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Andrea de Cesaris : 'A truly lovely person'Maurice Hamilton October 6, 2014
Despite a track reputation that was less than complimentary, the true reflection of Andrea de Cesaris as an F1 driver was created during his time with Jordan in 1991. This was actually his 11th full season in F1; the end - or so it seemed - of a career than had produced just three podiums and not many points. When pundits spoke of de Cesaris, they referred to a fast but zany man with a reputation for crashing frequently rather than finishing consistently.
Eddie Jordan and his commercial director, Ian Phillips, knew there was more to the Italian than the headlines created by some of his spectacular excesses. They saw beyond the cheap-option 'de Crasheris' nickname and recognised an incredible enthusiasm, contained in 1991 by experience gained in more than 140 Grands Prix. He would be perfect for a team making the complex and challenging step into F1.
Jordan's logic was mocked straightaway when Andrea missed a gear and failed to qualify for the first race. Pundits may have written off the partnership, but the team's confidence in their man was reaffirmed by his total devastation over a failure to go beyond pre-qualifying early on that Friday morning in Phoenix. It would be the last mistake of any significance.
Revelling in his relaxed surroundings and the potential of the elegant Jordan 191, de Cesaris not only qualified in the middle of the grid for the next eight races, he scored in four of them (in the days when points actually meant something thanks to only being awarded to the first six finishers). That total would have been five races had the throttle cable not snapped at Monaco, a circuit where de Cesaris's reputation had been prompted ten years before when he eliminated Mario Andretti on the first lap.
The collision between the 1978 World Champion's Alfa Romeo and the McLaren added substance to a theory that the nervous twitch frequently affecting de Cesaris was perhaps not the best thing for a driver to have, particularly when running wheel-to-wheel on a narrow street circuit. De Cesaris pointed out that he regularly passed his motor racing medicals although the habit of giving his mechanics rebuilds on a fortnightly basis would lead to their despair and his eventual departure from McLaren for a three-year stint with Alfa Romeo.
Ironically, it was Monaco where the Italian team would let their man down in 1982 when his car ran out of fuel just as de Cesaris was poised to take the lead in the final laps of a chaotic race. Even worse was a retirement 12 months later when the Alfa blew up after convincingly leading the Belgian Grand Prix. Spa would also bring mixed emotions for Jordan in 1991.
"That was the weekend when we gave [Michael] Schumacher his F1 debut," recalls Phillips. "Andrea loved the Jordan 191 but he couldn't believe it when he qualified 11th - and Michael was seventh. I remember going back to the hotel in our hire car and Andrea was sitting in the back, making engine noises and driving his imaginary car through Eau Rouge! He was so fired up. In the race, he drove like a demon and he was lying second, catching [Ayrton] Senna's McLaren, when the bloody engine ran out of oil. Cosworth somehow forgot to tell us about the high consumption on the V8. It was an absolute disaster. We were gutted, not just for ourselves, but for Andrea."
When Eddie Irvine was banned for three races in 1994 (wrongly accused of causing a multiple shunt at Interlagos), de Cesaris was a natural choice as substitute, particularly at Monaco. Finishing a fine fourth would be the last occasion bar one (for Sauber later in the year) when de Cesaris would score points prior to retirement after 15 eventful seasons with no less than 10 different teams. None of them, however, had a bad word to say about the man with the worst win-to-race ratio in F1.
"He was a fantastic character," says Phillips. "You couldn't help but get on with him. He was a team player and absolutely perfect for us in our first season - or any other time, to tell you the truth. The guy was quick; there was never any doubt about that. He may have had a poor reputation but he rarely put our car in the wall. In fact, it was our fault when a rear suspension failure caused a horrendous crash coming out of Abbey [at Silverstone] during the 1991 British Grand Prix. He didn't make a big deal out of it - I guess, he'd been there in his past and was used to it! But we had absolutely no complaints about Andrea. In fact, I don't think you'll hear a word said against him anywhere. He was a truly lovely person."
Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1.