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A Tribute To Elio de Angelis: 1958-1986

Remembering Elio
 
Lotus Unfolds
by Keith Botsford, Grand Prix International No 71

 
European GP, Brands Hatch
 
For a long time, it looked like the best possible week at Lotus. On Friday, the sleek cars that Gerard Ducarouge is building for John Player scored a scarcely believable one-two on the grid; on Saturday, though both Elio de Angelis and Nigel Mansell thought that there was well over a second more to be squeezed out of the cars, that wasn't to be. Still, a pole position and a third place on the grid were no mean feat for a team that, not so long ago, was not really in the reckoning.

If Elio seemed at ease, his teammate Nigel Mansell was obviously less so. And, come to that, it had not been easy even in the practice sessions. Both Lotus cars had gearbox troubles on Friday morning: then in the afternoon, Mansell was ahead of de Angelis until practice was interrupted for Andrea de Cesaris' accident at the forty-minute mark. As the team was devoting all its efforts to Elio and very few to Mansell, that cannot have pleased team-manager Peter Warr.

But when practice re-started Elio was on pole and Lotus no doubt felt exhilerated. Nigel, however, complained that his "first set of qualifiers didn't give me a very good balance. The second was better, but I wish I'd had a third set." As for Elio, he experienced no problems whatever, apart from a trio fling misfire over the 10,000 rpm mark.  Saturday afternoon was all glory, as we know, and Elio held on to his Friday pole position, commenting, "I wish the old man were here, he would really have enjoyed it! " So apparently did Elio, who was all smiles.

Mansell, however, was in a much grumpier mood. "I'm getting no help of any kind," he said in that flat Midlands voice of his. "Would you believe it, I actually had to beg some fuel for my car, and at first they wouldn't even pay attention to me. Finally Bob (Bob Dance, the Lotus chief mechanic said, 'Allright, while Elio's still out there, but hurry up!"

When it came to race day, de Angelis indulged in a rare moment of camaraderie with Riccardo Patrese (generally, there is not much love lost between patrician Rome and industrial Milan), going over to wish him luck on the starting grid. It was to be an ironical greeting in the end, because Riccardo was to be the instrument, if not the cause of Elio's undoing. Outgunned at the start by Nelson Piquet, Elio was keeping in touch quite well for 11 laps. Then on lap 11 he tried to take Patrese on the inside at Surtees.  In the judgment of all, that is no place to try it on: the result was a collision that effectively put him out on lap 13.   Of the collision, Elio said: "Patrese just shut the door on me. I had nowhere to go and we both spun off together. "Then, with perhaps more judgement, he added: "It didn't matter anyway, because my engine was already giving me trouble. I knew something was wrong and a few laps later the engine packed up."

That left Mansell the task - as he has done so often in the past - of upholding Lotus's fortunes. "I got away well," he said, "and I even thought, hello there, I'm going to get out ahead of everybody. But the left rear tyre - we preheat all our tyres - sottie- how just stayed cooler than the others; it just wouldn't grip and the car was unbalanced. Gradually it warmed up and then the car went fine. But before that, Elio had already damned nearly put me off! As far as I can see, he just gave the race away with Patrese, but I wasn't there. And for me, third place is a good result, it tells its own story on my current situation at Lotus.  "I'm confident of having a good drive next year, although there's no guarantee that it will be with Lotus; but I do expect to race in South Africa - at least they haven't said anything to the contrary - even though my option is really up on the last day of September. "

Another happy participant in this unfolding of the Lotus was Pirelli. For the Italian tyre manufacturer, whose season has been fraught with disappointments, it was vindication in fine style: it was Pirelli's first appearance on the podium; three out of their four cars were in the first six; and their cars put in the first and third fastest laps (Mansell and Warwick). As the Pirelli men said at the end of the race, "If we'd had the Ducarouge car at the beginning of the season, the story might be very different."
 
So might Nigel Mansell's, if Lotus were to show him the same trust that Chapman gave him. But what really angered Nigel was somethng quite different: "I drove my balls off," he said, "and all I get is a bunch of flowers. I've only won one trophy in F1. I was really looking forward to that more than anything else."
 

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