Lotus made a political mistake

His name sounds like music. But the melody, this season, has veered from perky to mournful, from light to raucous. Elio de Angelis is an angry man.

Translated by this website

De Angelis was in Monza to compete in his hundredth Grand Prix. Only two victories were on his list, won in seven seasons of loyal service. Considered one of the purest stylists on the set, he was often deprived of the success he deserved.

Gérard Ducarouge, the technical mastermind of the Lotus team, has been working alongside him for three years and says of him: “Elio has extraordinary natural talent, coupled with exceptional experience for such a young driver. By his correctness, his kindness, and his honesty, he is a true gentleman. He is certainly one of the most pleasant characters in Formula 1″.

Previously faced with Nigel Mansell:

A courageous driver but a tad messy at times, our Roman enjoyed all the favors at Lotus, a team of which he was the obvious figurehead.

And then Senna arrived, singularly complicating Elio’s life: the idol, from now on, was no longer him.

The amazing Ayrton rallied everyone to his cause. The proud de Angelis, although well served mechanically, no longer found the same enthusiasm around him. Uncomfortable for doesn’t feel that there is total confidence in him, he has conceived a certain bitterness about it. At the start of the year, he said in all seriousness: “I think I’m going to live my last season with Lotus”. This prediction, today, has never been so close to being fulfilled.

Oh, all that didn’t stop Elio from securing an astonishing pole position in Canada under the nose and beard of the prophet Ayrton, nor from being raster in contention for a long time in the title race against Prost and Alboreto. Just like last year, until mid-season, he had been the only one not to be irremediably unclamped by Lauda and Prost. But 84 was 84. As for 85, Elio thinks he could have done a lot better: “I think my team made a political mistake this season. During the first part of the year, I had good possibilities to win races. We had a very good, very well-balanced car. What happened next? Who knows. Because of the contract binding me to Lotus, I can’t say everything today. I hope I can talk a little more at the end of the year. But anyway, there was a problem: I think I achieved an average performance this year. Team Lotus’ policy was not good”.

What is the political mistake you are talking about?

It is difficult to say today. Ask me again at the end of the year, it’s better.

So, it’s not for the same reasons as last year that you lost the championship in 85.

No, it’s not at all for the same reasons. Last year we had a very well-balanced car in the same way. But the Goodyear tires, which we had, weren’t as good as the Michelins. And in addition, the Renault engine was at a lower level than this year. The Lotus team couldn’t do better than what they did last year with these tyres and this engine. The McLarens were then literally invincible. This year, they were within our reach.

If I understand correctly, Lotus could have done better in 85?

Yes. Mandatory. We had all the elements to do well. But there was this political mistake that I was talking about.

So, if you had the right car, the right engine, and the right tyres, is it the policy concerning the drivers that has sinned?

Yes, I believe that’s it.

What has mainly changed in the Lotus team, it is therefore the arrival of another driver?

I think that in all the teams, if we want to have a good season, if we have the potential to win the world championship, we must not only worry about material questions. A driver also needs good morale.

This is what you missed this year?

How to say? I was in very good spirits. But the situation at Lotus was such that the team did everything it needed… So that my morale wouldn’t be higher. I don’t think anyone was against me. But no one was for me, either. A driver needs two things: good equipment, and good moral support. A proper balance between these two things is necessary. If one of the two elements is missing, we are not in the best position to win the championship.

Is this the reason why you are seriously considering leaving Lotus?

I am currently reviewing all the proposals I have received, including the one from Lotus. If anything changes within the Lotus team, I will stay. Otherwise, I will leave.

Where would you like to go?

Ligier made me a good offer. It’s not a big team but it has a lot of potential for next year. And above all, it’s a small family, and it could give me back the morale I lost at Lotus. I received another interesting proposal from Brabham. Toleman also contacted me, but that’s a secondary thing. And then I continue my discussions with Lotus. If they change, as I told you, something in the team, maybe I’ll stay another year. But to be honest, it seems to me very difficult and improbable.

Why? What would Lotus have to change for you to stay?

It is a political question. You can’t have two cars followed as well as the other in a stable. I understand that Senna has a priority for next year. So, if my team-manager doesn’t change something, it’s not an easy position for me to accept.

What appears is that Senna’s arrival has made your life at Lotus much more difficult.

It’s not just because he’s fast. My teammates have always been good drivers.

Senna is not faster than the others. But he arrived in the team at the right time. Moreover, he felt that he was hired because people cared about him. He was put in a position to do the best he could. The conditions were not the same for me. I have nothing against Ayrton. He has done some great things. He covered a good season, he proved he was very quick. He had the opportunity to do so. And I didn’t have it.

Do you think you are as fast as him?

I think I’ve proven over and over that I’m at least as fast as him, when the conditions were perfectly even and I didn’t have any issues with tyres, engine, or anything else. Sometimes I was faster, yes.

Basically, we can say that your life has always been difficult in Formula 1: you’ve been racing since ’79, and you’ve only won two races. Winning Grands Prix seems very difficult to you.

When you have the right car, it’s not very difficult to win races. Unfortunately, for various reasons, you very often don’t have the right car. Anyway, that was my case. I have almost as much experience as Nelson (Piquet), we started almost at the same time, and he won two championships! I deliberately chose to remain faithful to Lotus for a long time, which was one of the best teams but which for a long time did not have the potential to win the World Championship. We’ve always been missing something. Mainly a question of equipment, of cars.

That’s why it’s perhaps a shame to leave Lotus when Ducarouge is there. He knows how to make good cars.

What Gérard did was fantastic. He brought a lot to Lotus. That said, a good engineer is important, but that’s not all. You also need a good budget, good engines, good tyres, etc. Now, Lotus does not have everything to win a championship.

At Lotus, nobody was against me. But nobody was for me either.

What is missing?

Everything is somewhat related. It’s a question of organization, it’s also a question of money. I think Renault should give Lotus some extra help next season. This year, they’ve had too much trouble supplying four teams. This policy was not the best. It should be better in 86. I think Lotus can be among the top teams next year. Not today.

Michele Alboreto arrived in Formula 1 long after you. He is currently fighting for the title. What inspires you? Does that make you angry?

No. I am very young, younger than Michele. I have a lot more experience than him. And I still have ten years ahead of me in Formula 1. I don’t feel any anger, neither against him, nor against anyone. I haven’t had my chance yet. Other drivers had theirs. My turn will come later, that’s for sure.

Do you think you will stay another ten years in Formula 1?

Yes. Why not? I’m 27. I will then be 37, the age at which Niki retired.

And then what would you like to do?

Maybe I’ll take over from my father. He is in the real estate business. It’s my family’s job. When I leave Formula 1, I will think about that.

Do you still have the same motivation as when you started in F1?

Maybe I have even more motivation today than I had in my first or second year. Today, I think the world of Formula 1 owes me something. I give so much to Formula 1 that it owes me compensation. It’s time it gives me back what I gave it. That’s why I’m still trying. I know I’m good. I know I’m fast. I know I have a lot of experience, and even more motivation. I want to win. I’m 27. I still have a lot of opportunities ahead of me.

What do you aspire to? To win races? Or win the championship?

Winning races is good. But it is more important to win the world championship, even with few victories. I would like to win three or four additional races, and even ten additional races. However, I would prefer to have a championship, that’s the most important thing.

In your opinion, who is currently the best driver in Formula 1, and how good are you compared to him?

Some drivers sometimes answer this question, but how can they do it? It is very difficult to establish objective comparisons between drivers. If you lose a little boost pressure, which is quite common, the times are immediately worse by one second per lap. There is not one driver above the lot, but five or six. I am one of those five or six drivers. Of course, I think I’m the best among them. Now ask everyone this question: they will all tell you the same thing! Senna is also among the six.

And which one would you rather team up with?

Prost. Because he really is a professional. He does whatever it takes to improve his car and get the most out of it. And he doesn’t do dirty tricks. I think he learned that from Niki. I would also like to have Rosberg as a teammate one day. He’s a fantastic driver, for the same reasons.

Senna is not faster than the others. But he arrived in the team at the right time.

Let’s continue the series of traditional questions: you’re an Italian driver; do you dream to go to Ferrari?

As I said earlier, I still have ten years ahead of me to think about Ferrari. One day they may ask me to drive for them. I hope so, anyway. This has almost happened in the past, but the circumstances did not allow it. The time had not come. Now I’m ready… But I don’t see anyone from them coming to ask me. I think it will happen in the next ten years, I’m sure.

You don’t seem to have a fixation on this subject?

If I expected a proposal from Ferrari, I would stop racing. If one day Ferrari comes to pick me up, so much the better. But motor racing, whether you belong to the Ferrari team or not, is still motor racing. For me, the important thing is to succeed in what I do. If I win at the wheel of a Lotus or a Ferrari, for me it’s the same thing: no difference.

Apart from the races, do you think a lot about racing? Is it the essence of life? Do you appreciate, for example, all these days of private testing?

I like to do the necessary work. I don’t like to “over-work”, to do too much if you prefer. I don’t appreciate all these private tests. That’s not how I see motorsport. There is talk of reducing the number of test days next year. It would be a good decision. Anyone who knows how to set up a car quickly will be in a better position, because we will have less time to do it.

If I expected a proposal from Ferrari, I would stop racing.

What about the money? You’re already rich, but is it important to you?

I consider money to be very important, because it is representative of the value of a driver. My main goal is to win races and especially the world championship, not to make money. But the value that you are recognized translates into money.

You say the obvious: the better you are, the more you earn!

No, I think the opposite: the more you earn… The better you think you are!

Is the Lotus team better today with Warr and Ducarouge than it was in Colin Chapman’s time?

I think that the best compromise would have been Colin Chapman with Gerard Ducarouge. Peter Warr has done many good things for the Lotus team, but also many bad things. I like Gerard very much. I liked Colin a lot. I don’t like Peter very much right now!

© 1985 Auto Hebdo • By Eric Bhat • Published for entertainment and educational purposes, no copyright infringement is intended.

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