Teams Elio de Angelis
122Elio de Angelis: A Maestro in the Making
While Formula One history would easily and quickly recall one of his teammates, it takes the mind a little longer to access memories of one smooth Italian racer by the name of Elio de Angelis. But while he would not have the time to prove his genius behind the wheel, he would be one of those annoying individuals that seemed absolutely adept at everything; if it touched his Roman heart that is.
The hallmark of a talented driver is a light touch on the steering-wheel. No such problem existed with de Angelis, who had the ability to surprise when he sat down at a piano. How fitting it truly was this handsome Italian and his penchant for jazz. Were it not for his day job, he likely could have found a career right alongside Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett.
Of course, Elio had enough means to do just about anything he wanted. Born in Rome, Italy in March of 1958, Elio would be born into a wealthy family, which meant he would have just about anything he wanted right at his fingertips. But de Angelis wasn't merely born into a wealthy family. He was also born with an enormous amount of natural talent, and just about anything he put his mind toward he would be good at it.
No doubt this ability came, in good portion from God, but also, through genetics. Elio's father, Giulio, not only had one of the most successful construction companies in all of Italy but was himself a prominent powerboat racer. This natural talent would be passed down to Elio who would become very talented at the piano, as well as, at tennis and skiing.
But while Elio had been born with a golden spoon in his mouth, he would have a level head on his shoulders. This would help him rise quickly through the ranks when he finally started racing karts at the age of 14. Competing against future Formula One drivers, like Eddie Cheever, de Angelis would show off his natural talent by finishing 2nd in the karting World Championship in 1975. One year later, he would go on to win the European karting championship.
By 1977, Elio was proving a winner in Formula 3 and had caught the attention of Mr. Ferrari himself. Being Italian and being noticed by the Italian team seemed like a match made in heaven. Racing in Formula 2 in a Minardi-Ferrari, Elio would find himself offered a contract with Ferrari. At just 19 years of age, Elio would decide to sign with Ferrari.
Elio would be given the opportunity to test the Formula One car and would perform admirably. Those at Ferrari would be pleased with his speed and steady hand at the wheel. However, the presence of Gilles Villeneuve made it clear to de Angelis that his opportunity would likely not come with Ferrari. Therefore, he would depart from Ferrari, and instead, would head to England.
Elio would end up driving with the ICI British F2 Team. He would end up taking part in the British Formula One Championship and would also go on to win the Monaco F3 race in 1978.
Although never wanting for anything in his life, the family wealth made de Angelis entirely comfortable with the idea of having to fight to prove himself. Therefore, he wasn't adverse to the idea of taking a drive with a struggling team. And, in 1979 that is exactly what he would do.
Elio had tested for Ferrari at the age of just 19 years of age. His test would be impressive and there would be people encouraging him all the way saying it was possible Villeneuve would not be with the team. Elio would turn down this opportunity. Instead, while only in his early 20s, de Angelis would determine to take his shot at Formula One with the Shadow team.
By this point in time, Shadow was not a competitive team. Not only would the team be uncompetitive, but for de Angelis to get the ride he would need to, in essence, pay as he went. Actually, Elio would get the ride based on a promise he didn't necessarily have in the bank. He had promised the Shadow team a 17-race budget, and yet, he didn't even have half that much in sponsorship money. Never one to make a big deal about his financial situation, de Angelis would approach his father and would get the rest of the money he needed to get his opportunity with the Shadow team.
Despite the fact he acted just like one of the guys and showed tremendous talent behind the wheel, many people considered him to be a guy with the means ‘playing' the role of a racer. The problem with that view was the simple fact that, like most everything else he put his mind to, he was pretty good at playing the part.
While the Shadow Racing Team was by no means one of the top teams in 1979, de Angelis would manage a 7th place result in his very first Formula One race. He would follow this result up with another 7th place result in the United States West Grand Prix. Then, in the final United States Grand Prix held at the end of the season, de Angelis would pull out the biggest surprise of all as he finished an incredible 4th place.
Many people wouldn't give the rich kid his due, but those at Lotus would recognize his talent and would offer him a chance to drive for the successful team for the 1980 Formula One season. This is when the true talent and genius of Elio became more than apparent to all.
It would all start with a 2nd place in the Brazilian Grand Prix, just the second race of the 1980 season. He would then follow this performance up with two 4th place finishes in the Italian and United States grand prix. Completing the season with 13 points, de Angelis would finish the World Championship 7th in the standings, higher than either Mario Andretti or Nigel Mansell.
Elio's second season with the Lotus team would see Nigel Mansell become his full-time teammate. The Brit's presence pushed de Angelis and the season would see his consistency come through in a big way for the team. While Mansell would score a 3rd place result in the Belgian Grand Prix, de Angelis would come away with no less than eight top-six finishes. As a result, de Angelis would again finish the season higher than his teammate in the standings.
More and more people were becoming convinced of his abilities as a race driver. They were beginning to look beyond his upbringing and see just how hard of worker he actually was while on the track. Still, a victory would go a long way to help convince people. The victory was coming.
One of the reproaches toward de Angelis and his style, as author Nigel Roebuck would aptly recall in one of his articles about de Angelis would be that, 'he relies too much on his talent.' Roebuck would then go on to draw a comparison to make his point saying, 'It is not by chance that the really great drivers of the last 20 or 30 years—Prost, Senna, Schumacher—worked unusually hard at their jobs, thinking constantly about how to make the car quicker, putting in the time.' Elio would be noted for his dislike for testing and would make no effort to hide his feelings. However, when tasked with the job getting into a car and driving it to its limit, if de Angelis was mentally ready, there was very few that were better at taking what they had and making it work.
In 1982, the Lotus Racing Team still had a lot of fight left in them but they had only been able to hang around the top five race in and race out. This would be the case almost throughout the '82 season as de Angelis would come away with no less than five top five results in the first 11 races of the season. In fact, if the Lotus 91 made it to the finish de Angelis recorded a top five result. But then came the Austrian Grand Prix.
Right from the start of the race de Angelis would be up amongst the top four or five but could really do nothing with the Brabhams and Renaults. Then there would be the Williams-Ford of Keke Rosberg that would give Elio fits all race long. Despite looking strong throughout the race it seemed Alain Prost would walk away with the victory after Riccardo Patrese and Nelson Piquet retired from the race.
However, just five laps from the end Alain Prost would suffer a mechanical problem that would take him out of the race and hand the lead over to de Angelis who had Keke Rosberg all over his car's exhaust.
In spite of being just 24 years of age, Elio would handle the pressure from Rosberg and would end up coming across the line just .050 seconds ahead of Rosberg to take his first ever World Championship victory.
It would be a momentous moment for the team after struggling for more than a couple of seasons to get back to the top. As de Angelis came across the line barely ahead of Rosberg Colin Chapman would celebrate with his famous act of throwing his cap into the air. This maiden victory would end up being the last time the famous act would ever be played out before Chapman's death just a few months later.
Elio would follow the victory in the Austrian Grand Prix up with a 6th place result in the Swiss Grand Prix and would end up 9th in the championship standings having earned 23 points. It seemed his Formula One career was ready to take off.
There is just one problem with natural talent: if the car isn't as talented, or, needs to have its greatest extracted from it, there will be problems. This would perfectly describe de Angelis' 1983 season.
Over the course of the 1983 season, Lotus would introduce three different makes of cars. On paper, the Lotus 92, 93T and the 94T certainly seemed to have potential. But, potential meant very little if there wasn't a driver to match capable of getting its best out of it.
Both Mansell and de Angelis would struggle with the cars over the course of the season. However, Mansell would manage to temper the failures with results in about half of the total races. Elio, on the other hand, would be disqualified in his first race of the season, and then, would have just two race finishes out of the remaining 14 rounds. He needed the team to create and fully develop the car for him. Then, he would just deal with what they offered him. The fruits of such labors would be seen the following year.
Both Lotus and de Angelis would recover in 1984. By the end of the season de Angelis would come away with no less than four podium finishes and 34 total points toward the championship. As a result, de Angelis would finish the championship in 3rd place in the standings. Finally, it seemed as though de Angelis had arrived. But then would come a man by the name of Aryton Senna.
Senna was the complete package as a racing driver. He was certainly fast, but he also had an intellect and a thirst to improve the car and go even faster. After earning a 3rd place in the first race of the 1985 season, de Angelis would find himself being pushed by the Brazilian. It would be clear the Italian would need to respond when Senna took victory in just his second race for the team in just the second race of the season.
In some ways, de Angelis would find himself up against the wall with Senna in the Lotus team. And, following Senna's victory in the Portuguese Grand Prix, he would put everything aside to focus on proving himself against this young upstart.
Nigel Roebuck would say of de Angelis, 'Racing was one of the good things in life, but not life itself.' However, at the San Marino Grand Prix it seemed de Angelis was out to prove such a view to be absolutely wrong.
Aryton Senna would take the pole for the race while Elio would be starting in 3rd. It was clear Senna was faster than de Angelis. The half a second gap between the two in qualifying told the story. However, there was more to the issue than outright speed.
Regulations in Formula One during the mid-1980s prevented refueling. Cars needed to be as light as possible to be as fast as possible. However, this opened the door to fuel starvation due to pushing too hard. So while many of the drivers would recall the race as not being a race at all, it was to be a technical exercise in being fast, and yet, efficient at the same time.
Heading into the final few laps of the race Senna held onto the lead, but, was certainly unaware just how tenuous his lead actually was. Then, lap after lap, fuel starvation would begin to claim its victims. Aryton Senna would run out of fuel and would hand the lead of the race over to Stefan Johansson who would run out of fuel just miles later. This handed the lead of the race over to Alain Prost while Elio de Angelis took over 2nd place.
Prost would end up barely making it across the line to take the victory but would later be disqualified for being underweight. Therefore, in perhaps the strangest sequences of events, Elio de Angelis would earn his second World Championship victory having proven the master of managing fuel and pace. This would be further attested to given the fact he would finish the race a whole lap ahead of Thierry Boutsen who finished in 2nd.
Amazingly, de Angelis' controlled effort would see more than a victory come his way. While he may not have been the one that deserved the victory, de Angelis' talent not only helped him to earn the victory, but, for the first time in his career, would give him the lead in the World Championship.
Following the surprise victory in the San Marino Grand Prix, de Angelis would earn a 3rd place result in the Monaco Grand Prix and would then earn no less than six 5th place finishes to close out the season 5th in the driver standings with 33 points. Unfortunately, Senna would earn a second victory on the season and four other podium results to finish the season 4th in the standings.
It was clear de Angelis had the talent, but his younger teammate was certainly the more complete driver. Still, the presence of Senna would push and motivate de Angelis and at certain times throughout the season he would prove capable of staying with Senna, but he certainly had to be motivated to do so.
Elio was a driven individual who kept things in perspective. It was clear what his chances were at Lotus after Senna was given number one status, and therefore, wasn't happy with the situation. Certainly, Senna's approach to racing didn't help de Angelis who was much more of a hands-off type of driver. Of course, this certainly didn't mean he didn't want to win. He just wasn't as consumed with racing as, say, Senna. This was never more evident than at the 1985 Canadian Grand Prix where de Angelis would be seen with his girlfriend in hand strolling out of the paddock while Senna remained in heated discussion with the Lotus engineers. The simple fact of the matter was that de Angelis had managed to capture the pole while Senna would start 2nd. To Elio that was that. To Senna, it was clear it wasn't good enough.
But, Elio certainly wanted to win. However, he needed a car capable of doing a lot of the work on its own. He needed a neutral car that was fast. He knew this and would be in search of a better opportunity following the end of the 1985 season.
Elio was a good friend of Nelson Piquet. Deeply respecting his good friend, de Angelis would also come to be a bit covetous of the Brabham team, and particularly, designer Gordon Murray.
Piquet would leave Brabham at the end of the '85 season for Williams and this opened a door of opportunity for de Angelis. Or, at least that is what he believed. Coming to Brabham, de Angelis would be joined by fellow Italian Riccardo Patrese. Then the two drivers would be introduced to Murray's latest brainstorm, the BT55.
The new BT55 would be radical having its V12 engine tilted in order to give it a lower center of gravity and improved aerodynamics. But while this may certainly have been true, the teething problems suffered in the car would certainly be more than frustrating.
Elio would earn an 8th place finish in the Brazilian Grand Prix, the first race of the 1986 season. However, following the drab result in Brazil, de Angelis would suffer three-straight early retirements. It seemed the new car was by no means ready to compete. And, unfortunately, this meant de Angelis would have to do something he absolutely detested.
Following the retirement in the Monaco Grand Prix, the Brabham team would head to Paul Ricard in France to do some testing of the BT55. Maybe subconsciously he had a sense of what was to come in his future and that is why he disliked testing? Nonetheless, he would be with the team, ready to take part in some in depth testing of the new car.
Elio would be out on circuit in the new BT55 gaining some important testing time when all of a sudden the rear wing detached at high speeds. The result would be that the car cart-wheeled end over end, and then, over a barrier along the side of the track. This cartwheeling would put into motion a chain of events that would deeply wound the world of Formula One.
Upon coming to a rest off the circuit the car would catch fire. Though terrible looking, the accident should have been one that a driver could extract himself from and get away to safety. Unfortunately, Elio was unable to get out of the car on his own. The real problem was there were not adequate track marshals at the track and it would take an incredibly long time for Elio to be extracted from the car. The fire meant he inhaled a lot of smoke. Still, he was out of the race and capable of being revived had not the helicopter been delayed nearly a half an hour. By the time de Angelis made it to the hospital in Marseille there would be very little the doctors could do to revive the Italian. Though he only had a broken collar bone and some minor burns on his back, the effects of smoke inhalation had made it impossible for him to be saved.
The loss of de Angelis would be deeply felt throughout the Formula One community. Though a tough competitor, Elio's approach to life and driving provided a much needed lightness and perspective. This fact was never more evident than when he spontaneously broke into entertaining fellow drivers playing on the piano in the Johannesburg hotel where the drivers locked themselves in protest of the superlicense regulations.
Elio's easy come, easy go mentality was a welcome break in Formula One that had such personalities as Aryton Senna, Alain Prost and other such intense personalities. His loss would deeply affect his friends. Piquet would continue to go on racing. However, one of his other best friends, Keke Rosberg, would call it quits at the end of the '86 season. His death would also lead to sweeping changes in track safety and would also go a long way to the ultimate demise of the turbo era in Formula One. These changes would work to a fair degree as it would be near a decade before there would be another death in Formula One. However, nothing could be done to replace the personality that was de Angelis.
His impact would remain visible in Formula One even if he wasn't. The French-Sicilian driver, Jean Alesi, would pay homage to de Angelis in more than one way. Not only would Alesi approach the sport in much the same way but his helmet design would be an exact copy of de Angelis'.
Considered Formula One's 'last gentleman player', the loss of de Angelis would seem to signal the final end of an era in Formula One. In some ways, the loss of the Italian took the heart out of the sport.Sources:
Windsor, Peter. 'Touched by Angelis', (http://www.eliodeangelis.info/elio_de_angelis_photogallery/details.php?image_id=362). The Elio de Angelis Photogallery. http://www.eliodeangelis.info/elio_de_angelis_photogallery/details.php?image_id=362. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
Roebuck, Nigel. 'Legends: Elio de Angelis', (http://www.eliodeangelis.info/elio_de_angelis_photogallery/details.php?image_id=36). The Elio de Angelis Photogallery. http://www.eliodeangelis.info/elio_de_angelis_photogallery/details.php?image_id=36. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
Collantine, Keith. '25 Years Ago Today: Elio de Angelis Killed at Paul Ricard', (http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2011/05/15/elio-de-angelis-killed-paul-ricard/). F1Fanatic: The Formula One Blog. http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2011/05/15/elio-de-angelis-killed-paul-ricard/. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
'Drivers: Elio de Angelis', (http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/drv-deaeli.html). GrandPrix.com. http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/drv-deaeli.html. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
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Wikipedia contributors, '1982 Austrian Grand Prix', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 17 March 2013, 12:16 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=1982_Austrian_Grand_Prix&oldid=544933399 accessed 29 March 2013
Wikipedia contributors, '1985 San Marino Grand Prix', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 25 February 2013, 16:50 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=1985_San_Marino_Grand_Prix&oldid=540294741 accessed 29 March 2013