3 September 2013
Italian Grand Prix: Six of the Best: Italian Nearlymen
After nomadically meandering from Rial to Dallara, de Cesaris enjoyed a resurgence for Jordan in their 1991 debut season, famously losing second place at Spa just four laps from home with a blown engine. It was the high point of a slow decline though, with de Cesaris' career ending in trademark absurd style when he couldn't be reached on holiday to stand in for Karl Wendlinger for the last two races of 1994 at Sauber, losing the chance for a swansong drive.
ELIO DE ANGELIS
F1's last gentleman racer, Elio de Angelis was a dashingly handsome, highly cultured and stylishly enigmatic swashbuckling racer.
As a junior, de Angelis walked away from an option with Ferrari to enter F1 with Shadow – quickly dispensing with his reputation as a wealthy playboy pay driver by scoring a sensational second place at the 1980 Brazilian GP.
He would become inextricably linked with Lotus, signed by Colin Chapman and spending the bulk of his career racing the iconic JPS black-and-gold alongside Nigel Mansell from 1981 to 1984. Almost as legendary as his on-track exploits were his exhibitions behind the piano – as a concert-standard pianist, he famously kept the drivers entertained during a lock-in strike ahead of the 1982 South African Grand Prix. A strong 1982, backed by a maiden win in Austria, was followed by a dismal 1983 before de Angelis' strongest season in 1984, taking third in the championship behind the all-conquering McLarens.
Lotus may have endured wavering fortunes, but de Angelis consistently had the better of Mansell during their time as team-mates. His loyalty and honour would see the Lotus team pull ranks around him, leading to an uncomfortable chalk-and-cheese tension between the working class Brummie and the charismatic Roman.
A prodigal talent, de Angelis trusted in his natural talent and allied a lifelong hatred of testing with limited inclination to over-exert himself for the technical aspects of the sport – traits which stood him in poor stead alongside Ayrton Senna in 1985. The Brazilian changed the face of F1, harnessing stunning speed with unparalleled intensity and fitness.
de Angelis couldn't live with Senna, and left for Brabham for the 1986 season. With heartrending irony though, he was killed aged just 28 in a testing accident at Paul Ricard after just four races of the 1986 season. His death was a needless loss, with de Angelis succumbing to asphyxiation from a secondary fire after suffering only minor injuries in a violent accident – robbing F1 of one of its last great personalities at the dawn of the new professional era.
He may have only raced F1 cars for five years, but Alessandro Nannini's short career was on a singularly upward curve before being truncated in a helicopter accident towards the end of the 1990 season.
Coming late to single-seater racing from a sportscar background with Lancia, Nannini ascended the junior formula ladder in tandem with the Minardi team, finally entering F1 in 1986 having been controversially denied a superlicence for 1985.
Showing undoubted potential, Nannini immediately outpaced team-mate Andrea de Cesaris, but his raw speed was aligned with error-prone tendencies, especially in wheel-to-wheel combat situations. Despite two pointless seasons at Minardi, Nannini's speed convinced Benetton to hire him for 1988 alongside Thierry Boutsen.
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