If he had won, the Italian’s career would have gone down a different path – but not only did his short burst of anger cost him losing the lead, he also ended up crashed into a wall, which happened to him frequently.
Instead, this race became an unforgettable come-back victory for Niki Lauda, who was oddly enough the person that replaced de Cesaris at McLaren.
The victory proved that it was a good idea for Ron Dennis to bring Lauda back after he had retired. This win made way for Lauda’s third World Championship title two years later.
De Cesaris raced in 208 Grand Prix competitions between 1980 and 1994, representing no less than 10 teams: Alfa Romeo, McLaren, Ligier, Minardi, Brabham, Rial, Scuderia Italia, Jordan, Tyrrell and Sauber.
In 1981, Andrea de Cesaris joined McLaren and caused a series of accidents that frustrated the team. Later that year, Team Manager Ron Dennis had a plan to bring in Lauda instead of keeping De Cesaris, and eventually it worked. That meant De Cesaris no longer had a spot with the team for the following 1982 season.
De Cesaris had a lot of Marlboro’s support, so it wasn’t unexpected when he was moved to their other F1 racing team called Alfa Romeo. In fact, De Cesaris had driven two F1 races for Alfa back in 1980 which made him feel comfortable and familiar with this new environment.
At Alfa, a big change went down with the arrival of Gerard Ducarouge, who used to work at Ligier. He designed an awesome 182 carbon chassis which was matched with a powerful V12 engine – this proved to be a great combo!
When De Cesaris and Bruno Giacomelli, his teammate, first raced it in South Africa they had their old car. Then, they drove the new car when they got to Brazil but it didn’t go so well.
At the third round at Long Beach, the Alfa car was off to a quick start with Giacomelli coming in second during the first practice session and de Cesaris sixth. However, they had some issues on Friday which led them to being 10th and 12th in qualifying but luckily everything worked out for de Cesaris on Saturday.
In the last few minutes of the qualifying round, Lauda seemed to be on top with a nice lap that would have earned him pole. The TV cameras were already set up for him when there was surprise at the top of the leaderboard- De Cesaris was now in first place, 0.120s ahead of Lauda who had replaced him!
When he came back to the pitlane, Ducarouge was tearful after seeing a massive party start in the Alfa area. Everyone was clearly moved by the event. As a reward for his efforts, he got a special trophy, $1000 in cash, a bottle of brandy and even a razor!
This was an important moment for Ducarouge as it showed that he was right since the previous year when he had been fired from Ligier. Marlboro was just as pleased because they trusted Lauda and now they had two cars performing well at the top.
When people realized that a tyre without a mark had been used on the winning car, they became scared. But then it turned out that a marshal had made a mistake, so everything was ok in the end.
At 22 years old, de Cesaris was the youngest person ever to get pole position – this record stayed until 1994 when Rubens Barrichello managed to beat him.
He said he didn’t want to think too much about what would happen on the first lap of the race because then he wouldn’t be able to sleep!
At the start of the race, Andrea de Cesaris (in an Alfa Romeo 182) was in the lead, followed closely by Niki Lauda (driving a McLaren MP4/1B-Ford Cosworth), Rene Arnoux (Renault RE30B), Alain Prost (also in a Renault RE30B), Bruno Giacomelli (ane another Alfa Romeo 182), Gilles Villeneuve (Ferrari 126C2), Nelson Piquet (Brabham BT49D-Ford Cosworth) and Keke Rosberg (Williams FW07C-Ford Cosworth).
Photo by: F1Flow Images
Lauda had to complete his job in the race, and he knew he needed to be in the lead. He was aware of his rival’s skills, so he didn’t want to get into any fights with him at the beginning of the race. Before they began, Lauda spoke to his rival to make sure that if he couldn’t take the lead right away, he wouldn’t try anything risky when they got to Turn 1.
Before the start of the race, he said that he needed to be patient and not do too much. It was also important not to take risks with de Cesaris. During the race, he had a good start from pole position while Rene Arnoux from Renault moved up to second place on the grid.
Lauda came in third place, with Giacomelli behind him. On the sixth lap, Alfa’s second driver (who was obviously eager to get ahead) tried to pass Lauda, but ended up crashing into Arnoux instead – thus causing both of them to be disqualified from the race.
Lauda was now secure in second place, with a gap of 4.8 seconds to the leader on lap 13. But then, de Cesaris slowed down when he came up to lap the car driven by Brian Henton. This gave Lauda an opportunity to catch up and put pressure on him.
De Cesaris found his way to Raul Boesel’s March car at the new turn off the pit straight. He hesitated momentarily in the first corner, but then he tried to pass him on the left anyway. However, Raul wasn’t moving—forcing De Cesaris to move wide.
He finally overtook the other car as it exited from a tricky part of the track, but he had gone off the perfect line, reducing his speed. He then began to shout at the driver.
In his autobiography, “To Hell and Back,” Lauda explained, “De Cesaris passed by the slower driver and was shaking his fist at them. I noticed him making an angry gesture while mumbling something underneath his breath. I thought to myself – he should have shifted gears by now.”
I heard the engine of another car go really quickly as it reached 11,000 revolutions per minute. So I kept away to stay safe – because you need to be careful when someone gets so mad they forget they have to change gear.
Lauda was going fast on my right and he stayed in front at the end of the straight section on the track. It was his first time leading a race since 1978 with the special Brabham fan car.
Afterwards, de Cesaris moved away from the Alfa car, being only 19 years old and struggling to get past slower cars. He was still doing really well in second place when on lap 34 he saw some smoke coming up in his mirror, probably caused by something burning near his brakes.
He was so distracted that he crashed his car, which damaged the entire right side of it and even made the chassis unusable. When he got out of the smoking wrecked car, he noticed his boot had come off and he took a minute to put it back on. It was a sad end for him but at least others had made similar mistakes and not just him.
Niki Lauda of the McLaren MP4/1B-Ford team drove in a relaxed way throughout the race, slowing down at the end to make sure his car stayed in good condition. He was able to win his third race after a two year break and finished 14.6 second ahead of Keke Rosberg from Williams, who came in second place, followed by Gilles Villeneuve from Ferrari for third place.
A few weeks later in Monaco, de Cesaris got a chance to redeem himself. He drove at a consistent speed while it was raining and car after car started to have problems. If he had enough fuel, he might have won the race, but instead, Riccardo Patrese ended up winning as de Cesaris’ Alfa ran out of gas on the last lap. He ended up finishing third.
The following year went better for him and he was leading in some races such as Spa and came in second place in Germany and South Africa.
At the end of his career, he made history by becoming Michael Schumacher’s first F1 teammate at Jordan. He could have won a race that day if his engine hadn’t failed, however, he never achieved that victory.