The finishing touch

Mike Doodson talks to Team Lotus driver Elio de Angelis

You have the best finishing record of any driver in Formula 1 this year. Have you deliberately tried to finish races instead of winning them?

I can say that sometimes I have had bad luck with my car, so I try to get the best results out of it. Sometimes it was the metering unit that was not working, sometimes the tyres weren’t right, and therefore sometimes I knew I could not win, so I tried to finish. I think that this is the professional approach: if you cannot win, at least you should get some points. It is good for the team and it’s good for you.

Basically, that is what put me in the position, just before Hockenheim, that I would have a very good chance in the World Championship if I won the race. It was in Germany, and in Austria, that for the first time this season I had a car which was good enough to make a real attack, as good as the others in several ways, like tyres and overall performance. At Hockenheim, for instance, I didn’t do anything particularly special, I just had a machine that was good enough to lead.

When you led the race at Hockenheim, were you sure that the car and the tyres could have a run through to the finish without any trouble?

Yes, because after the race, looking at Nigel’s tyres, they were running very well at the end of the race, and he had exactly the same that I had on my car. He was going very well at the end.

It is now two years since your one and only GP victory, in Austria. Is it very frustrating to have to wait such a long time for another opportunity to win?

It just delays a little bit my happiness.

This year’s Lotus 95T is obviously very good. What are its particular qualities?

I think that our car has the best balance between aerodynamics and mechanics. The Renault engine has been in Fl for seven, eight years now, and it’s good. Unfortunately, this year we went through a bad period with Goodyear because it was the first year for them on radials. They tried a lot of different things and sometimes they lost themselves. But now we are getting to the point where the Michelin people are not so far away anymore. The weakness, if you can call it that, has been the tyres, although you must not forget that we also had two engine failures (Hockenheim and Zeltweg) when it was really important.

In these last few races, how good has the power of the Renault engine been, compared with the TAG Porsche and the BMW?

In the past two or three races, for the first time in a year, we have been running on really low boost levels, lower than I can remember, because they (Renault) were worried. The Renault people said we (Lotus) were running the boost pressure too high. In fact, this was not true, because everyone (Renault as well as Lotus) had engine failures in Austria with low boost. Obviously, the engine is good, but I think Renault is experimenting a lot, and maybe they sometimes lose the right way. There are a lot of good people at Renault, and next year I am sure that the engine will be much better.

It could not be much worse than it has been so far this year…

I would not say so, because they have been very, very close to winning the championships, last year and the year before. They only lost because of bad luck, or driver mistakes. Nelson was very lucky at the end of last year, you know. Renault has been consistently close to winning a championship. If they continue to put in the same effort, then the championship must come.

Alain Prost said before the race in Austria that your engine was probably more powerful than his TAG Porsche. Is that true?

I don’t know. The grass is always greener in the next field! But I would say not: it has been proved by speeds on the straight. What it proves is that we have a better chassis than McLaren, so good that we can cope with the lack of torque of the engine and the lack of grip of the tyres.

What has it been like working with Goodyear as they develop their first radial ply tyres? Have you lost a lot of time?

I think we lost time at the beginning of the season because they were trying to make tyres specially for Ferrari. Certainly, I can tell you that they were trying more with Ferrari than with any of their other teams. That put us in a difficult situation, because mid-season we had troubles, for example, with the front tyres: the ones that worked for Ferrari did not work on our car. When we went quicker than Ferrari, suddenly they concentrated on our car and we were immediately quicker. It was too late, of course, but now the Goodyears are getting much better.

Considering the excellent performance of the Lotus this year, notably in testing, how do you feel now that your chances of winning the World Championship are finished?

It is obviously disappointing not to have anything to show for the work which we have done, especially all the testing. But when you consider the progress which Lotus made in just over one year, I think it is very encouraging. Goodyear have learned a lot about radial tyres, also in a very short time, and I’m sure they are in a good position already to win more races. As they have said, when you consider how quick and reliable the McLarens have been on brand X, this was probably the best season that Goodyear could have chosen to start with a completely new technology after so many years on normal tyres.

Looking back on the season, have you any idea how Ferrari managed to have such an easy win at Zolder?

It was purely tyres. Goodyear was the best tyre for that circuit at that time, and at that period the Ferrari was the best car on that tyre.

Are there any good or bad moments this year which stand out for you?

One very bad moment was the accident after the start at Detroit. The sight of Piquet flying out of control in front of me is a very bad memory. It was an extremely dangerous moment, and I never like dangerous moments. Every time you go through a moment like that it can be difficult to find your motivation again. Detroit also has a bad memory for me because I lost the race when my third gear broke as I was catching Nelson at 1 second per lap. That was going to be an easy win, I was driving well but I did not have to go really fast.

Also, for me, it was very disappointing when FISA disqualified Tyrrell but decided not to give extra points to the drivers who had finished behind them in some races. That did not make any sense to me.

Five years is a long time for a driver to spend with one team these days. Do you ever have any thoughts of moving?

Of course, I have had offers to go away, and I’m thinking right now. I don’t know whether to stay or whether to leave. It’s really half and half at the moment. What will really decide the question for me is what Gérard (Ducarouge) does.

If Gerard goes, then, you would leave?

Yes, I think so, because I went through the dark years with Lotus, and I know what it is like without Gerard, and without Colin Chapman.

Do you agree with Peter Warr that you have ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ in racing, that when everything is going your way you drive well, but that you don’t drive so well when you don’t have such a good chance of winning?

I think everybody does this, every sensible driver should do it. I remember in my early days, I understood that when you have a car that doesn’t perform as it should, when it doesn’t qualify in the first three rows, then sometimes it’s not worth the risk. You are tempted to get something more out of yourself than the car could give you. That is when accidents come, and I don’t like accidents.

I don’t have to discuss this with Peter, I don’t think I have something to prove. Many people think that I am not quick on street circuits, and for some reason I have had trouble with my cars on that type of circuit. Then at Monte Carlo this year, although I touched the wall a couple of times in qualifying, I was going well in the race. In fact, if they hadn’t stopped the race, I feel that I could have won. Again, in Montreal this year, I was much quicker than some people expected. And although I was not so quick in qualifying at Detroit, I was much better in the race, which as I just said I would have won if I did not have the problem with the gearbox.

So, you can understand that I don’t like to be given the reputation that I am only quick on the fast circuits.

Inevitably, we have to talk about Nigel Mansell. Almost from the beginning, I think it is safe to say that your relationship with him has not been good. It got worse after Dallas, where you publicly criticised his driving. What is the situation now?

The situation has changed completely, I have to say. We had a long talk together at Hockenheim, and we had to admit that we both made mistakes, perhaps under the influence of other people or due to the pressures that always exist in motor racing, especially between teammates. I’m glad that he realised that, and it gave me a chance to ask him to forgive me for saying some things that were perhaps too hard about him.

I tried to explain to him that I didn’t say those things to push him down, but because I thought he had reached a point in his career where he should have matured. You have to be honest with yourself sometimes and admit that maybe you’re not quick enough to win, or the car isn’t good enough: what I didn’t like about him sometimes was the excuses. I think now that he understands. He is a much better person.

He knows that I’m not an easy guy, and he realises that I gave him a hard time because obviously I think I am quicker. Meanwhile, he thinks that he is quicker. The important thing is that when we are together, we should stick together on some things, like the set-up of the car. Also, the situation was aggravated because for quite a long time we were running a car that was not competitive: we went through a period when the car was really bad. The consequence was that whenever one of us found a little improvement, that one would be followed by all the people of Team Lotus.

I really like Nigel, and my wish was that he should also stay if I stayed at Team Lotus. I think we know each other better now than we have done at any time in the last three or four years.

It has been suggested that because Nigel came from a background where it was difficult to find the money to go racing, perhaps he resented you, whose family background is much more comfortable. Did this create a certain tension between you?

I think some people want to believe it. But everyone who comes into Formula 1 has to make a sacrifice, one way or another. It’s not that easy to come into F1: you can pay your ticket in, but the ticket out is very easy. There are many examples, like Hector Rebaque.

You must know what I went through in my career: a court case (with Tyrrell) at the beginning, and another (with Shadow) when I joined Lotus. At my age then, it was just as tough as it was for Nigel. Everyone who comes into F1 must suffer in some way. This is not an easy place to be: tomorrow you can be sitting on the beach, without any apparent reason, like John Watson. I think people like to imagine that there is a difference between Nigel and me, but believe me, there is no difference when you are driving: rich or poor, it doesn’t matter. Nobody really understands the motivation of a driver, and everybody has his own, no matter what his family background.

However, now that it has been confirmed that Nigel is leaving the team, what do you know about your new teammate, Ayrton Senna?

Very little. Obviously, he is a fast driver. I know that he comes from a background where his family encouraged him to go racing, and I know that he raced karts from a very young age, so he started in the best conditions. He seems very happy to be with Lotus. As I said, I would have been happy if Nigel had stayed in the team, but if I decide to continue, I honestly see no reason why Ayrton and I should not work together well.

© 1984 Autosport • By Mike Doodson • Published for entertainment and educational purposes, no copyright infringement is intended.

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