Elio de Angelis
- March 26, 1958
- May 15, 1986
- Not Active
Elio de Angelis (1958-1986) was an Italian racer, best known as a Formula 1 driver who lost his life in an accident at the Paul Ricard circuit in 1986. Prior to his death, De Angelis recorded 108 starts in the Formula One World Championship with three teams, winning two times and reaching a podium nine times.
Elio de Angelis was born in Rome in March 1958. As a son of a father who was a successful powerboat racer, de Angelis was speed-infected since his childhood. After years spent in karting races, Elio stepped up to the Italian Formula 3 Championship and immediately won the title in 1977. In the following year, de Angelis raced for Minardi in the Formula 2 championship, but he also had a good episode in the British Formula 1 championship, winning the Monaco F3 race.
In 1979, Elio de Angelis debuted in the Formula 1 championship as a driver of Shadow team. His first year in the most popular racing series wasn’t brilliant and was marked by many retirements. However, he finished fourth in the last race in the US, earning his first career points and finishing 15th in the Drivers’ championship.
In the following season, de Angelis did much better, this time behind the wheel of Lotus. After the retirement in the Argentinian Grand Prix, he finished second in Brazil. During mid-season of 1980, results weren’t as good, but Elio improved later and scored points in three of five races. He scored a total of 13 points which was enough to finish the season 7th overall.
For the 1981 Formula 1 campaign, de Angelis stayed with the Lotus team and despite finishing 8th at the end of the season, the Italian confirmed that he was capable of being a quality team driver. He managed to score points in eight of 15 races that year and he was Lotus’ first driver, finishing ahead of the rising star and future champion Nigel Mansell.
In his third year with Lotus, Elio de Angelis clinched his first victory. He was the winner of the Austrian Grand Prix, beating the 1982 World champion Keke Rosberg by only 0.05s. Interestingly, that was his only podium finish in 1982. Lotus’ team manager Colin Chapman died in December and Lotus appointed Peter Warr as his successor.
That change affected the team badly, so did the switch from Cosworth to Renault engines. The team struggled throughout the entire season. De Angelis retired from 12 of 14 races in 1983 and his best result was 5th place at Monza.
Things have turned around in 1984 which definitely was the best Elio de Angelis’ season in Formula 1. He scored points in nine of first ten races, finishing second in Detroit and third in Brazil, Imola and Dallas. But, the finish of the season wasn’t as good. He was forced to retire from four of last six races and he dropped to third overall which still was a fantastic result, especially considering that he failed to win a race.
The start of the 1985 campaign was even better for the Italian racer. In the opening seven races, Elio de Angelis was in top five, winning San Marino Grand Prix and finishing third in Brazil and Monaco. In the second half of the season, the Italian was scoring points on a regular basis but he finished fifth in the Drivers’ championship, five points behind his new teammate Ayrton Senna.
Frustrated that Lotus focused mainly on the Brazilian driver, de Angelis decided to leave the team and signed for Brabham as a replacement for the two-time World champion Nelson Piquet. Despite hard work and all the efforts of the team, it was obvious that the car is not competitive enough.
On the 14th of May, 1986, during tests at the Paul Ricard circuit, Elio de Angelis was killed in an accident. Rear wing of de Angelis' car detached at high speed which caused a cartwheel over a sidetrack barrier and the car went on fire. But, the injuries the poor Italian suffered weren’t deadly as he broke only one bone and had several burns on his back. He was unable to get out of the car without help and the lack of track marshalls proved to be crucial. After almost half an hour, Elio was transported to the hospital in Marseille where he died a day later from smoke inhalation.
De Angelis’ death caused many changes in Formula 1. Turbocharged engines era was close to an end, the Paul Ricard circuit was shortened and Elio’s close friend Keke Rosberg retired at the end of the 1986 season.
In 1989, the French-Italian driver Jean Alesi entered Formula 1 wearing a helmet that was the same as de Angelis’ one as a tribute to the Italian driver who left this world at the age of 28.