While the Formula 1 world is still in the grips of Jules Bianchi’s life-or-death battle, the paddock today mourns the passing of Andrea de Cesaris, who was killed in a motorcycle accident near Rome. The Italian was 55 years old.
De Cesaris is widely-known for bad manners when being lapped and a tendency to have huge accidents over his 15-year Formula 1 career. His 208-race tenure was the longest of any driver not to have won a single race. He was also the record-holder for the most race retirements of any driver: 137 in total!
This delightful Roman spent much of his career trying to discount the perception that the sole reason he remained in Formula 1 for so long was on account of his Marlboro sponsorship connections. His reputation of being a wild and erratic driver never truly disappeared – perhaps there was more than a grain of truth in that sentiment – but he did eventually mature into a very professional driver.
Having won the karting World Championship title, an 18-year-old de Cesaris graduated to Formula 3, campaigning a Ralt run by former F1 driver Tim Schenken in the 1978 British championship. Switching to a Tiga March in 1979, he won six rounds of the Vandervell series, but started to showcase some of the wild driving that would become a feature of his later career. A number of silly incidents ultimately cost him a shot at the title, and he finished runner-up to Chico Serra.
He joined Ron Dennis’ Project Four campaign, doing well in the New Zealand-based Pacific series before moving into Formula 2 in 1980 as Serra’s teammate. The Brazilian had the upper hand over Andrea, but he won the final round at Misano and earned a promotion to the Dennis-run McLaren team – aided by Marlboro’s commercial insistence – for the 1981 Grand Prix season.
The year was an absolute disaster. He crashed at every single Grand Prix that season, writing off countless chassis’ and causing his mechanics no end of long-night stints trying to replace components destroyed by yet another collision with a fellow driver or the scenery. He scored just one point and earned the ‘de Crasheris’ moniker among the British tabloids, which (perhaps unfairly in the end) stuck for the rest of his career.
It was only by dint of Marlboro that he remained on the grid in 1982, this time with Alfa Romeo, with whom he made two debut outings at the end of the 1980 season. There were still some particularly silly moments over the next two years, but he showed the odd flash of brilliance too. Pole position at Long Beach in 1982 was one highlight, only to undo his hard work when he lost the lead to Niki Lauda (missing a gear while waving his fist at a backmarker who got in his way, no less!) and then slapped the wall trying to keep up with the Austrian.
He also brilliantly led the first half of the following year’s Belgian Grand Prix, and looked on course for a brilliant win until the Alfa engine – typically – tightened and went pop.
When Alfa Romeo pulled the pin on its inglorious return to F1, Andrea moved over to Ligier and the next two seasons with the French outfit saw the return of the bad behaviours that his stint with Alfa seemed to have eradicated. His biggest shunt was a terrifying barrel-roll at the 1985 Austrian Grand Prix (from which he mercifully stepped, muddied but completely unhurt, from the car) and he was sacked by Guy Ligier just one race later.
With no other team wanting his services, he hopped into the little Minardi team – expanding to a two-car operation in its second year in F1 – and was overshadowed by rookie teammate Alessandro Nannini.
Another one-year stint followed in 1987 at an ailing Brabham, where he showed flashes of brilliance at Spa-Francorchamps, Estoril, Jerez and Mexico along with the occasional bout of craziness.
A move to the little Rial team delivered more of the same in 1988. While he did well to qualify the execrable car at each Grand Prix, the sole highlight of the year was a (for once) mature and steady drive to fourth on the streets of Detroit.
Another year and yet another move – this time to Dallara – although he managed two seasons with the team this time. The antics continued once again, with shocking ignorance of the blue flags and an embarrassing collision with teammate Alex Caffi while being lapped, coupled with the occasional show of brilliance such as his drive to third place in a rain-hit Canadian Grand Prix in 1989.
After a point-less 1990 season, it finally looked like Andrea’s F1 career was over. But he scored a shock call-up by the brand new Jordan team, and was seemingly a reborn man in the beautiful Gary Anderson-designed machine. He earned a run of four points-scoring finishes in five mid-season races, and came close to a sensational podium finish at Spa-Francorchamps until his engine failed in the final laps.
Not retained for 1992 – a move he was ultimately thankful for, given Jordan’s appalling sophomore year – he moved to Tyrrell and again showed plenty of class in a barely-developed one-year-old machine with four top-six finishes.
The English team was on its knees in 1993, and saddled with the gutless Yamaha engine he was at too much of a disadvantage to deliver a repeat season.
He began the 1994 season without a drive, but the three-race ban issued to Eddie Irvine earned de Cesaris a ‘super sub’ call-up at Jordan, where he promptly placed fourth on the streets of Monaco.
Karl Wendlinger’s practice crash at the same event saw de Cesaris switch to the Swiss outfit until the final flyaway races, but it struggled to adapt to the new safety regulations and he only had a sixth place in France to show for his efforts. After 208 Grands Prix, the curtain finally came down on an unbelievable F1 career.
Andrea turned to making a tidy post-F1 fortune as a currency trader and later achieved great success in – of all sports – windsurfing, before returning with his peers for a brief foray in the short-lived Grand Prix Masters championship where he showed he’d lost none of his speed.
The entire RichardsF1.com team expresses its condolences to Andrea’s family and friends. Vale, Andrea!
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