Tarquini made it through into three races, finishing a worthy 8th in the season opener at Phoenix but financial constraints meant after Monaco the AGS didn't make the grid again. Late in the season the cash-strapped team sold his contract to Gabriele Rumi's ambitious Fondmetal outfit in time for the Spanish Grand Prix, soon forming a good relationship with the team. He was signed for a full year in 1992, showing some good speed in the neat but underdeveloped Fondmetal GR02 chassis. However, his car only finished once (14th at Silverstone, hindered by clutch problems) and despite some fine qualifying efforts (including outqualifying Ivan Capelli's Ferrari in Belgium) the team struggled to find funding, folding after the following Italian Grand Prix and leaving Tarquini out of a drive.

Tarquini failed to pre-qualify on a record 25 occasions (out of a total of 40 failures to qualify), mainly because he was a regular in the pre-qualifying era, usually in cars which were so slow as to struggle to qualify. Despite this record many consider him to have been a talented driver stuck with uncompetitive machinery (much like contemporary Roberto Moreno).

He has subsequently raced successfully in Touring Cars, winning the BTCC in 1994, the ETCC in 2003 the WTCC in 2009 and the WTCR in 2018.

On 22 November 2009 he won the 2009 FIA World Touring Car Championship title at the age of 47 years and 266 days. This made him the oldest ever world champion in an FIA series, breaking Juan Manuel Fangio's record of being FIA Formula One World Drivers' Champion at the age of 46 years and 41 days in 1957. Tarquini backed up this record by winning the 2018 FIA World Touring Car Cup at the age of 56 years and 259 days.

Activity: 1987 - 1995
Grand Prix: 78
Drivers Championships: -
Victories: 0
Podiums: 0
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Career Points: 1