THE YOUNG ROMAN'S COME A LONG WAY, AND NOT AN EASY WAY. IN DETROIT HE NOTCHED UP HIS EIGHTH STRAIGHT FINISH, ALL BUT ONE OF THEM IN THE POINTS, and by consistency, promoted himself to third in the championship with 19.5 points, higher than he's ever been before. Peter Warr, the Lotus team manager, was saying in the pits before the race that 'Elio's been reading too many Italian racing magazines, and that's where he's been picking up this idea that the way to win is to be smooth, easy on the car and finish."
It wasn't meant as a criticism. Elio would admit himself that he's never been a really aggressive driver "It's not in my nature," he says: But what he does want, by now, at the age of 26 is to be taken seriously as a professional: "I'd like it if people no longer referred to me as a rich kid," he admitted with a grin a few seconds later adding that he was off to Sardinia and his boat for a little of the dolce vita.
Inside Lotus, he is obviously a startling contrast to Nigel Mansell: rough diamond and smooth. There has been more than a little rivalry between the two and there was a touch of acrimony as Elio spoke about the first start of the day: "I have to say it was a mistake on Nigel's part, and a dangerous mistake. I think drivers have to learn not to get involved in just being tough and bullish." He was a strong supporter of Lauda's at the slightly abortive PRDA meeting in Detroit and has his own ideas on how drivers should be disciplined: "Like in Football: two warnings or yellow cards and then a one race suspension." And who would do the judging, I asked. ""FISA, and maybe a committee of drivers," he answered. "The cars are now too fast and too dangerous for foolishness."
Anyway, a relaxed young man up in his fifty-first floor suite. The litter is appalling: "You can see how you succeed in F1," he says. "It's all disorganisation," In fact, there is a computer backgammon by his bed and an elegant framed collage of Detroit leaning against the wall ("A girl brought it and gave it to me," says Elio) and that, apart from an unmade bed, is about all the room there is: the floor, the desk, the table, all is covered in the litter of the F1 driver, bits of equipment, invitations, tickets, boots, new clothes, gewgaws.
So, where does the new consistency come from? "It's just that the car is much more consistent this year," says Elio. "And when a car is consistent and you can get into it and feel it is going to go well you drive that much better." Had he in fact changed his driving style? "I'd like to think not," he answers." I think I just know more than I used to. It becomes correspondingly easier to do things right. During the race I had a lot of things wrong; I had to worry about a second gear that wouldn't take; I had to thing about the wear on my tyresl I had to wonder about my brakes holding. It's having so many decisions to make in a such a short time that wears you out and, apart from the gears, which I thought might vanish altogether at any moment, what worried me most was my stamina. There were several times when I thought I'd quit, and in fact I radio'd in to the pits to say I was going to quit, and they said, 'No, just keep going there are cars dropping out every where." In fact, he thinks of his race as being compounded mostly of caution. "I decided early on that I didn't need to press things too hard. I let Niki and Eddie Cheever by and just settled in behind them. I knew that the car was good - in fact very good on this circuit - and I thought I'd have a good chance to finish well: if nothing went wrong. That was the agonizing part, because wrong they soon went. All I had to do from then was hold on. By the end, I was really struggling. I think if I hadn't known that everyone else was, too, I might have given up. But I had a good cushion on Fabi."
You look at him and there's not a touch of fatigue about him. "Funny, isn't it?" he says. "The moment you get out of the car and up on the podium, all that weariness just drops off you,"