It is unfortunate that the late Andrea de Cesaris was forever known by the nickname ‘Andrea de Crasheris’ due to the large number of crashes he had early in career. Truth be told, he’d developed into a solid, fast, and experienced driver; in the second half of his long career he proved a valuable asset to many an ambitious midfield team.
Never quite at the right team at the right time, he drove for no fewer than ten teams – Alfa Romeo, McLaren, Ligier, Minardi, Brabham, Rial, Scuderia Italia, Jordan, Tyrrell and Sauber. In a career spanning fifteen seasons and 214 races, the passionate and determined Italian racked up a number of unwanted records relating to non-finishes (many of which were due to unreliability rather than accidents) but with five podiums and a pole position, the talent was always there.
In celebration of his life, we take a look at six classic moments from his career which sum up what de Cesaris was all about.
1982 Long Beach Grand Prix – Youngest Ever Pole Sitter
After a trying season with McLaren in 1981, de Cesaris went back to Alfa Romeo for the 1982 season. In the third race of the season at Long Beach, he recovered from a crash earlier in the session to pip Niki Lauda to pole position. At the time, this made de Cesaris the youngest ever pole sitter, a record he held until Rubens Barrichello took pole for the 1994 Belgian Grand Prix. Even today, he is still the fifth youngest driver to take pole.
His seasons at Alfa Romeo yielded the best results of his entire career. He was one of the many drivers who almost won the 1982 Monaco Grand Prix (eventually being classified 3rd) and in 1983, driving the gorgeous Alfa 183T, he led much of the Belgian Grand Prix and set fastest lap along the way before his car broke down. Two second places towards the end of the season helped him to 8th in the championship, his best ever result.
1985 Austrian Grand Prix – An Enormous Crash
Though his nickname might be somewhat unfair, you don’t earn such a nickname without having the odd accident. Perhaps his most famous crash was this horrible accident at the fearsome Osterreichring whilst driving for Ligier in 1985. After getting sideways, his car slid across the wet grass, dug into the bank and was launched into a series of terrifying rolls. Thankfully the car landed the right way up and de Cesaris walked away unharmed.
On his return to the pits, he cheekily told the team the reason for his retirement was that the car had stalled and wouldn’t restart. Upon seeing a replay of the crash however, team boss Guy Ligier fired the Italian, stating that he was unable to afford the constant repair bills.
1988 Detroit Grand Prix – The Rial Deal
After a season at Brabham in 1987 yielded only one finish all year (a 3rd place at Spa), the teams withdrawal for 1988 left de Cesaris with newcomers Rial 1988. Although the car looked a bit antiquated, de Cesaris managed some solid performances throughout the season, the highlight of which came at Detroit. After qualifying a frankly stunning 12th, he battled through the deteriorating track surface to finish 4th out of just eight finishers and only 1 lap behind the dominant McLarens – a superb result for both de Cesaris and the small one-car team.
1989 Monaco Grand Prix – Handbags At Dawn
Yet another team switch for de Cesaris saw him racing at the Dallara chassis’d Scuderia Italia team for the next two seasons. By now a bit of a specialist on street courses, he looked on course for a podium before a slightly optimistic lunge on Nelson Piquet at the Lowes hairpin scuppered his chances. Instead of trying to get going again, the furious de Cesaris undid his belts and began shouting and gesturing at the triple world champion for an incident he saw as the Brazilians fault. Whilst sad for Andrea and the team, it did make for a great bit of television.
1989 Canadian Grand Prix – His Final Podium
After the shenanigans of Monaco, de Cesaris managed to put in an assured drive in dreadful weather conditions at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve to take third place, and what would turn out to be final podium of his career. It wasn’t entirely problem free however – during the race De Cesaris accidentally collided with his team mate Alex Caffi, potentially costing the team a double podium.
1991 Belgian Grand Prix – So Close, Yet So Far
The 1991 Belgian Grand Prix is best remembered as the race where Michael Schumacher made his astonishing debut for Jordan by qualifying seventh, ahead of his experienced team mate, and retiring on lap one with a broken clutch. Less well known is that Schumacher’s experienced team mate was one Andrea de Cesaris, and that de Cesaris almost won the race.
Although 1983 was his most successful season, 1991 was perhaps his best season. A regular points scorer throughout the season and with a good past record at Spa, being outqualified by Schumacher wasn’t ideal but the race itself was a different matter. The gorgeous Jordan 191 was a pretty handy car, and during the race de Cesaris made his way through the field from his 11th place grid slot. On lap 31 he thrust his way past Nelson Piquet at Les Combes to take second place. This would already be a great result for the fledgling Jordan team, but up ahead Senna was having gearbox problems and de Cesaris was catching him.
Sadly, just three laps from the end, the Ford engine in de Cesaris’s Jordan blew up along with his chances of a fairytale result.
Andrea De Cesaris spent three more seasons in F1 with Tyrrell, Jordan and Sauber and was still driving well right up until the end of his career. After Formula One he had a successful career in finance and spent a fair amount of time windsurfing. He also took part in the short lived GP Masters series.
Though on paper his career doesn’t particularly stand out, Andrea was a man who loved life and had a long and memorable career at the pinnacle of motor racing. His untimely death has been a shock to the F1 paddock and fans alike and without him, the world is a less exciting place.
RIP Andrea de Cesaris. 1959-2014