Elio de Angelis

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Elio de Angelis : biography

26 March 1958 – 15 May 1986

Elio de Angelis (26 March 1958 – 15 May 1986) was an Italian racing driver who participated in Formula One between and , racing for the Shadow, Lotus and Brabham teams. He was killed during testing at the Paul Ricard circuit at Le Castellet in 1986. Elio de Angelis was a competitive and highly popular presence during the Formula One circus of the 1980s, and is sometimes referred to as Formula One’s "last gentleman player".

Death and legacy

During tests at the Paul Ricard circuit in France, the rear wing of his BT55 detached at high speed http://www.eliodeangelis.info/elio_de_angelis_paul-ricard.php resulting in the car losing downforce on the rear wheels, which instigated a cartwheel over a sidetrack barrier and causing the car to catch fire. The impact itself did not kill de Angelis but he was unable to extract himself from the car unassisted. The situation was exacerbated by the lack of track marshals on the circuit who could have provided him with emergency assistance. A 30 minute delay ensued before a helicopter arrived and De Angelis died 29 hours later, at the hospital in Marseille where he had been taken, from smoke inhalation. His actual crash impact injuries were only a broken collar bone and light burns on his back. The tragic circumstances of his death caused radical changes to be introduced by then President Jean-Marie Balestre in the months following his accident which ultimately heralded the end of the turbo powered era in Formula One racing.

De Angelis’ place in the Brabham team was subsequently taken by Derek Warwick, allegedly because Warwick was the only driver who did not contact Brabham immediately after De Angelis’ death asking to replace him. Keke Rosberg, who was a close friend of de Angelis, retired at the end of the 1986 season.

De Angelis was the last driver to die in an F1 car until Roland Ratzenberger at Imola eight years later. The French-Italian driver Jean Alesi – who broke into the sport three years after de Angelis died – wore a helmet that exactly matched de Angelis’ design, in tribute to his semi-compatriot.

De Angelis was also a concert-standard pianist, and famously kept his fellow F1 drivers entertained with his skills while they locked themselves in a Johannesburg hotel before the 1982 South African Grand Prix at Kyalami when the Grand Prix Drivers Association held a strike in protest at the new superlicense conditions imposed by the governing body, FISA.


De Angelis was born in Rome. His father Giulio was a noted inshore and offshore powerboat racer, who won many championships in the 1960s and 1970s.

Lotus at the 1981 British Grand Prix.]]

After a brief spell with karts, he went on to win the Italian Formula Three Championship in 1977. In 1978 he raced in Formula 2 for Minardi and then for the ICI British F2 Team, he also competed in one round of the British Formula One championship and won the prestious Monaco F3 race.

His debut F1 season was in 1979 with Shadow. He finished 7th in his maiden Grand Prix in Argentina and closed 15th in the championship with 3 points. In 1980 he switched to Lotus and – at the age of 21 – nearly became the youngest Grand Prix winner of all time when he finished a tantalising second at the 1980 Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos. His first victory came in the 1982 Austrian Grand Prix at the Osterreichring, only 0.05 seconds ahead of Keke Rosberg. The win was the last hailed by Colin Chapman’s famous act of throwing his cloth cap into the air. Chapman died in December that year and Peter Warr became the new Lotus team manager.

In 1983 Lotus switched from the Cosworth DFV they had been using since 1967, to Renault turbo engines, but it was a disappointing season. De Angelis’ best result was a fifth place in the 1983 Italian Grand Prix. In 1984 De Angelis had a much better season, scoring a total of 34 points and finishing third in the standings with three podiums. His best result was a second place at the Detroit Grand Prix. De Angelis was the only driver to finish in the top 5 in 1984 not to score a race win, showing his consistent performances throughout the season with the improving Lotus-Renault.