He looked immortal, impossible to scratch. Perhaps this was real, we think he was becoming persuaded too when he was coming out without any damage from awful incidents, multiple collisions and overturns. After an incident at Silverstone or one at Zeltweg, De Cesaris was rising again each time stronger, faster and always more reckless.
His biography related about his F1 career was unfair. In fifteen years of racing, from 1980 until 1994, 208 GPs performed, 5 times at podium, one pole position but no victory. Along his long career, he raced with McLaren leaded by Ron Dennis and John Barnard, with Alfa Romeo of Gerard Ducarouge but even the little Rial of Gunther Schmidt and the Jordan at its coming out.
He moved along the greatest technological revolutions from compound material or turbo engines to the beginning of electronic era. He did not change his identity, his dignity, his fighting spirit and his excessive bravery. Luck did not help too much during some period of his life: like during 1991, when at Spa race he was second with same Jordan driven by Schumacher during the German pilot debut. Andre De Cesaris dropped out due to an engine problem while Michael finished a great race. If De Cesaris was going to end that race, he would have given a different meaning to the coming out of Michael in the F1 world.
Some bad people said he raced in F1 during a long period of time just because he was protected by Aleardo Buzzi, during those years big boss of Philip Morris who was loving his way to race. Indeed during his first years, De Cesaris has been helped a bit by Marlboro Sponsor, which against Ron Dennis and Tyler Alexander opinion forced the team Project 4 in F2 to accept him as a pilot. The same story repeated itself when he was moved in Mclaren to compete in F1. A sponsor has always helped their pilots and team accepted it, even more much worse things have been experienced around F1 paddock.
Anyway, De Cesaris consolidated with his bravery and acting resolute, becoming one of fastest driver in F1 along following years. He has been first pilot to have enough “guts” to travel at full speed along “Signes turn” at Paul Ricard during those many winter practices making a pre-season during that period. This was performed at beginning of 1982. Everything started as a challenge with Gerard Ducarouge, the French engineer who designed the amazing Alfa Romeo 182 capable to use ground effect and a 12 pistons engine with a 60 V tilt which became the most efficient wing car during those days of aerodynamically exasperation. Lap after lap, Andrea pushed a little by little over the limit until he traveled along that point at full speed, something capable to separate pilots into two categories. That day, nobody believed De Cesaris together with his Alfa Romeo had enough bravery to achieve that limit and during the evening Riccardo Patrese as well as Elio De Angelis started to have fun and to question him.
Andrea landed in F1 very young, just when he was 21 years old, something similar to what is going on with Verstappen nowadays. First year inside McLaren Team has been traumatic: many problems, a team facing a revolution when Project 4 of Ron Dennis and old McLaren Team under Terry Mayer control were merging together making a tense internal atmosphere pretty awful. Even more, there was John Barnard, a classic xenophobic British having prejudice against Italian pilots and their mentality.
It is not my fault, I am not guilty but now who is going to tell what happened to Tyler Alexander ?What was really “scaring” Andrea, it was mainly Tyler Alexander, a gruffly chief mechanic really in charge of the team. Before Silverstone, De Cesaris got a kind of ultimatum, after many racing terminated before anybody else due to some incidents. He started very well and Andrea was together with leading group but at third lap he lost control at Wodcote turn just before box. Same day his team mate, John Watson won that race. After removing the fence wrapping his McLaren, Andrea said to some people in the area:
Andrea stayed during a long time in that place, scared about the idea to face such hostile environment inside McLaren box.
Along his long career there were not just incidents or fastest laps. At Long Beach race, a circuit asking to have a clean way to drive a racing car, during 1982 Andrea De Cesaris would have deserved a victory with his Alfa Romeo. He got the pole and during 33 consecutive laps he led the race driving perfectly making impossible to anyone to achieve an overtake until his engine stopped. If he was going to win, probably his entire career was going to be different and especially perception many teams had about him. Who knows, it might be his self-esteem was going to change too. Unluckily, in a couple of years Andrea moved by being a potential champion to a role of brave and fast pilot but driving only average racing cars.
This was not very true. In fact, at Hockenheim, another track requiring a nice driving style, Andrea got a nice second place. It was 1983 and the feeling with Gerard Ducarouge was perfect, much more that when he was working with John Barnard. The “Duke” was the only one who had been capable to discipline him while boasting his skills without crossing the limit. This duo terminated around 1984 when Ducarouge moved to Lotus. What a pity ! One day, Mika Hakkinen said to a journalist:
I do not understand some pilots, before to start a GP they say their maximum target is to finish among first six positions. I still remember my first race with Lotus, in Australia. That car was rubbish, I was starting among last rows but even then I was racing to win, I was not racing to get few points.
If we have to give a definition about De Cesaris, we can use the idea given by Hakkinen. Andrea was driving a racing car just to win but many times he faced with cars which were not competitive at all.
At Detroit, during 1998, with just a Rial (a really unreliable car) he created his legend achieving an amazing fourth place. An unbelievable result with a team created in a corner of a factory by a German rim manufacturer !
Because at the end, Andrea never changed. Always in good shape and with a kindly disposition. He was always optimistic, sometimes worried about something but even if he was driving a McLaren or a Minardi he had a positive point of view.
Once he stopped racing it was like if a piece of F1 history just disappeared. Some journalist asked him if he was thinking to race in the U.S.A. with Indicar following Nigel Mansell example. He gave one of his frank reply and he said:
No, because I should learn a new way to race and a new mindset. I do not feel to want to do that. I am used to drive just in this way, if I would race in an ovale perhaps I might crash against concrete. I could kill myself. Viceversa in F1, even if I had many incidents, I never hurt myself.
Andrea was always looking for an exciting life. Once he left F1, he moved to wind surf a sport he practiced even as a professionist living during long period of times in the Hawaii Islands. He was a lover of Robby Nash, one of the biggest champion of wind surf.
De Cesaris was satisfied by his new life and he was not missing F1 at all. His mindset, body and face was the same of 20 years ago when underage moved to U.K. to compete in F2 because those years that was the only opportunity to learn something.
He had become a legend with his races and with his F1 career: invincible, brave, indomitable and immortal !
His incredible way to live it was an example to many people and it was horrible when suddenly a news revealed he suffered an accident with his motorbike a Sunday afternoon in Rome. It was October of 2014. Andrea left us !
Who is going to believe it ?
It is impossible, those things are experienced just in a movie. In reality he is already racing in another place, following his way and always really fast…
Andrea de Cesaris (31 May, 1959 in Rome – 5 October 2014)