1985 San Marino Grand Prix
: 1985 San Marino Grand Prix: Angelis Descending, Ascending By Jeremy McMullen
If someone was on a quest to prove the involvement of a supreme being in the affairs of man he or she could offer the 1985 San Marino Grand Prix as evidence. For, on that day Elio de Angelis would be provided one last moment in the sun.
Elio de Angelis was one of a dying breed within Formula One. Born of a wealthy Roman family, de Angelis had been in want for nothing from the day he was born. However, he was certainly an individual with his head on his shoulders and very unassuming in the way he carried himself in and out of the public eye.
Gifted with talent to do just about anything he set his mind to, de Angelis was a classically trained pianist that could have just as easily had a career as a musician. However, de Angelis would find Formula One an important element of his life. It just wasn't the only thing in his life.
Still, de Angelis had been bitten by the racing bug and set his sights of Formula One. Although he had more money available to him than most teams within Formula One Elio wasn't adverse to working hard and earning his way in the sport. Therefore, Elio would break into Formula One with the Shadow Racing Team and would be hard-pressed to compete. Still, he would show his talent and would nearly come away with a podium result in the United States Grand Prix at the end of the 1979 season.
Elio's performances over the course of the '79 season would be more than enough to earn a seat with Team Essex Lotus for 1980. This would be a fruitful partnership and would lead to de Angelis earning his first World Championship victory in the 1982 Austrian Grand Prix.
Following a very difficult 1983 season in which he would only manage to score two race finishes, Elio would come back strong in 1984 finishing the season 3rd in the Drivers' Championship standings. Elio's star was on the rise, just perhaps not as fast as his new teammate for 1985.
Heading into the 1985 season de Angelis would find himself teamed with an extremely talented and focused individual by the name of Aryton Senna. These two were similar in talent but diverged in just about every way after that. Elio was focused on Formula One as it was a part of his life. In Senna's case, Formula One was life. Therefore, following practice and qualifying, de Angelis would be seen leaving with his girlfriend in hand while smoking a cigarette. Meanwhile, Senna would be still in the garage speaking in very animated fashion with the Lotus engineers.
Therefore, it would entirely make sense why it would take Senna just one season to come away with two victories while Elio had been six seasons in Formula One but had only one victory to his credit.
But, to say that de Angelis was entirely overshadowed by Aryton would not be fair to Elio. Had he been in the mood, de Angelis was more than capable of demonstrating that he had the skills necessary to keep with and challenge the Brazilian.
At the start of the '85 season the team Lotus teammates seemed on equal footing. The first race of the season would be the Brazilian Grand Prix. And, while Senna would be frustrated by a retirement in his home grand prix, de Angelis would come away with a fine 3rd place and the first podium of the season for Lotus.
But then came Portugal and the rain. In 1984, Senna had nearly earned victory in the Monaco Grand Prix with the Toleman team as the rain-drenched streets of the principality claimed its fair share of victims.
So, the Portuguese Grand Prix would find Senna in his element. Sure enough, Senna would overcome the rain-soaked circuit to claim his first World Championship victory. The victory would also go a long way to Senna asserting himself as Lotus' defacto number one driver.
This at least was the rumor already swirling around the paddock following the race. Such rumors would be unfair to de Angelis as it would be interpreted that his fading late in the race was a result of Senna' superiority when in fact a slow puncture would be the reason for the muted result. This wouldn't matter all that much though. So, even though de Angelis would come away with a strong 4th place finish in the very same race, all of the pieces of the puzzle seemed to be coming together and the image they were creating spelled out a team primarily focused around the young Brazilian. This rumor would only gain credence at the very next race.
Following the Portuguese Grand Prix, the Formula One World Championship would turn and would head east toward the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and the ultimate destination, the Autodromo Dino Ferrari. For, on that 3.0 mile circuit, on the 5th of May, would be held the San Marino Grand Prix.
While the Autodromo Nazionale Monza would be the home of the Italian Grand Prix and would be naturally synonymous with Formula One in Italy, the Autodromo Dino Ferrari would be special in its own right. Situated just 50 miles from the Ferrari factory in Maranello, the Imola circuit would be considered the unofficial 'home circuit' of Ferrari.
Following the resurgent '84 season, Lotus was certainly gaining momentum. However, it was by no means the most dominant team in Formula One, nor ready to assume the position at the top. Still, de Angelis and Senna would be offered a quite capable car that was fast and relatively stable. And, in practice for the 60 lap race the two men would use all of the strengths of the Lotus-Renault to give them the best possible opportunity for success.
In qualifying, Aryton Senna would show his future World Champion qualities by turning the fastest lap with a time of 1:27.327. This time would be quite impressive as it would be a full second faster than the pole time set the year before. This impressive effort would give the Brazilian the pole for the second race in succession while the Williams-Honda driver, Keke Rosberg, would start from 2nd on the grid.
Were it not for Rosberg in the Williams, Senna would have been in a class unto himself in qualifying. Just .027 seconds would separate Aryton and Keke. However, the time gap between Senna and the 3rd place starter would jump up to a little more than a half a second, which was quite a gap around the circuit. Thankfully for de Angelis, he would be the man in the 3rd place position on the grid.
Although Senna had the advantage in speed, Formula One in the mid 1980s had a way of equalizing the field—no refueling. While the turbo-powered cars of the '85 season could produce incredible amounts of horsepower they had one big drawback and that was the simple fact they were very thirsty, and, Formula One regulations at the time prohibited refueling over the course of a race. Therefore, racing during the turbo-era would be a balancing act between speed and efficiency.
Even in spite of the fuel concerns it was clear Senna had the advantage. Certainly Elio had the talent and the speed as well, however, if he had any hopes of earning his second World Championship victory he would certainly need providence to be on his side.
The day of the race would see the incredible swell of Tifosi gather around the circuit hoping and praying for a Ferrari victory. This impressive show of support would be like the overcast skies blanketing the area and would certainly be quite a sight to behold.
Though the skies were overcast there seemed very little threat of rain and this would cause a little bit of a guessing game for all of the teams as a majority of practice had been faced with the presence of rain. Had rain showed itself over the course of the race there would be no reason to carry so much fuel as the pace of the race would be slower. On top of this, new regulation changes for the season were meant to slow the cars down, and therefore, should have decreased the amount of fuel consumed over the course of the race. But, of course, this would be mostly theoretical.
As the red lights turned to green, the two John Player Special Lotuses would get away well from the line leaving Rosberg behind. Senna would hold onto the lead through the first left-hand bend but would have de Angelis all over his backside heading into Tamberello. To an incredible chorus of cheering fans the field would sweep around Tamberello and would flash through Villeneuve Corner before quickly getting on the brakes for the Tosa Hairpin. Plunging down toward the Rivazza section of the circuit the two Lotuses would pull out a couple of car lengths advantage over Alboreto and Prost to give Team Lotus a clear one-two.
At the end of the first lap, it would be Senna in the lead with a growing advantage of his teammate de Angelis. Michele Alboreto would be in 3rd place while Alain Prost would give chase of him in the McLaren in 4th place.
Through the first 5 laps of the race the race pace with cars nearly full of fuel would be more than impressive as there would be less than a second separating the top four from the lap record. Senna would be leading the way, but, de Angelis would be right there with his teammate showing himself more than capable of keeping up with the hard-charging Senna.
Early on it would appear providence would not be on the side of many drivers. Jonathan Palmer would be pushed into the garage even before the start of the race. Gerhard Berger would show up in the pits after 4 laps with flames spitting out the rear of his car. It was clear engine problems existed with his BMW engine and thereby excluded him from the rest of the race. On that very same lap, Riccardo Patrese would retire with turbo problems. In total, six cars would be out of the race before 10 laps would go by.
However, at the end of the 10th lap, it would still be Senna leading the way with de Angelis coming along in 2nd place. Michele Alboreto would continue to hold onto 3rd place and Prost maintained 4th.
Heading around on the 11th lap of the race changes would begin to take shape up at the front. Being pressured by Prost, Alboreto had increased his pace and was certainly gaining ground on de Angelis. And, as the leaders headed toward the Tosa Hairpin, Alboreto would make his way underneath of de Angelis for 2nd. It would soon become clear that there was more to the pass than Alboreto simply being faster than de Angelis. Soon Prost would take away 3rd from de Angelis and the gap between the two would quickly open up leading to the obvious conclusion that the weight of the car and the early speed was being absolutely horrific on the team's Goodyear tires.
Elio de Angelis would continue to lose ground and would end up behind Niki Lauda by the 17th lap of the race. It seemed perfectly clear, as Senna continued to lead the way, Elio's chances for victory were wearing more and more thin. And, if everything remained as it seemed then the rumors would certainly appear to be well founded. However, the real drama was still to come.
Halfway through the race not much would be different at the front of the field. Senna would be still leading the way. However, Michele Alboreto would no longer be in the picture as a result of an electrical problem with the Ferrari. Therefore, Alain Prost would be in 2nd place while Niki Lauda would be in 3rd place. Following along behind Lauda would be de Angelis. Looking steady, de Angelis had a good chance at a solid result, but another 4th to Senna's victory would not help his placement within the team. It seemed of no use to de Angelis, but then the race entered the final five laps.
To the absolute delight of the Italian fans, Stefan Johansson would get by Alain Prost for 2nd place with just five laps remaining in the race. Only about four laps earlier Stefan had managed to get around de Angelis for 3rd as Elio became held up by some backmarkers. Blocked coming through the Tosa Hairpin, Johannson would push his way around the outside and would out-drag de Angelis up the hill. Still, Elio would seem to quickly turn his attention to keeping his car and tires working till the end of the race.
Senna would be well out in front looking absolutely dominant. Cruising his way toward a second-straight victory, Senna would seemingly look unbeatable when he would suddenly begin to slow coming around the Rivazza corners. All of the attention of the Italian fans would be on Johannson when it would dawn on them that he had just flashed around Senna to take over the lead of the race. Fuel starvation was obviously the culprit for the Brazilian losing the top spot. Then, all of a sudden, the place would absolutely erupt as the thoughts of a Ferrari victory on what was considered the home race for Ferrari was just too much for the typical Italian fan to handle.
The euphoria, however, would be short-lived, for by the time Johannson descended the hill into the Acque Minerale chicane it was abundantly clear he too was struggling with too little fuel and would not be able to make it to the end of the race. This handed the lead of the race over to Alain Prost. So within the span of about two laps there would be three different leaders to the race.
Just like that, Alain Prost would be promoted to the lead of the race. More importantly, Elio de Angelis would find himself in 2nd place while his teammate was out of the running. Still, he and Prost had to make it to the finish, and that was proving to be a daunting task in every way.
Though he could not take it all that easy, Prost certainly would have an advantage over de Angelis heading into the final three laps of the race. Being careful to push, but only when necessary, Prost would continue to tip-toe around the circuit lap after lap. Everyone held their breath expecting the red and white McLaren to run out of steam just like everyone else.
Heading into the final lap of the race there would be just eight cars still in the race as, one by one, cars would run out of fuel. Still, Prost would be seen motoring around at the head of the field. Descending down the hill to Rivazza, Alain only had a few more corners to go before the victory would be his.
In one of the wildest Formula One races in a long time, Alain Prost would come across the line victorious. Elio de Angelis would also receive a welcome gift coming across the line in 2nd place. Still, the 2nd place would be a rather bittersweet result after he had followed Senna for so long during the early part of the race, and then, recovered from his tire issues to stay on the lead lap, something no other car managed to do; at least amongst those that actually made it to the finish line. He had done everything right. If only Prost had fuel problems, then de Angelis would have scored his second career victory and reasserted himself as the number one within the Lotus team. But, it appeared it wasn't meant to be.
That's right, appeared. There would be 38 seconds of a gap between Prost and de Angelis at the end of the race. However, the results would come down to, not a matter of seconds, but of weight. Following the podium celebrations and the crowd streaming out of the Imola Circuit there would be a good deal of intrigue and drama surrounding the race that was then long over. When weighing the cars following the podium ceremony it would be discovered Prost's car was underweight. There was also the same concern about de Angelis' Lotus. But, when it was all said and done, Elio's car would pass and Prost's would not. Therefore, Prost would be disqualified from the victory. Just like that, de Angelis would come away with the victory he do desperately wanted, and, really needed.
The field had been sifted. The desired car and driver were there, only mixed in amongst other contenders. However, through one of the most fantastic and even bizarre set of circumstances providence would have its man. And though he wouldn't have his moment on the top step of the podium, the victory in the San Marino Grand Prix would be no less sweet. It would prove to be one final gift, one final moment of glory, as the popular and talented de Angelis would die while testing just a little more than a year later.