Elio de Angelis (26/3/58 - 15/5/86)Written by 'Αγγελος Φωτσεινός
Translated by Giannis Binas
In January 1978, a young Italian Formula 2 driver, Elio de Angelis, fulfills a dream shared among his compatriots: he test drives a Ferrari single-seater.
Enzo Ferrari, in fact, proposes a driver’s seat as well, as he was troubled by the instability and accident tendency that Gilles Villeneuve showed back then.
But de Angelis isn’t satisfied by Enzo’s financial terms and rejects the offer!
That was the first example of the Italian’s peculiar personality.
He was born on March 26, 1958 in Rome, from a wealthy family.
Alongside his dealing with the Italian and world Kart championship, he competed with his father, Giulio, in motorboat racing.
In 1977, he moved from karting to the Italian Formula 3 championship and won the title, as soon as his first year.
Moreover, he competed in the famous, supportive to the Monaco Grand Prix, Formula 3 race, finishing 2nd, right behind Didier Pironi, while he debuted in the European Formula 2 championship as well.
1978 started with a Ferrari 312 T3 test drive, followed by the second season in the European Formula 2 championship, and the participation in Aurora F1 championship (a championship with older, used Formula 1 cars).
He totally dominated the supportive to the Monaco Grand Prix, Formula 3 race: pole position, win and fastest lap.
Everything showed that the transition to the pinnacle of motorsport wouldn’t take long to happen.
Elio’s name stood in the Formula 1 team managers block and in 1979, he secured a driver’s seat with Shadow.
Behind the steering wheel of the uncompetitive DN9, he had some very good performances, peaking at 4th place in the last race of the season, in Watkins Glen of America.
Colin Chapman, was impressed by his talent and gave him the opportunity to test for Lotus (with Eddie Cheever, Jan Lammers and Nigel Mansell).
Eventually, he gave him the position as Mario Andretti’s team-mate while, for the test driver’s seat, he chose Nigel Mansell.
De Angelis justifies him, finishing 2nd in his 2nd race with the team, at the Brazilian GP. He completed the season, 7th in the final standing, with 13 points.
In 1981, he was promoted to no 1, with Nigel Mansell as team-mate.
The ban of Lotus 88, forced the drivers to race with the less competitive Lotus 87. So, de Angelis finished 8th overall, with 14 points.
In 1982, he scored his maiden F1 win. In the Austrian GP, he crosses the finishing line 0,05 seconds ahead of Keke Rosberg, under Lotus’ wild celebrations.
But the anemic Cosworth V8 was clearly below the turbocharged engines and de Angelis reached no higher than 9th in the final standings, with 23 points.
In 1983, Cosworth V8’s replacement by the Renault turbo V6 created high expectations.
A remarkable, however, unreliability, led to a disappointing year with de Angelis merely finishing in the point just once.
It was a 5th place at his home country’s race and a 17th final standing in the championship.
His team mate, Nigel Mansell, did slightly better, ending 13th, with 10 points, in front of Elio for the first time.
1984 on the other hand, turned completely different for the Italian driver.
In an almighty for McLaren-TAG Porsche year, de Angelis managed to finish 3rd overall, with 34 points.
The “best of the rest”.
He showed noteworthy stability and finished 2nd in Detroit and 3rd in Jacarepagua, Dallas and Imola.
In 1985, Lotus accompanied de Angelis with Ayrton Senna, creating a very strong line-up. Nigel Mansell moved to Williams, at Keke Rosberg’s side. The battle between de Angelis and Senna proved very harsh, and in the end the Brazilian prevailed marginally: 4th place in drivers’ championship with 2 wins and 38 points over the Italian’s 5th place with 1 win (Imola) and 33 points.
Senna, tried to shift the team’s complete attention on him. Knowing that the available resources were not efficient for both cars to be competitive, he did not desire de Angeli’s stay for 1986. In the end, his desire was respected: Elio retired after 6 years in Lotus, for a fresh start in his career.
He replaced Nelson Piquet at Brabham-BMW, with fellow countryman Riccardo Patrese as a team-mate.
The year didn’t begin well, though, as, the 8th place in a difficult weekend in Brazil, was followed by 3 consecutive DNFs (Spain, San Marino, Monaco).
A few days after Monaco, Brabham moved with some other teams to Paul Ricard circuit of France for testing.
The test was to be performed by Patrese, but it was de Angelis’ strong wish to do it instead of his team-mate that prevailed.
It was unexpected, since Elio had repeatedly supported that the free practice sessions during the races were enough to test any upgrades and special testing days were unnecessary.
That test proved to be fatal for the Italian.
In a quick lap, Brabham BT55-3’s rear wing detached, the car was launched to the air and landed upside down.
De Angelis was trapped in the cockpit and the car caught fire.
Eye-witnesses to the accident were 2 Benetton’s mechanics, while Alan Jones, Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell arrived soon.
That test, proved to be fatal for the Italian. In a quick lap, Brabham BT55-3’s rear wing detached, the car was launched to the air and landed upside down. De Angelis was trapped in the cockpit and the car caught fire. Eye-witnesses to the accident were 2 Benetton’s mechanics, while Alan Jones, Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell arrived soon.
Anyone would wonder: where were the marshals?
The safety standards back then were not as nowadays… they were actually amateurish in comparison!
The first marshal arrived at the spot 10 minutes later and de Angelis was finally evacuated after another 10 minutes.
On top of that, there was no helicopter at the circuit and when this arrived, another 30 minutes had passed.
This means 50 minutes had passed for Elio to be transferred to a Marseilles hospital.
The doctors who examined him, found a broken clavicle and some back burns.
However, inhaling fumes for 20 minutes was fatal.
In the next day’s afternoon, May 15, 1986, de Angelis “departed for the heavens’ circuits.”
FISA president, Jean Marie Balestre, enforced both a horsepower reduction for 1987’s engines as well as a makeover of the spot where the accident occured.
He considered these, the main causes for the tragic accident.
Reality revealed, however, that it was the totally insufficient medical coverage and the absence of marshals that led to the fatal incident.
ote that in Imola’s race in 1898, undersimilar circumstances, Gerhard Berger stood gratefully luckier than his colleague!
In Kyalami’s strike in 1982, Elio de Angelis had played the piano for his colleagues’ delight.
Because, other than being an aggressive driver, he played the piano in a professional’s level.
Sir Elton John’s “Song for a Guy” was the song he had chosen to play and was destined to escort him in his final residence.
His love for the piano gave him the nickname “incomplete symphony” – a unique symphony, masterful both behind the steering wheel as well as behind the piano keys, that enjoyed, besides driving and music, smoking and good living.
The last gentleman of Formula 1 didn’t have the time to offer the world his greatest shows…
translated by Giannis Binas
- Elio de Angelis
- Ayrton Senna
- Nigel Mansell
- Nelson Piquet
- Riccardo Patrese
- Gerhard Berger
- Gilles Villeneuve
- Didier Pironi
- Eddie Cheever
- Jan Lammers
- Mario Andretti
- Keke Rosberg
- TAG Porsche
- Alan Jones
- Alain Prost
- Jean Marie Balestre