F1: Elio de Angelis, Thirty Years On

 
This weekend, in amongst the historic events at Barcelona, we marked the thirtieth anniversary of another event, one that was incredible in its own terrible way. The testing crash at the Paul Ricard circuit in the South of France that killed Italian racer Elio de Angelis.
 
Whereas Max Verstappen typifies in every way the modern racing driver, and modern racing, Elio was from a different era - the most common description you will find of him is a 'Gentleman Racer', cultured, well-mannered and respected.
 
Verstappen has been bred from birth to be a racing driver. Max began racing before being old enough for school. If there is a better example of a manufactured racing driver I am yet to see it. Not better or worse, just different drivers for different eras.
 
Elio was old school. He too was a child prodigy, making his Grand Prix debut at just 20 years old, incredible because of the more challenging path that drivers had to complete to get to F1 back then. Yes, family money smoothed his way into the sport, but that was in addition too, not instead of a prodigious talent.
 
Elio stood competition with some of the greats in the sport, partnering and generally outperforming World Champions Mario Andretti and Nigel Mansell. But it was in his year with Lotus and Ayrton Senna that Elio proved he had more about him than he was given credit for.
 
His death was one of those stupid, completely avoidable ones that litter F1 in the 70s and 80s. During a test session the rear wing of his Brabham failed, pitching the car into a crash that flipped it upside down, before bursting into flame. On a race weekend marshals would have been on hand to extinguish the fire and right the stricken car. For the test session there were none. Drivers and mechanics racing to the scene did the best they could to effect a rescue, but the otherwise uninjured de Angelis succumbed to a cardiac failure caused by all the available oxygen being consumed by the fire.
 
It was a senseless, pointless death, one can only hope that it was quick or that Elio was knocked unconscious by the impact and never suffered mentally or physically. That this occurred just a decade after Roger Williamson burned to death at the Dutch Grand Prix showed just how little care was taken over drivers welfare during this era.

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