“If Lotus helps me, the title is mine”

The truest, most sincere de Angelis talks about "his" Formula 1 and is a candidate for success in the '84 World Championship

Translated by this website

Five years of Formula One in the pockets. In the foot and in the head, a beautiful head, determination, ambition, intelligence, dowry, the latter, which both in the F1 driver from three hundred per hour and in the man on the street, still fascinates. Sports chronicles have been dealing with him since 1977, but few people, perhaps only those who belong to the small private world of him, know anything about Elio de Angelis. A question arises spontaneously: Luis, the Argentine who lives glued to him in the pits of the grand prix do well (“his bringing of every situation back to a less dramatic aspect helps me to overcome a thousand difficulties, it calms me” – the roman driver says of his friend), Andrea Gallignani, the twenty-six year old Bolognese industrialist who has never abandoned him since he sponsored him in F3, Roberto and Andrea, Elio’s “racing” brothers (in the past they distinguished themselves as excellent kart drivers) and Ute, the very gracious Ute, to adore him? Or are they right those, with judgments full of convenient superficiality, to label him as a true braggart, with limited human and professional qualities? In short: the real de Angelis is the one loved by people who know him well, or the one hated – but perhaps it is better to say envied – by those who only know him from the outside?

The most logical answer came indirectly from Colin Chapman in 1979 when he wanted him to join Lotus: Chapman was not satisfied with working only with a very gifted professional, he also wanted a man who was worthwhile. And Elio was worth yesterday as today. “I remember that he gave a nice interview to an English newspaper, when the English press was still all on my side” – attacks de Angelis – “in which he said he found in me an incredible will and the courage of a panther”. And he adds – “The first time I met him was in 1979 when I set a good time by classifying myself between the Ferraris of Villeneuve and Scheckter, at Silverstone, with a Shadow that, strangely, did well. I remember on that occasion Chapman came to me, he looked at the car that just didn’t hit him at all, so he took an interest in me. Then there was the Watkins Glen race and, finally, his collaborators invited me to test with the Lotus at Paul Ricard, in which four other drivers participated. That’s where I was chosen”.

After four years, five years with this one that has just begun, is Lotus a faith for you, or does it represent the only opportunity to race with a competitive single-seater in Formula One?

No, it’s not the only chance to stay in F1 with a prestigious team. I had a lot of offers and first Chapman, then his substitutes did a lot to keep me. After all, for me, Lotus is a faith, it is the great affection that binds me to my mechanics, to the designer: they still deserve a thousand satisfactions and I deserve them too. I owe this year to Lotus.

What does Ducarouge have that Chapman did not have and vice versa?

It is a very difficult comparison, as Chapman has been a flag for many years, a point of reference for all manufacturers. From a technical point of view, there is no doubt, he was a genius. Of course, he also had some exceptional collaborators: but it was he who chose them. He was also very skilled in this respect: Tony Rudd worked at BRM when BRM won. Then he came to Lotus, here’s an example. Ducarouge was taken with the same philosophy: to secure the best technicians and put them around a table. Isn’t that a bit of what Ferrari does, albeit on other levels? Ferrari is a very big men’s organizer.

I can’t yet put Ducarouge on the same level as Chapman, even if Gèrard is a man of great talent, a man who has dedicated his entire life to racing: he has speed in his blood, he would like to bring the cars he designs, while all the others engineers don’t even dream of it. Furthermore, on a human level he is exceptional, and his arrival filled me with joy because I found a point of support in him after the disappearance of Chapman. Gèrard manages to put his ideas into practice and to take the best of what he sees around. This is not to say that he is a copier, because that is a too restrictive definition. He and only he can find out what goes into that suspension or that aileron. Before creating fashions, he manages to improve existing ones. I remember, for example, the fashion for miniskirts: the first ground-effect car was the Lotus. Then came the others. In Argentina Ducarouge showed up with the Ligier with high fins and we thought: who knows how strong it will be. They had no particular task, however in the next grand prix everyone had adopted them without even having tried them in the wind tunnel. I therefore want to say that Ducarouge is brilliant in his creations, but unlike Chapman, he does not neglect to take an interest in the work of others.

How much tactically and technically does Formula One change now that fast refueling has been abolished?

Let’s go back to the usual races. The experience of the drivers will be rewarded more, because in the end those who bring the least amount of broken or deteriorated “pieces” to the finish line will be at an advantage. In the sense that the winner will be whoever is able to contain the wear of the brakes, tires and gearboxes. However, I believe that we will stop to replace the tires at least to assess whether it is worthwhile to carry out the operation. Those who drive wisely will be favored and, as Nelson rightly says, the cars will be more dangerous because they will start with 220 liters of fuel, instead of 60. Perhaps the powers will be reduced: but these are only conjectures that anyone can deny, since they are not a technician.

You were against the abolition of miniskirts last year. After a season without the ground effect, are you still of that opinion?

I had declared myself against it, because the decision taken by FISA and the proposal of us drivers were structurally different. However, after a year, I must change my mind. After all, these machines are slightly less dangerous today. I say slightly because in 1984 they will be as safe as those of 1982 with side skirts: if the lap times are the same and the speed of the curves is slower, it means that on the straight you will reach very high peaks. Someone from FISA asked me if we brake much earlier: we always brake at the same point, because the tires have improved, the suspensions have improved and it is ridiculous that we continue to increase the power of the engines. I was against the abolition of miniskirts and I am against this strange Formula One.

But does this Formula One still reward the qualities of the driver or, as many of those directly involved claim, do the dollars count above all?

The ‘brocco’ has no way out and the smart drivers emerge. Today there are at least a dozen ‘good guys’. There is no shortage of opportunities, so much so that just the other day I was reading in Autosprint that Ballabio will come to F1: and therefore, we will see what he can do.

Giacomelli, Fabi, Jarier, Watson, Boutsen, Sullivan, are the best known among the “excluded” of 1984 “brocchi”?

They are excellent drivers. Unfortunately, this also happens in F1. Sullivan did not dedicate himself enough to Formula One, for him it was a hobby. For the others, the situation is different. Didn’t they pass the selection, do you say so?

Why that turnaround with Mansell? At a certain point in the 1983 season his position in Lotus seemed irremediably compromised. Then came the confirmation…

I think Mansell is a good driver and therefore it is right that it ended like this. They were probably hoping to have something more from John Player counting on the fact that Nigel is a British driver.

Watson was also on the market…

Watson is Irish. Quite right.

Which opponents do you respect most?

Piquet, Cheever, Laffite and Rosberg.

Cheever because he is your friend?

Eddie is a good and intelligent driver. He knows how to behave. He knows exactly how to behave even when he makes a mistake.

Are there “non-intelligent” drivers in F1?

Yes, but I don’t feel like giving names.

Are they the majority or the minority?

A minority that I hope will get out quickly.

Who deserves to take revenge in 1984?

Those who last year drove cars with the Cosworth. In my case it will not be a revenge, because I have yet to receive something. In life, ultimately, everything balances. Another who has given a lot and received little is Riccardo.

Why Alboreto at Ferrari and not de Angelis?

He was able to capitalize on the experience of the other drivers who tried to join Ferrari. I’ve never tried: when I was included in the programs of the Maranello team I was very young. I never thought about driving a Ferrari. The eventuality never presented itself. I must say that Michele was able to do this from a diplomatic point of view and reaped what he sowed.

Is the Roman school stronger than the Lombard one in Formula One?

Perhaps the Lombard of the Giacomelli, the Alboretos and the Fabi is stronger, if we consider the results.

Alboreto stated that for a good score without treble in the ’84 world championship he would not sacrifice a victory in a Grand Prix. Do you think so too?

I believe I can win the world championship.

Is de Angelis more or less popular than Patrese, Alboreto, De Cesaris?

He is in the same level of popularity.

Are Formula One Drivers Born?

We are born and built to become one.

What should be done?

A choice must be made at 14. Instead of the moped, you have to buy the go-kart. You have to give up the first girl because you can’t take her to the track.

And the second?

The second no. But it is a life of sacrifice. People often don’t know that ours is a difficult life, a stressful life. A man who wants to make a career, for example an entrepreneur, has twenty years available to show others what he can do. Not us, just four or five. Ten when he’s fine. So, it’s all much faster. We get old quickly.

If people say you are the best Formula One driver, what do you answer?

Out of modesty I say that they are wrong. But deep down I know I’m the strongest.

What if they say you’re too ambitious?

That’s right, I confirm it. Ambition is the desire to succeed and therefore a will out of the ordinary. For me it is closely linked to success.

How do you get along with the British?

In a way, I don’t like their way of life. But I like their way of defining mechanical things, their machines. I like their racing mentality.

Are you happy to be Italian, or do you think you were born in the wrong country?

I prefer not to answer, the speech would be very long.

Long but interesting.

No, I am proud to be Italian. But many things about Italy don’t suit me.

Who are your colleagues with whom you would like to go out for dinner and who, on the other hand, would you avoid?

I enjoy going out for dinner with Laffite, Nelson, Rosberg, Eddie. A little less with Tambay, because we don’t understand each other. Arnoux? Well, he’s fun.

Have you ever been surprised to look at them from top to bottom?

On the human level, more than once. Often, during drivers’ meetings, I felt like a fish out of water. Not because I considered myself superior to them, but because I did not agree on many points. I even thought that some of them only knew to be a racing driver.

Is it important to be accepted by the other drivers in Formula One?

Yes, it is important. But everyone must win the chevrons on the field. I feel accepted by others. Even if the first year was difficult. I remember an argument with Alan Jones and one with Villeneuve because I didn’t know how to recognize cars from the mirrors, but last year I found myself asking a colleague – ‘But do you look at the mirrors?’ – So I said to myself – ‘They were right’. I must also add that in two years I have learned to look in the mirrors. Others don’t.

What memories do you have of Villeneuve?

An affectionate memory, because despite having said what we thought of each other, we respected each other. I have told him more than once that he was crazy, that he would get hurt: he was very fast, but too instinctive.

Why do the Italian fans hardly heat up when you lead the dance?

Probably because I don’t care much for the show. There are some tricks that many don’t understand. The wheel put in a certain way, the particular braking, the change of tires carried out in a certain lap are part of the job. I too am capable of unleashing… Make someone spin: but this is not necessarily the right style. Gilles had no style in this sense. But the public liked him for that very reason. Now he is praised, monuments are built to his memory… I don’t want to end up like that. I don’t even like to think of being ‘beatified’. Gilles was a ‘pure’. This is why I tried to warn him.

Let’s say that the safety of the single seaters is a line from 1 to 99. At what point does it stop at this moment?

At sixty.

What can still be done to improve it?

The power of the engines should be reduced, the tires widened, the bellies returned to where they were before to create that structure that no longer exists; now that we have short bellies and therefore a side obstacle. By now the shells are very thin.

I know that one day Tambay will write a book about “his” experiences in Formula One: will de Angelis imitate him?

No way. Tambay has recently re-evaluated himself a lot, because I realized that he did a good job with the car he had. Some time ago the newspapers reported a sentence that I had let slip in my room – “With Ferrari they are all capable of winning” – and this has made him angry. Things that happen. On the other hand, I did not go to explain to him how things had gone because basically I think that he is not one of the fastest drivers, even if he is gifted with a great admirable will.

Does de Angelis dream of Ferrari?

Of course. A road has been opened, with Alboreto, and I hope the Commendatore will not abandon it.

Are you afraid of the superficiality of others?


The stupidest judgment that has been given about you and the most intelligent one.

Both are English. The stupidest one belongs to Denis Jenkinson; I remember it well – ‘The biggest misfortune that happened to Lotus in the last four years was having de Angelis as a driver’. The most beautiful, that of Chapman, who compared me to Clark.

When you found yourself in the newspapers not for a purely sporting reason, I mean the accident with Jenkinson at Hockenheim, how did you feel?

I thought the reporters did well. Maybe they gave me morale. I was only sorry that a section of the British press has since turned against me. Until the episode of the push to Jenkinson, they had been fair to me. Today there are still many British journalists cheering for me. Others, the nationalists, are for Mansell.

Are the Formula One managers “for Formula One”?

They are suitable for Formula One, but they are not “Formula One”. It is as if you were asking me if those who govern in Italy are suitable to do so. They are suitable, but not up to the task.

Do Formula One drivers have fears?

I think the main fear is that of dying, at least that’s the way it is for me.

Where will the 1984 World Championship be decided?

We will arrive at the Greek Kalends. It will be a grueling fight unless Lotus wins right away and proves to be a great car.

So, is Elio to be loved or to be cursed?

© 1983 Autosprint • By Ivan Zazzaroni • Published for entertainment and educational purposes, no copyright infringement is intended.

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