Andrea de Cesaris’ career was characterized by an erratic and wild driving style that earned him the unfortunate nickname “de Crasheris.” It has to be said that his rise and continued appearance in motor racing was directly linked to the connections he had in the business world, which financed his racing. Nevertheless, as a young driver on the first steps toward the pinnacle of the sport he graduated well as a karting champion and made an impression in the British F3 Championship in 1979, winning several rounds, but being somewhat reckless in others which ultimately cost him the championship.
Ron Dennis, however, saw something in the young Italian and signed him to drive for the Project Four F2 team for 1980, and then the McLaren F1 team, which Dennis acquired in 1981. This proved a “bridge too far” for de Cesaris, as he became involved in situations that took other drivers off and became far too expensive for the “new” McLaren F1 Team to swallow in its first year.
Alfa Romeo, the team that gave him his F1 debut at the 1980 Canadian GP, re-signed him for the ’82 and ’83 seasons, which became a pinnacle for de Cesaris who, in later years, told me, “To be an Italian and drive at the top of the sport for an Italian F1 team is something very special. Pole position in my third race at Long Beach was a dream. Crashing out of the race while in 2nd place was a very low point and frustrating. At Spa in 1983, I led the race, which was just incredible. Unfortunately, because of engine problems I had to retire, but I did set fastest lap. My two 2nd-place podium finishes at the Nürburgring and Kyalami in 1983 are my best memories of my F1 career.”
While de Cesaris may have been somewhat reckless in Grand Prix racing, many forget that he played his part in sports car racing throughout the early to mid-1980s with Lancia, partnering a number of drivers including Piercarlo Ghinzani, Bob Wollek, Henri Pescarolo and Bruno Giacomelli among others. His best finishes were at the 1981 6 Hours of Watkins Glen where he and Pescarolo finished 2nd in the Martini-liveried Lancia Beta Montecarlo Turbo, the 1985 1000 Kilometers of Brands Hatch where he finished 3rd in a Lancia LC2 with Wollek and Mauro Baldi, and then 2nd again in the Lancia LC2 alongside Alessandro Nannini at Monza in 1986.
For the 1984-’85 seasons he signed to drive for Guy Ligier, who reportedly said that de Cesaris was a far too expensive driver for him to keep following a catalog of accidents. Ligier ended the Italian’s contract early after the 1985 Dutch GP. During de Cesaris’ Grand Prix career he drove in 208 races for 10 different teams, but without a win—although he did score points for many of them. He was one of those drivers who had a seemingly split personality—when he was good he was good, but when he was bad he was horrid. This is probably what led him to retirement in 1994, after he stood in for the injured Karl Wendlinger at Sauber, as too many teams had become too aware of his regrettable propensities.
Nevertheless, he was a well loved and jovial member of the Grand Prix paddock. His love for windsurfing ensured he was one of the fittest on the grid of former F1 drivers when, in 2006, he made a track comeback in the GP Masters series. With his apparent maturity, gone was the reckless style, as he finished 4th in South Africa and set fastest lap at Silverstone. It’s probably due to the demise of the GP Masters series that fans were deprived of his best racing performances.
On October 5, 2014, while driving his motorcycle through the streets of his home city of Rome he had a fatal accident. To his family, friends and many fans Vintage Racecar offers its sincerest condolences.