Sunday, May 15, 2011

De Angelis – living in Senna’s shadow...

Today marks the 25th Anniversary of Elio de Angelis passing – as this Italian racing driver seemingly is overlooked, being Formula One’s latest fatality prior to Black Sunday – when Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna were killed and Rubens Barrichello almost joined them!

Yet for me personally, De Angelis death occurred before I became intimately acquainted with Formula One, as sadly I was completely unaware of his passing – with his death occurring just a scant five weeks prior to my introduction to the sport via television. As it was three Grand Prix’s after his death – plus a weekend on since Elio’s place at Brabham had been filled by Derrick Warwick, exactly one month after the Shameless tragedy, taking over the vacant seat in Montreal. As Elio’s death, not to mention his career seem somewhat overshadowed by his ex-teammate and rival Ayrton Senna da Silva – who usurped this “Gentleman Driver.”

And perhaps it’s just Mwah, but why does Senna get ALL of the ink? As another unsung hero to me – who was the first tragedy I was semi-conscious of the beastiality of those F1 LandSharks was Philippe Streiff, who like De Angelis was brutally injured in a testing accident, albeit Streiff was simply Paralyzed – if that’s a proper way to put it? But Streiff’s injury is another story for another day, eh?

I said Gentleman Driver because that’s always the way De Angelis came across as being described to me, especially being of wealthy Roma parents, a Shipping Magnate perhaps? As his father reportedly was a motorboat racer having amassed a large fortune from his construction concern...

Yet obviously De Angelis had talent, having finished runner-up to Didier Pironi in the Monaco F3 race, enroute to winning the Italian F3 title in his rookie campaign as a teenager.

Nevertheless, the young Italian was supposedly thought of nothing more then a Rich Kid buying his way into the Pinnacle of Motorsport when first arriving on the scene in 1979 believing he’d consummated a deal to drive with Uncle Chopper’s (Ken Tyrrell) squad – which apparently fell threw, as Elio’s father financed his move into F1 with Don Nichol’s Shadow Racing outfit instead. As I was unaware of De Angelis’s early court squabbles with first Tyrrell and then Shadow, as I tend to think of the Italian as just a Lotus and Brabham Gran Primo Piloto instead.

Interestingly Elio was teammate to three World Champions, beginning with Mario Andretti, followed by two future Champions: BLOODY ‘NIGE (Mansell) and the driver I previously took to calling ‘ARROGANT, nee Ayrton Senna... As Elio was not keen on being his Brazilian understudy’s number two, feeling Lotus was focusing upon Senna more favourably and hence, ironically replaced another Brazilian World Champion named Nelson Piquet at Brabham who had departed for the burgeoning Williams F1 team.

Also of note, De Angelis’s debutant Grand Prix victory at the Osterreichring in Austria in 1982 was the very final time that the F1 Circus witnessed Colin Chapman throw his beloved cap into the air signaling another Team Lotus victory...

As I seem to believe that the radical BT-55 which I’ve heard called several different names was designed by Brabham’s Chief Designer Gordon Murray, who’d go onto further success for some team based at Woking called McLaren International, while it appears that Elio’s death was the catalyst towards the Brabham team’s ultimate demise.

And from other small snippets I’ve learned that this affable Italian was a concert level Grand Pianist – having begun playing classical music at the tender age of eight before quitting after four years of lessons, which makes me think of a  certain current day German F1 driver under intense media scrutiny for alleged post race frivolities in Shanghai.

As alas, I suppose we’re somewhat lucky that only a handful of drivers have grievously been taken by the sport in the past quarter century, albeit Elio’s unnecessary death from a poorly attended testing shunt at Paul Ricard doesn’t make things better...

Mike Dodson
Cannot say I know a single BLOODY thing ‘bout this writer, who I’ve just run across whilst searching for any interviews with Elio... Thus having just read two (of his tribute websites possibly countless) interviews with the late Italian – trying to get some insight to a driver I know nothing about; hence it was interesting to read about how as a boy of 13 – he’d become transfixed by the BADDEST looking car on the grid in ’84, the stunning black & gold John Player Special (JPS) Lotus of Elio de Angelis... As I enjoy knowing this reaction is international as I too was taken initially a quarter of a century ago by the blindingly quick JPS Lotus with it’s driver wearing a blazing lemon yellow (Banco) Nacional Ndecal upon it...


  1. ....that kid who, as a boy of 13 became transfixed by the Black and Gold JPS Lotus is the webmaster of the tribute site ;-)

    I'm glad you liked the site and found it useful, very nice article on Elio by the way.


  2. I'm the 13 year old boy who was transfixed by the JPS Black and Gold Lotus! ;-)

    Great article by the way, glad you found the tribute website useful.


  3. Great article. It`s good that someone else has seen through all the Senna hype. I was lucky to have watched some of the F1 in the 80s and Senna was a dirty driver...and i`m talking way before the Prost rivalry. Talented yes, but dirty too. Incidently, Elio's last year with Lotus, he only finished 6 points behind Senna. Had he not been disq in Australia, then maybe it would`ve been even closer.