Elio de Angelis
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|Born||26 March 1958|
|Died||15 May 1986(aged 28)|
|Formula One World Championship career|
|Teams||Shadow, Lotus, Brabham|
|Entries||109 (108 starts)|
|First entry||1979 Argentine Grand Prix|
|First win||1982 Austrian Grand Prix|
|Last win||1985 San Marino Grand Prix|
|Last entry||1986 Monaco Grand Prix|
|British Formula One Series career|
Elio de Angelis (26 March 1958, Rome – 15 May 1986, Le Castellet) was an Italian racing driver who participated in Formula One between 1979 and 1986, racing for the Shadow, Lotus and Brabham teams. He was killed in an accident while testing the Brabham BT55 at the Paul Ricard circuit, near the commune of Le Castellet, France, in 1986. De Angelis was a competitive and highly popular presence in Formula One during the 1980s, and is sometimes referred to as Formula One's "last gentleman player".
De Angelis was born in Rome. His father Giulio was a noted inshore and offshore powerboat racer, who won many championships in the 1960s and 1970s.
After a brief spell with karts, he went on to win the Italian Formula Three Championship in 1977. In 1978 he raced in Formula Two for Minardi and then for the ICI British F2 Team, he also competed in one round of the British Formula One championship and won the prestigious Monaco F3 race.
In 1980 he switched to Lotus and – at the age of 21 – nearly became the youngest Grand Prix winner of all time when he finished a tantalising second at the Brazilian Grand Prix, run at the very demanding and difficult 5-mile Interlagos circuit.
His first victory came in the 1982 Austrian Grand Prix at the Österreichring, only 0.05 seconds ahead of the Williams of eventual 1982 World Champion Keke Rosberg. The win was the last hailed by Colin Chapman's famous act of throwing his cloth cap into the air. Chapman died in December that year and Peter Warr became the new Lotus team manager.
In 1983 Lotus switched from the Cosworth DFV they had been using since 1967, to Renault turbo engines, but it was a disappointing season. De Angelis' best result was a fifth place in the 1983 Italian Grand Prix.
In 1984 de Angelis had a much better season, scoring a total of 34 points and finishing third in the standings with three podiums. His best result was a second place at the Detroit Grand Prix. De Angelis was the only driver to finish in the top 5 in 1984 not to score a race win, showing his consistent performances throughout the season with the improving Lotus-Renault.
In 1985, de Angelis was joined at Lotus by Ayrton Senna who had left the Toleman team. De Angelis' second win came in the third race of the season, at the 1985 San Marino Grand Prix after Alain Prost was disqualified when his McLaren MP4/2B was found 2 kg underweight. De Angelis also claimed his last Formula One pole position that year in Canada. He finished fifth in the championship, with 33 points, five points behind his team mate. However, de Angelis chose to leave Lotus at the end of the season, frustrated that the team's efforts were being focused mostly on Senna.
De Angelis' drive for 1986 was with Brabham, as a replacement for twice World Champion Nelson Piquet, who had moved to Williams to join de Angelis' former Lotus team mate Nigel Mansell. Fellow Italian Riccardo Patrese was Elio's team mate. Patrese was returning to the Bernie Ecclestone owned team after two unhappy years with Alfa Romeo.
The 1986 Brabham-BMW, the Brabham BT55, was the brainchild of long time Brabham designer Gordon Murray. The BT55 was a lowline car with a reduced frontal area, the idea being to have a cleaner airflow over the car to create more downforce, while at the same time reducing the car's drag. The chassis proved effective, unlike the l4 BMW turbo that had to be tilted to an angle of 72°. This caused severe oil surge and an even greater lack of throttle response than the BMW had become famous for. Although the team worked hard to overcome these problems, it was clear from early in the season that Brabham had fallen behind the leading pack.
Death and legacy
During tests at the Paul Ricard circuit in France, the rear wing of de Angelis' BT55 detached at high speed  resulting in the car losing downforce on the rear wheels, which instigated a cartwheel over a sidetrack barrier, causing the car to catch fire. The impact itself did not kill de Angelis but he was unable to extract himself from the car unassisted. The situation was exacerbated by the lack of track marshals on the circuit who could have provided him with emergency assistance. A 30 minute delay ensued before a helicopter arrived and de Angelis died 29 hours later, at the hospital in Marseille where he had been taken, from smoke inhalation. His actual crash impact injuries were only a broken collar bone and light burns on his back. The tragic circumstances of his death and the soaring amounts of money companies like Honda and Renault were pouring into making the turbo cars faster, caused radical changes to be introduced by then President Jean-Marie Balestre in the months following his accident which ultimately heralded the end of the turbo powered era in Formula One racing.
De Angelis' death also saw the end of Formula One using the full 5.81 km (3.61 mi) Paul Ricard Circuit. In what many saw as a knee-jerk reaction from FISA, F1 was forced to use the 3.812 km (2.369 mi) "Club" version of the circuit, bypassing the Verriere curves where the Brabham had crashed, and cutting the length of the Mistral Straight from 1.8 to 1 km in length. The move was unpopular with many of the drivers, although most did like the reduced straight length as it was easier on the engines.
De Angelis' place in the Brabham team was subsequently taken by Derek Warwick, allegedly because Warwick was the only available top level driver who did not contact team owner Bernie Ecclestone immediately after de Angelis' death asking to replace him. McLaren driver Keke Rosberg, who was a close friend of de Angelis, retired at the end of the 1986 season.
De Angelis was the last driver to die in a Formula One car until Roland Ratzenberger died during qualifying for the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola eight years later. The day after Ratzenberger's death, de Angelis' former Lotus team mate (and by then a triple World Champion) Ayrton Senna was killed on the seventh lap when his Williams-Renault crashed into the Tamburello Curve wall at over 180 mph (290 km/h).
De Angelis was also a concert-standard pianist, and famously kept his fellow Formula One drivers entertained with his skills while they locked themselves in a Johannesburg hotel before the 1982 South African Grand Prix at Kyalami when the Grand Prix Drivers Association held a strike in protest at the new superlicense conditions imposed by the governing body, FISA.
Formula One World Championship results
(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position)
- ‡ Race was stopped with less than 75% of laps completed, half points awarded.
|Italian Formula Three Champion
|Monaco Formula Three
|Formula One fatal accidents
May 15, 1986
21 years, 322 days
(1959 British GP)
|Youngest Driver to score a
Podium Position in Formula One
21 years, 307 days
(1980 Brazilian Grand Prix)
21 years, 287 days
(1997 Argentine GP)