He ran 208 Grands Prix, of which he dropped out in 148 and was nicknamed by the British media as Andrea de “Crasheris”.
Racing a season in Formula 1 is the dream of any driver. Some are fortunate enough to stay for a few years. And there are few who manage to stay for more than a decade. In that select group is the Italian Andrea de Cesaris, who participated in 15 championships with ten different teams. However, he is not remembered for the 208 Grands Prix he started, but for the 148 in which he did not see the checkered flag and for his crashes, which earned him the nickname Andrea de “Crasheris” in the British media.
His F1 adventure began in late September 1980, when Alfa Romeo – who had returned the previous season after a 28-year absence – summoned the 21-year-old for the Canadian and US GPs. The team had suffered the death in an accident of Patrick Depailler, who had been replaced by another Italian, Vittorio Brambilla. But De Cesaris, born on May 31, 1959, had stronger commercial support: that of Marlboro, the team’s main promoter.
Despite his youth and the financial backing of Alleardo Buzi, his father’s business partner and Marlboro distributor in Europe, De Cesaris was promoted from Formula 2 because he had a good track record as a driver: since his inception in 1973, he had been three times Italian champion, one European champion and another world champion in karting and had the experience of English Formula Ford and British Formula 3, of which he was runner-up in 1979. Also in his career there were controversial maneuvers and major accidents, such as the one that he nearly quadriplegic Nigel Mansell at Oulton Park, England’s Cheshire racetrack.
What stood out in his start in F1 was not the sporting success but that second aspect: at the Gilles Villeneuve circuit – then called Île Notre Dame – his stay in the race lasted eight laps due to the engine breakdown, while at the American racecourse Watkins Glen International crashed on the second turn.
Inexperienced and careless, he was surprising when McLaren announced him as their driver for the 1981 season, primarily because Ron Dennis was known to not want him on his ambitious project to build a title-fighting car with a carbon fiber chassis designed by John Barnard. However, the Italian’s personal patronage and McLaren’s relationship with Marlboro determined the arrival of De Cesaris but not his permanence.
In 15 races, the rookie thrilled Italy when he scored the sixth race of his life, the San Marino Grand Prix, with his sixth place at the Dino Ferrari circuit. But his 17 mistakes and the breakage of 16 cars and 10 engines caused Dennis to look for a replacement and even have the arrival of the Swiss Marc Surer arranged by word of mouth.
Also that at the Dutch GP the mechanics refused to fix the car that he had destroyed in practice, preventing him from appearing in the final. However, his skin was saved by Buzzi, who threatened the team boss with taking Marlboro’s sponsorship out of him if De Cesaris did not complete the season. “Not to mention, Andrea stays at McLaren, no matter what cars he destroys in the future,” he told her.
On the other hand, he could do nothing to prevent his protégé’s contract from being renewed after the record of stamping 18 chassis built entirely in carbon fiber against the guardrail, with much higher costs than the previous ones. For this reason, after a traumatic “internship” in a big one like McLaren, he returned to Alfa Romeo, which was living its last year with the sponsorship of Marlboro, and it served to demonstrate its potential.
Stripped of pressure and with the experience of already knowing all the circuits where F1 ran, became the youngest driver to get a pole, 22, on the Long Beach circuit. He was so stunned to snatch qualifying from Niki Lauda with three minutes remaining, that as he returned to the paddock after the press conference he cried in front of everyone who came to congratulate him.
However, the joy did not last because his character played against him: the Brazilian Raúl Boesel hindered him in a curve and when he passed him he entertained himself by giving him the signal to fuck you, which caused Lauda – his escort – to surpass him. A few laps later, desperate to get the point back, he hit a wall after suffering a mechanical breakdown. “He has more talent than people assume, his only problem is his temperament”, was drawn by the Northern Irishman John Watson, his partner at McLaren and third in that 1982 championship.
While his Alfa Romeo adventure ended a year later, he was never without a job. Not even in 1987 when he reached the record of not finishing any Grand Prix of the season, accumulating up to 22 races in a row without seeing the checkered flag. It was when he got the nickname Andrea de Crasheris from the wicked and ironic British press, who were already chasing him for his nervous tic: rolling his eyes before starts.
Getting on the podium only five times, scoring a pole, achieving a fastest lap (Belgium 1983) and never winning a test were not impediments to continue in the best category in the world. He raced in Ligier, Minardi, Brabham, Rial, Dallara and Tyrrell and when it seemed that he would not find a new seat the opportunity appeared in the newcomer Jordan, in 1991, when he had his best year, winning 9 of his 59 points in 15 seasons (14 complete), and also when he suffered Michael Schumacher, the rookie who surpassed him in each trial.
He retired at the age of 35 at Sauber, on October 16, 1994, when he left the European Grand Prix in Spain due to gearbox problems. At that time, he left F1 as the second driver with the most races (214, of which he started in 208), only surpassed by Riccardo Patrese. “In the last six years there have only been two or three winning cars. What should the rest of the drivers do? Go home? There would be no F1, no drivers,” he analyzed in 1992, when retirement was near.
He found adrenaline in windsurfing, which he practiced in Monaco – where he lived six months a year – and death, ten years later. On October 5, 2014, at kilometer 23,500 of the Grande ring road in Rome, he lost control of a Suzuki 600 motorcycle and collided with the guardrail. He died on the spot. His accident tragically coincided with that of the French Jules Bianchi at the Japanese GP, which caused the injuries that left him in a coma and died nine months later in Nice.
In 1989, in the run-up to the Belgian Grand Prix, Andrea de Cesaris and his partner in Dallara, Alex Caffi, rented two cars to tour the towns near the Spa-Francorchams circuit. But instead of walking, they sped them up like they were on a track with a Formula 1 car and they crashed into a bus. Far from assuming their responsibilities, they fled. The police finally collected testimonies, identified them and went to the hotel where the team was staying, where they found the Italian with bags of ice on his head. The most curious thing is that De Cesaris did not give up or crash the next day, on the contrary, he finished 11th, one lap behind the winner Ayrton Senna.