“For someone who always had been on front, to be behind was a world of shit. The race start was awfully dangerous, you found yourself by the side of de Cesaris… by the side of drivers that can’t drive shit.”
Three-time world champion Nelson Piquet’s quote is surprising. However you have to know that other drivers also shared this state of mind. Andrea de Cesaris drove in Formula 1 from 1980 to 1994. He participated in a whooping 208 races, only to complete a quarter of them. Reliability is an explanation, of course, but the curly-haired Italian did not pull any punches either. Accidents, collisions, spins, he painted the town red. However “De Crasharis“, nickname given by his peers, sometimes had astonishing bursts of speed. When he wasn’t leaving the track, De Cesaris happened to battle with great drivers: Lauda, Prost, Senna, you name it. Let’s look back at a career full of punctures and broken wings.
The lil’ Andrew was born in Rome, on May the 31st, 1959. According to the popular belief, his mother was a lumberjack and his father was a coachbuilder. Like everyone else, de Cesaris’ career starts with go-karts. One knows it’s hard to climb the ladder of motorsport, however the Roman has a major backup. Marlboro is his personal sponsor and ATM. In 1978, the driver takes the plunge in open-wheel and competes in British Formula 3. Soon enough, his ability to spin off the track amazes everyone. One year spent in the graveltrap later, de Cesaris ends up runner-up in the standings, just behind a bloke named Chico Serra.
De Cesaris accumulated trophies though. And those, paired up with the unfailing support of Marlboro, allow the driver to enter Formula 2 in Ron Dennis’ team, the soon-to-be boss of McLaren. The Roman’s cadence was on point: podium, crash, podium, crash, podium… And by the end of the season, Alfa Romeo popped up to bless Andrea. In Formula 1, the Quadrifoglio told Vittorio Brambilla to basically sod off. And with two races to go on the calendar, de Cesaris was called to fill up this empty seat. The beginning of a truly amazing story…
Then, Ron Dennis remembered the good old days when drivers binned his cars. So de Cesaris is hired to drive for McLaren the following season. He is paired up with John Watson. The Roman first full F1 season is… how do I put this? Well, he completed six races out of 14. It is told that the mechanics had nightmares of a McLaren trashed by de Cesaris. Some were so afraid of the beast that the team deliberatly withdrew the Roman’s car the day before the Dutch Grand Prix after an umpteenth crash!
OK, so the next one is me being petty. But I love it though. During a season, a driver happens to crash his car, like, three of four times top, right? Right. But prior to the Dutch race, de Cesaris had crashed eighteen times! Surprizingly, this is a record. Watson, some twelve spots higher in the standings, probably wondered what was wrong with McLaren’s HR director. Hence his nickname, John What’s Wrong.
I have to say, everyone was shook when they learned that McLaren and de Cesaris went their own way for 1982.
BACK TO THE FOLD
Then Andrea de Cesaris goes back to Alfa Romeo and crushes a 19-year old record. Nothing to do with crashes though, sorry about that. This guy simply became the youngest polesitter of Formula 1! You already know he did it in the States, the only country where dreams can come true. On raceday, the driver quietly sat in second for a twentyish laps. Finally, a podium!
No, actually. I have been told that he did bin it. You see, that’s the whole story of de Cesaris right there. The man can achieve anything and then ruin everything.
Later that year in Austria, de Cesaris was so focused on an overtake attempt that he ends up leaving the track. Fortunately, he did not forget to take out his teammate, Bruno Giacomelli, with him. De Cesaris even beat up his previous record with 12 retirements in a year. His 1983 campaign starts so well with an exclusion. The reason? The Roman blew up three turbos in Brazil, so he was pissed. Actually, he was so mad that he refused to take part of a mandatory FIA control!
But there were high notes in 1983 too. In Belgium, de Cesaris made a marvellous start. He wiped off the poleman, I think it was a guy named Prost or something… Nothing important. The Alfa Romeo driver was an early leader before the car decided funtime was over.
“TETAKOU” AND BACK OF THE GRID
However Alfa is not impressed. And like Brambilla years before, it’s time to go somewhere else for de Cesaris. The Roman is hired by Ligier for 1984. The car was horrible, and so was the driver. I guess it’s no surprise if I tell you that he retired 10 times. 1985 is a perfect copy/paste. In Austria, de Cesaris leaves the track once again and rolls his car several times! The good thing is that the driver is unhurt but his mind went blank. After his crash, he goes to the Ligier garage and tell the crew in a broken French “J’ai fait oune pétite tétakou.” Meaning “I spin-a da car“. But in that case, the word “spin” is completely butchered.
Owner Guy Ligier is livid. On the same day, de Cesaris is fired. Ligier had some strong words. He pretty much said the Roman “was not good mentally speaking” and that he was too troubled to drive an F1 car!
So de Cesaris doesn’t finish the 1985 season, what’s the big deal. He finds refuge within newcomer Minardi. 1986 is by far his worst season. No points scored, a shit-ton of retirements, a non-qualification and to top it all, his rookie teammate Alessandro Nannini shows better pace.
That can only mean one thing: the Roman is on to a new team for 1987, with Brabham this time. Andrea de Cesaris went for a streak that will never be topped, you can take my word for it. Between 1986 and 1988, the Roman couldn’t stop retiring: 22 races in a row without taking nor seeing the chequered flag.
Following this disaster, Bernie Ecclestone pulled the plug and Brabham did not participate in the 1988 championship. De Cesaris had to go to Rial, a new German team founded by Gunther Schmidt. The funds are… non-existent and the car is terrible. Like proper scary. He drove an open-wheeler that looks more like a coffin with wheels, but de Cesaris didn’t chicken out whatsoever. His season was “deCesaresque”: the Italian finished fourth with no explanation possible in Detroit, then he crashed his car into the barrier a couple of races later.
Schmidt is not fully satisfied though. So de Cesaris is fired. Again. Fortunately, a Marlboro-sponsored Italian team is right around the corner. I’m talking about you, Scuderia Italia. The first races of the 1989 season are pretty good. In the streets of Monaco, the Roman was on his way to finish third… before crashing into his best friend Nelson Piquet, who was a lap down !
And instead of carrying on with a wounded car, de Cesaris decided that the middle of the hairpin was the perfect spot to park the car, loose the belts and yell at Piquet. All of this was, of course, executed with the best stereotypical moves you’ll ever see.
Two races later, de Crasharis strikes back. While he was sinking in tenth place, his teammate Alex Caffi had some podium thoughts. Then Caffi was about to lap Andrea. You know where I’m going with this… The Roman took the corner like he was the last man driving on Earth and ended Caffi’s race…
This unforgivable mistake sort of confirmed a thought that frightened the entire paddock. De Cesaris could have tunnel vision! Don’t you know what this means? Great, me neither. The Wikipedia article states that tunnel vision is the loss of peripheral vision with retention of central vision, resulting in a constricted circular tunnel-like field of vision. End of quote.
The poor man was said to be father of all evils. Some said he even had Tourettes! The Roman never confirmed it, so the mystery is here to stay. However, you can consider this true because the guy had his twitches. For instance, there are way too much pictures on the Internet of him with his eyes rolled upwards, like the good ol’ Dhalsim in Street Fighter.
Andrea is just like fine wine. He gets better with age. His 1990 cuvee is absolutely fantastic. The Roman has never been so dangerous. Imola: almost takes out two drivers, one of whom being raceleader Nigel Mansell! In all logic, de Cesaris is replaced by Lehto for 1991.
So here the Italian goes in the brand-new team Jordan. The car is quite good actually but lacks development. At the dusk of the German Grand Prix, the Roman is eighth in the standings! I’m truly amazed.
Every F1 fan remembers Michael Schumacher’s maiden race: 1991 Belgian Grand Prix. The German amazed by clocking the seventh best time of qualifying on a racetrack he barely knew. But did you know the true hero of the weekend was Andrea de Cesaris? Of course you didn’t. Don’t lie to me like that, it saddens me. The guy was running in second place, catching Ayrton Senna himself. However, three laps from home, de Cesaris’ Ford-powered engine blew up. A freshly installed engine piece broke because it was too small to work properly!
Jordan should’ve kept Andrea, and God knows it’s a special occasion when a team wants to keep such a driver. But Eddie Jordan signed a deal with Barclay ciggos. And Andrea was a Marlboro guy, so… So de Cesaris is on to a new team: Tyrrell. Oh no big deal, it’s just his ninth team in 13 seasons! Can you imagine? But the Roman had changed. The man who broke the car in half was no more. Well, two of his retirements were due to driving mistakes, I’ll give you that one. His 1992 & 1993 campaigns were sabotaged by awful Ilmor and Yamaha engines though.
AIN’T NO SUNSHINE WHEN HE’S GONE
In 1994, there’s no Andrea de Cesaris on the grid for the first time since 1980. Litterally everyone is shocked, from money-hungry team owners to die-hard fans. “A seat for Andrea” banners start to flow all the racetracks of the calendar. Aware of the audience will to see Andrea again, Edmund Irvine, Northern Irish, decides to sacrifice himself (and two other guys). Guilty of causing a nasty crash, the Jordan driver is banned for three races. So the team is kind of forced to call de Cesaris back.
After a nice fourth-place finish in Monte-Carlo, de Cesaris is transfered to Sauber to fill the blank spot left by a wounded Wendlinger. But quickly you could tell that de Cesaris’ tunnel vision became a Ray-Charles-vision. When the European Grand Prix ended, two races before the end of the season, Wendlinger was feeling OK to drive again. De Cesaris decided to go on vacation. But the Austrian driver hadn’t fully recover from his accident. Peter Sauber then rushed to the phone to call de Cesaris… only to find his voicemail! The Italian decided to cut everybody off…
Already decided to retire at the end of the 1993 season, de Cesaris took the plunge in 1994. Several CART team owners tried to hire him shortly after. But the Roman deemed the discipline way too dangerous. It is true that back in the day, CART cars usually went over 400 kph (250 mph for all my Imperial fellas over there). Andrea knew he’d kick the bucket if he crashed those kind of racecars.
On October the 5th, 2014, Andrea de Cesaris left us at the age of 55. Immortal on four wheels, the poor soul died on two, in an “ordinary” traffic accident in Italy… Non sei stato dimenticato, Andrea.
One can be a serial crasher and still hold several records. Take a look:
- 208 Grands Prix
- 148 retirements
- 3 non qualification
- 1 non prequalification
- 1 exclusion (missed control)
- And 1 withdrawal (the crew didn’t want to repair the car anymore)
- Quite oddly, 1 pole position
- 1 fastest lap
- 5 podiums
- Best position in the standings : 8th (1983)
- F1 all-time record for the most races without a win
- And for the most retirements : 148 (71% off all his races)
- … And the most retirements in a row (22, between the 1986 Australian Grand Prix and the 1988 Canadian Grand Prix)
- Finally, the most retirements in one season : 16 DNFs in 16 races, a 100% ratio!
- The first crashes in junior formulae (Zandvoort 1980)
- « If you no longer go for a gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver » Ayrton Senna said. Andrea is a racing driver, you can bet your sweet ass (Imola 1981)
- First pole and first crash in the streets of Long Beach (1982)
- A huge fight between Lauda and de Cesaris (Las Vegas 1982)
- From left to right : Giacomelli, Piquet and de Cesaris sing a nice song (1984)
- Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear (Adelaide 1987)
- De Cesaris almost takes the leader out so James Hunt calls him an idiot (Imola 1990)
- De Cesaris eats a banana and go for a wee, fascinating (1992)
- Kimi who? (Suzuka 1992)
- One last time (Jerez 1994)