As was elucidated in the first part of this examination, Fallen Before Glory, the arena of Formula 1 in the fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties was one fraught with horrendous dangers. Appalling safety standards, as well as developments that pushed the velocity of the cars past what the chassis materials and crash structures of the day could keep up with, made for a blood-sport that claimed the lives of many of its brightest stars. Some of these prodigies were cut down in the prime of their careers but before they achieved their ultimate goal of becoming Formula 1 World Champion. As such, many of these practitioners of sublime reflexes and seemingly impossible speed have been forgotten to time. In an effort to keep their memories alive, here are four more of their stories.
Jo Siffert, affectionately known by all his family and friends as “Seppi,” was one of the last of the gentlemen racers of Formula 1’s Golden Era of the 1960s. Remembered for being motivated more by the sheer challenge of racing and the camaraderie of his compatriots than he was by the wealth and fame of being a grand prix ace, Siffert exuded an old-world charm that made him the favorite of his Swiss countrymen and fans the world over.
Born in Fribourg on July 7, 1936, Siffert, the son of a dairy owner, attended the Swiss Grand Prix at Bremgarten as a boy with his father. Fascinated by what he saw, Seppi decided to become a racing driver then and there. Owing to the fact that his family could not afford to finance his early efforts, Siffert worked after school as a teenager at a scrap yard, an automotive body shop, and a used car lot to earn the needed cash.
As it was considerably less expensive, Jo began his racing career on two wheels instead of four. In 1956, Seppi met local motorcycle racer Michel Piller and the latter instantly recognized Siffert’s talent. The duo began travelling across Switzerland and Europe to contest 125cc and 350cc events, with Pillar supplying his old bikes for Jo to race. In 1959, the planets suddenly came into alignment for Seppi, and he stormed his way to the Swiss 350cc Motorcycle Championship.
Based on this success, Siffert made the jump to four wheels, acquiring a front-engined Stanguellini. With Michel acting as his mechanic, the duo joined the 1960 Formula Junior series midway through the season. Jo acquitted himself straight off, claiming a fourth place in Messina. The following season, Siffert exchanged his Italian steed for a Lotus 20, and began in earnest to make his mark in the European circuits. From the start, he was a regular visitor to the podium, and later in the year claimed five wins. Remarkably, despite being a privateer in his first full season of motor racing, Siffert found himself tied at the top of the points with South African Tony Maggs at the end of the season, and was declared joint European Champion.
For 1962, Siffert was snatched up by the Scuderia Filipinetti Formula Junior squad. Once again, the Swiss racer delivered, claiming victories at Vienna and Cesenatico. But it was becoming abundantly clear that Seppi had already outgrown Formula Junior, and was ready for his shot at the big time in Formula 1.
Jo’s entre into the series wasn’t an auspicious one. By this time, privateer teams were finding it hard to compete with the larger, factory-backed outfits. Driving an outdated Filipinetti Lotus 24 in his first Formula 1 race at Spa, the best he could muster was tenth. Sensing that the odds were stacked against him, and that Filipinetti was in decline, Siffert decided ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix to leave the team, buy their Lotus 24, and go it alone. It was a bold move that would lead to frustration, as a single World Championship point collected at Reims was his only reward for the 1963 season.
1964 saw Seppi begin the season with the now ancient 24 and no encouraging race results, but the light at the end of the tunnel came with a successful deal to purchase a Brabham-BRM BT11 from Jack Brabham. Debuting the new car at Zandvoort, Jo and his Brabham gradually got up to pace, taking a magnificent fourth place at the daunting and deadly Nordschliefe circuit at the Nurburgring.
The following year at Watkins Glen in America, the amiable Swiss took his first Formula 1 podium. The world began to notice.
And so did team owner Rob Walker, who signed Siffert to team up with the other Jo in Formula 1, Jo Bonnier. Walker’s team was not the works drive he was looking for, but it did provide him with the machinery to consistently score points. Just when things were beginning to look up, Seppi nearly killed himself competing in the non-Formula 1, Sunday Mirror Trophy at Goodwood. Coming into to the chicane way too hot, Jo’s car went off track and vaulted the barriers. It was a near miracle that he walked away from the shunt with only cuts, bruises and a fractured ankle. What’s more, he even recuperated in time to compete in and finish the Grand Prix of Monaco, despite having to use his bad foot to depress the clutch thousands of times during the race.
In 1966, Formula 1 made the bold move of increasing the displacement of the engines from 1.5 to 3.0 liters to spice up the show. Rob Walker chose to purchase Cooper-Maserati T81s for Siffert and Bonnier. The cars’ engine was an evolution of a decade-old 2.5 liter V12, and produced prodigious power, but the Cooper chassis took a fair amount of time to sort out. Seppi suffered nine retirements, one failure to qualify and a best finish of fourth at his favorite track at Watkins Glen.
In part due to his disappointing results in Formula 1, Siffert began racing Sportscars as well. He contested the Nurburgring 1000 kms in a Porsche 904, and the Tour de France in David Piper’s GTO. Fine results in these and other sports car races attracted the interest of Huschke von Hanstein, the boss of the Porsche Factory Team, who gave Seppi a works Le Mans 24 Hour drive alongside Colin Davis in 1966. It was an inspired pairing, as the duo won the 2-liter class, and placed fourth overall. While Siffert flourished in Sportscar racing, his F1 career remained in the doldrums, with the Walker Cooper-Maserati proving recalcitrant again in 1967. Two fourth places in the United States and French Grands Prix were the best Seppi could muster.
1968 may have been a tumultuous year for world affairs, but for Seppi, it was when the sun finally shown on him. Impressive Sportscar wins at Sebring, Daytona, Nurburgring, Zeltweg, Enna and Hockenheim were sweet, but the icing on the cake was Jo’s first win in Formula 1. And it almost didn’t happen. Early in the year, Rob Walker had put together a deal with Lotus chief Colin Chapman to replace the incorrigible Cooper-Maserati with the Lotus-Ford 49. Seppi was elated, as the car had powered Jim Clark to second in the Championship the previous year, and was still considered a top-tier machine. In practice for the non-points scoring Race of Champions, Jo had a huge off, almost completely destroying the car. It was transported back to the teams’ headquarters in Dorking, and later that night the garage caught fire and burned to the ground with the damaged Lotus in it. Without a car for Seppi to compete in, Walker begged Chapman for another racer, and the latter managed to convert a Tasman chassis to Formula 1 spec. The car initially proved to be unreliable, and dropped out of several races with transmission problems.
Finally though, at the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch, the same venue where Seppi had demolished the first Lotus, he qualified the car fourth, and after a race-long battle with Chris Amon’s Ferrari, emerged victorious. The man who had dreamed of Formula 1 success as a boy at Bremgarten had finally arrived.
By virtue of a superlative Sportscar season and the F1 win at Brands, Seppi finally found interest from the top factory Grand Prix teams. No less a personage than Enzo Ferrari offered him a combination Grand Prix and Sportscar drive for 1969, but after much consideration, Siffert decided that he didn’t want to abandon his Porsche Sportscar program and declined the opportunity. He would stay with Porsche in Sportscars and Rob Walker in F1.
It turned out to be an inspired decision. In Sportscars, Seppi and new teammate Brian Redman would clinch the title at a very early stage in the season; and while Ferrari had an abysmal F1 season that year, Jo took Walker’s Lotus to multiple podium finishes.
In 1970, Siffert decided the time had come to leave Walker Lotus. So desperate was Porsche to prevent Jo from accepting that open Ferrari F1/ Sportscar contract that they steered him towards the brand new March F1 team and bankrolled the move. March looked to be an outfit with fine potential, but the performance just wasn’t there during the season. A raft of technical problems saw Siffert drop out of race after race. Jo could only manage a best finish of seventh at Spa. In Sportscars though, Jo had become one of the very top drivers. Porsche had produced for the 1970 season one of the most legendary racecars in history, the 917, which enabled Seppi and Brian Redman to win several of the major events of the season and clinch the title early.
And then came 1971.
Siffert decided to say farewell to March owing to his dismal F1 season, and signed to drive for Yardley-BRM alongside fellow Porsche Sportscar driver Pedro Rodriguez. The F1 season started off terribly for Seppi, with three consecutive retirements in the first three races. At the fourth race at Zandvoort, Jo managed a respectable fourth place, and he finished sixth at the French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard.
But then tragedy struck. Seppi’s teammate, Pedro Rodriguez was killed during a Sportscar race in Germany. It was a personal blow to Siffert, and left a huge void in the BRM F1 program and Porsche Sportscar effort. In spite of this, Siffert managed to bounce back and took pole, fastest lap and his second Grand Prix victory at the Osterreichring in Austria. Seppi capped off the season with a fine second place at Watkins Glen and finished fourth overall in the Championship, his best finish yet.
At season’s end, Siffert decided to compete in the World Championship Victory Race at Brands Hatch, an event sponsored by Rothman’s to celebrate Jackie Stewart and Ken Tyrrell’s joint World Championships. Seppi put his BRM on pole, but at the start fell back several places after a seemingly harmless run-in with Ronnie Peterson. On lap 15 though, coming around the blindingly fast bend at Hawthorne Hill, the effect of the shunt made itself apparent. While flat out in top gear, Jo’s BRM suffered a suspension failure, and the car slammed into an earth banking, coming to rest upside down. A fuel line was ruptured in the accident, and Seppi’s car was immediately engulfed in flames. He struggled to undo his safety belts, but was unable to extricate himself from the burning wreck and perished. Only 35 years old, Jo Siffert left behind a wife, two young children and a stunned racing world.
Over 50,000 people attended his funeral to say goodbye to the man they knew as the Gentleman Racer from Fribourg.
Few figures in Formula 1 history have acquired greater mythical status than Gilles Villenueve. Given this, most are shocked to learn how ephemeral his time in F1 actually was, and how little of the legend of the diminutive French Canadian relies on outright racing success.
Joseph Gilles Henri Villeneuve was born on January 18, 1950 in Richelieu, a small town just outside of Montreal, Canada, and grew up in nearby Berthierville. From the time he was a toddler, Gilles was transfixed by anything with wheels. It was a family friend’s gift of a snowmobile however that provided the boy with his first connection with his other love: speed.
Gilles recalls, “Those things used to slide a lot, which taught me a great deal about control… Good for the reactions, and it stopped me having any worries about racing in the rain.”
Villenueve first set foot on his adventure in racing by competing in snowmobiles in his native Quebec at the age of sixteen. From the start, it was clear that Gilles was born to it. After winning several races, he was hired in 1969 by Skiroule Snowmobiles as a factory driver. Owing to this, he was able to quit working his other jobs, and support himself as a professional driver. More importantly to Gilles, he was having a lot of fun.
A switch to the Motoski outfit saw him become Snowmobile Champion of Quebec in his class. He followed that up by winning the World Series title in New York State. By now, Gilles’ flamboyant racing style had made him a fan favorite and a much in demand personality with event organizers. His humble, good nature, honesty and good looks further helped to propel him up the ladder of success. A win in 1974 at Eagle River, Wisconsin saw Villenueve clinch the 650cc title against the best international competition. Having nothing left to prove in the world of snowmobiles, Gilles turned his attention to traditional motor racing.
Villeneuve enrolled at the famous Jim Russell racing school located at the Mont Tremblant circuit, and after that, made his four-wheeled racing debut in Formula Ford, driving a two-year-old car. Despite this, he won seven out of the ten events held, and took the provincial championship in his first attempt.
Next up was Formula Atlantic, the top series of single-seater, open-wheeled racing in Canada. The cars featured a sophisticated chassis, slick racing tires and power provided by a modified 1.6 liter Ford Cosworth engine. Gilles had heard about an Atlantic outfit named Ecurie Canada that was just being put together under the stewardship of a Montreal entrepreneur named Kris Harrison.
Harrison also ran a speed shop, and one day Gilles stopped by. While ordering a new racing suit, the young racer abruptly stated that he wanted to drive for Ecurie Canada and left some references. Harrison, impressed by Villenueve’s confidence and moxie, called them, and was universally told that Gilles was very special. When Gilles came in a week later to pick up his new suit, Harrison offered Gilles a drive, which he enthusiastically accepted.
The deal required Gilles help fund the purchase of two March 74B chassis and several Ford engines. Gilles, not exactly rolling in money, nonetheless put down $20,000 and duly sold his house without consulting his young wife Joann.
In spite of the fact that the fledgling Ecurie Canada team was underfinanced, their start to the 1974 Player’s Challenge Formula Atlantic series was a positive one, with Gilles finishing third in Vancouver. But the good results would end there. Technical problems would see Gilles DNF and finish twenty-second in the following two races.
Hopes were high for the next race at Mosport Park in Ontario. Gilles put on quite a show before the large crowd there, drifting and fishtailing his way around the challenging circuit. But halfway through the race, Gilles’ car flew of the track and slammed heavily into an Armco barrier, breaking the French Canadian’s left leg in two places. It was the first time that Gilles had been seriously injured in a vehicle.
After several months of rehabilitation, Gilles returned to the physical shape necessary to race in the 1975 Atlantic season. Mere weeks before the season was to start though, the sponsors that Gilles had lined up to pay for his ride with Ecurie Canada backed out, leaving Gilles without a ride. Unwilling to miss the season, Gilles piled on more debt to buy his own brand new March 75B along with a Ford BDA engine. Participating in a few snowmobile races for his old employer Skiroule provided him with just enough money to start his Atlantic campaign. This was all very risky on Gilles’ part, as one accident could spell the end of his season and leave him penniless.
The first race of the 1975 Formula Atlantic season saw Gilles finish in fifteenth place, his second, in fifth. Gilles was encouraged by the progression of results, but had no idea that at his very next race in Manitoba in torrential rain, he would fulfill one of his life ambitions and win his first motor race. Gilles was ecstatic, as he won the race on his talent, honed by years of racing in the snow. Following the win with a fine second place at St. Jovite in Quebec enabled Villenueve to finish fifth overall in the championship, and forced the regional racing world to take notice of him.
1976 would prove to be a seminal year in the life and racing career of Gilles Villenueve. Reuniting with Ecurie Canada and driving a state-of-the-art March 76B in Formula Atlantic, Gilles aimed his sights high and delivered. Against stiff competition from the likes of Héctor Rebaque, Bobby Rahal and Price Cobb, Gilles utterly dominated the season, winning four of the series’ six races, and taking the championship by a massive 35-point margin.
Gilles capped off the season with a win at the non-championship event at Trois-Rivières that would prove to be life changing. Unlike the normal season races, this event attracted top drivers from around the world. The 1976 edition had been contested by the likes of Formula 1 drivers Alan Jones, Vittorio Brambilla, Patrick Tambay and one James Hunt, soon to be Formula 1 World Champion. So impressed was Hunt by Villenueve that he mentioned him to his McLaren F1 team boss, Teddy Mayer.
Taking Hunt’s recommendation, Mayer offered Villeneuve a Formula 1 deal for up to five races in a third car during the 1977 season. Gilles had reached the top.
Villeneuve made his F1 debut at the 1977 British Grand Prix at Silverstone in a three-year-old McLaren M23. Despite his older mount, Gilles qualified ninth, besting his teammate Jochen Mass in a contemporary M26. During the race, he set the fifth fastest lap and ultimately finished eleventh after a small mechanical problem. The F1 world was impressed by the performance of the Canadian, with The Times writer John Blunsden remarking, “Anyone seeking a future World Champion need look no further than this quietly assured young man.”
By the end of the season though, Teddy Mayer made the decision not to continue with Villenueve for the 1978 season, surmising that Gilles “was looking as though he might be a bit expensive.” Villenueve was left with no options for the future. That is, until a call came that would change his life, and ultimately decide his fate. Enzo Ferrari, upon recommendation by team owner Walter Wolf, requested to meet Gilles at Maranello.
Gilles travelled to Italy with his manager, telling the latter that he was so mesmerized by the prospect of driving for Ferrari that he was prepared to accept anything Enzo Ferrari said. During the meeting Enzo took to Gilles immediately, enjoying the racer’s honesty, humility and quiet confidence. The Old Man made his mind up immediately:
“When they presented me with this ‘piccolo Canadese’, this minuscule bundle of nerves, I immediately recognized in him the physique of Nuvolari and said to myself, let’s give him a try.”
Enzo was satisfied with his decision after Villenueve’s session on Ferrari’s Fiorano test track, despite the fact that Gilles spun off track a few times and set mediocre times. He signed Villeneuve for the 1978 season. Villeneuve later remarked:
“If someone said to me that you can have three wishes, my first would have been to get into racing, my second to be in Formula 1, my third to drive for Ferrari…”
Gilles’ season started off reasonably finishing eighth in Argentina, and setting the fastest lap of the race. But the next four races would not go well for Quebec’s favorite son. Problems with the Michelin tires, mechanical failures and driving errors would see Villenueve drop out of the Grads Prix of Brazil, South Africa, United States West and Monaco. Calls for Gilles replacement began during this period, as his teammate, Carlos Reutemann, managed to avoid these issues for the most part and score two wins and an eighth place.
The rest of Gilles’ season saw him improve steadily, acquitting his boss’ faith. Points scoring finishes in Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands showed promise, as did Villenueve’s second place finish in front of Ferrari’s home crowd, though the latter would be taken away from him post race, after he incurred a penalty for jumping the start.
The last race of the year would prove to be Gilles’ coming out party, and seal his standing as a crowd favorite. That it would happen to be in Canada, in front of an extremely partisan crowd would help to further cement his legend at home.
Held on the newly built Circuit Ile Notre-Dame in Montreal, the 1978 Canadian Grand Prix would start off well for Gilles as he qualified third, his best starting position of the season. Running fourth for much of the race, Gilles passed Alan Jones for third and Jody Scheckter for second. It was then that attrition aided his race, when on lap 49, race leader Jean-Pierre Jarier dropped out with an oil leak. Gilles took the lead and never looked back, winning the race in fine fashion. Gilles Villenueve had achieved one of his life’s ambitions – he was now a Formula 1 race winner. He later called it one of the greatest moments of his life.
Gilles was resigned by Ferrari for the 1979 season and was paired with Jody Scheckter in the powerful and sleek, ground effects Ferrari 312T4. The car turned out to be the class of the field with Scheckter and Villenueve scoring three wins apiece. Gilles cemented his position as the most exciting driver in Grand prix racing with countless bold passes and outrageous, full-drift cornering all season long. Of particular note was his titanic and now legendary battle with Rene Arnoux at Dijon, where the two racers passed one another and banged wheels multiple times in the closing stages for second place, a finish Gilles would ultimately walk away with. Also endearing to fans of Formula 1, was the never-give-up attitude Gilles displayed when after suffering a tire failure in the Dutch Grand Prix, he drove the car back to the pits on three wheels in spectacular fashion. But it was at Monza, in front of a rabid, partisan crowd, that Villenueve showed the world that he was a gentleman despite his enormous rage to win. Running in second behind his teammate Scheckter, Gilles obviously had the faster car. Despite this, he stayed in formation out of respect to Jody, who went on to win the race and in the process the championship. Had he passed his teammate, the championship would have been his. During Friday practice for the final race of the season at a torrential Watkins Glen, Gilles put on a display of car control that is remembered to this day by fans and his teammate alike.
Jody Scheckter remembers:
“I scared myself rigid that day. I thought I had to be quickest, but then I saw Gilles’ time and – I still don’t really understand how it was possible. Eleven seconds quicker!”
The 1980 season was diametrically opposed to the one before it. The 312T5 had only partial ground effects in its design and thus was no match for many of the other cars. While Alan Jones stormed to the championship in his Williams FW07, Gilles could only score six points all season, and Scheckter, who hung up his racing suit at years’ end, could only score two. It was the worst season in Ferrari’s history.
To remedy the flaws of the T5, Ferrari wiped the slate clean and designed an entirely new car. 1981’s Ferrari 126C was the first turbocharged car the Scuderia had ever produced, and it featured full ground effects as well. Hopes were high, as in pre-season testing, it was found that the engine produced prodigious power, and that the cars’ aero platform was good.
Unfortunately for the scarlet team, the cars’ handling proved to be so vicious and unpredictable that Gilles and his new teammate Didier Pironi often struggled to keep the car on track. Gilles retired from races eight times during the season, but despite this, managed to win back-to-back races at Monaco and Spain. Adding to the Villenueve legend was his performance in Canada, where after damaging his front wing in an off in heavy rain, Gilles continued to circulate with the wing obscuring his view from the cockpit. The wing eventually separated from the car, and Villenueve went on to finish third, battling the lack of front downforce the entire way to the checkered flag.
1982 looked to be promising for Ferrari and Villenueve. The 126C2 car was an evolution of the previous season’s model, but it was hoped that the problems with the latter had been engineered out. There were teething problems at the first race in South Africa, which saw Gilles retire with a turbo failure. In Brazil things were looking good as Gilles comfortably led for the first half of the race until he spun off on lap 29. Villenueve finished third at Long Beach, but was later disqualified for a technical infringement on his car.
And so it was that Gilles entered the San Marino weekend, desperate to open his points account. The Ferraris of Villenueve and Pironi took over first and second place in the race after the leading Renault of Rene Arnoux dropped out. Seeking to take a 1-2 in front of the Ferrari-crazed crowd in attendance, word came down from the team that the red cars should slow to conserve fuel and put less strain on their engines. Villenueve was under the impression that this meant the cars should also hold their positions, and when Villenueve began to coast, Pironi passed him. Villenueve returned the favor a few laps later, and again slowed down, believing that his teammate was only trying to give the Italian crowd their money’s worth. He was mistaken. On the last lap, Pironi once again passed Gilles, aggressively shut the door on him, and took the race win. Villenueve was furious. Pironi tried to play dumb, claiming the team had ordered the cars to slow down, not maintain their positions. Feeling duped and betrayed, Gilles vowed never to speak to his teammate again.
The next race at Zolder in Belgium took on the feel of a grudge-match between the two Scuderia drivers. In qualifying, Pironi had put in a lap .1 seconds quicker than Gilles. With time running out, Villenueve took to the track in a banzai attempt to beat Pironi. Gilles came over the hill just after the first chicane to find Jochen Mass on a cool-down lap going slowly through Butte corner. Mass saw Villenueve approaching at high speed in his mirrors and moved to the right to clear the racing line for the Canadian to drive past. At that same moment, Gilles moved right to pass on the inside and plowed into the back of Mass’ car. Gilles Ferrari became airborne at 140 mph, pirouetted through the air for over 100 meters, and disintegrated as it hit the track again. Gilles was thrown from the car still strapped into his seat but without his helmet, which had come off in the impact. He flew another 50 meters and landed in the fencing at the side of the track.
John Watson and Derek Warwick stopped their cars on the track and rushed to Gilles’ aid. They discovered him no longer breathing with his face blue. Medics arrived on the scene, and intubated and ventilated Gilles before transferring him to the hospital. He succumbed to a fatal fracture of the neck later that night.
The racing world had lost a legendary hero.
At Gilles’ funeral in Berthierville, his former teammate Jody Scheckter had the following to say:
“I will miss Gilles for two reasons. First, he was the fastest driver in the history of motor racing. Second, he was the most genuine man I have ever known. But he has not gone. The memory of what he has done, what he achieved, will always be there.”
Enzo Ferrari, who loved Gilles like a son, later said of him:
“His death has deprived us of a great champion, one that I loved very much. My past is scarred with grief; parents, brother, son. My life is full of sad memories. I look back and see the faces of my loved ones, and among them I see him.”
Elio de Angelis
Elio de Angelis was a bit of an anomaly in Formula 1. Not only was he an exceedingly talented racecar driver, he was also handsome, personable, educated, and despite having a background that has been known to create affect, extremely humble and mild-mannered.
Born in Rome on March 26, 1958, De Angelis was the scion of a very wealthy and prominent Roman family. His father, Giulio, ran one of the most successful construction companies in Italy, and also raced powerboats. No doubt Elio’s father’s ability to master many disciplines was genetically passed down to de Angelis, as he became a accomplished classical pianist at a young age, and was also a preternaturally talented student, tennis player and skier. Quite simply, he possessed an enormous amount of talent that enabled him to be proficient at whatever exercise he put his mind to. And one of those exercises would prove to be motor racing.
The bug bit Elio relatively late as compared to most of his later racing compatriots. He began in karts at the age of 14, competing against such future motor sport luminaries as Eddie Cheever, and acquitted himself well by finishing second in the karting World Championship in his first attempt in 1975. One year later he would win it.
Graduating to Italian Formula 3 with Trivellato Racing in 1977, Elio racked up three wins, four podiums, two pole positions and three fastest laps out of the seven races run on his way to taking the championship. Equally important to Elio’s future in the sport was the fact that Enzo Ferrari took notice of his progress at this time. A few months later, Enzo made an overture to him and invited Elio to Maranello for a meeting.
De Angelis arrived at the Ferrari factory in a virtual state of euphoria. Few things could be better to a young, up-and-coming, Italian driver than to walk the hallowed halls of the Ferrari factory and meet the Old Man in person. Enzo was quite impressed by the well-rounded Roman, and arranged for Elio to test the current Formula 1 car on the Fiorano test track adjacent to the factory. De Angelis did quite well, impressing the staff present at the test with his speed and consistency.
Post-test, Enzo offered Elio a contract, but one that had a stipulation: de Angelis would not race unless Ferrari decided to terminate his recent hire, Gilles Villenueve. Though quick, Villenueve had displayed a propensity to crash frequently during Grands Prix, and Enzo was unsure about having hired the Canadian. Should it come to pass that Villenueve wasn’t up to the task, Elio would be promoted to Gilles’ seat. In spite of the deal’s negatives, Elio couldn’t resist and signed the agreement.
But soon, the initial rush of signing with the most famous racing team in the world would wear off, and the reality of the situation would become apparent. Villenueve’s race results began to improve, and he even scored a win in his native Canada. Rumors were flying that Enzo would hire Jody Scheckter to join Villenueve for the following season, which would leave Elio in a state of limbo.
“I had an option which wasn’t honored. Still, not that I ever cherished any illusions on that account. I wanted to race in Formula 1 right from the start, but they weren’t able to offer me anything.”
Weighing the pros and cons, Elio decided to break his contract with Ferrari and signed with the Shadow Team. For Elio to secure the drive, though, he would have to be a pay driver. He agreed with the team to provide a 17-race budget, despite the fact that he didn’t have nearly enough in pocket. De Angelis approached his father and received the rest of the money he needed to get his opportunity with the Shadow team.
When word made its way around the Formula 1 paddock who Elio was, and how the 20 year old made it into the sport, the gossiping and back talk began immediately. Many who were unaware of de Angelis’ accomplishments in the lower formula assumed that he was a rich kid playing at being a racecar driver, and didn’t belong in the big show. Elio would arouse envy and sarcasm when he arrived at races aboard a private plane with his family, and much light was made of the fact that wherever de Angelis went, he was accompanied by a cadre of armed bodyguards. Most assumed all of this was a pretension, but what they didn’t know was that Elio had been placed on a hit list by the Italian terrorist group, the Red Brigades, and couldn’t travel safely in public.
Despite this rough welcoming, Elio quickly put his chin down and got to work at the business of being a Formula 1 driver. By this point, Shadow was a pale version of the competitive outfit that it had been just a few years before. In spite of it being underdeveloped, de Angelis would pilot his car to a seventh place finish in his very first Formula 1 race. He would duplicate this result with another seventh in the United States West Grand Prix at Long Beach, and in the rain at the last race of the season in Watkins Glen, Elio would surprise everyone with an inspired fourth place finish. While the doubters kept doubting, a few people began to take notice.
And one of those people was Colin Chapman, the legendary owner of Team Lotus. Upon the first meeting between the two, an instant chemistry was apparent. In the wealthy but extremely talented Roman, Chapman saw the promise of upper-class values mated with blue collar work ethic, Latin temperament and a strong desire to prove himself. In Chapman, Elio saw an engineering genius that was readily willing to be a father figure to him.
Despite having a contract with Shadow for 1980, Elio nonetheless signed with Lotus and would partner the legendary American World Champion, Mario Andretti. Shadow would go on to sue Elio for breach of contract, and the matter would be settled with a financial agreement. This would again inflame those who were convinced that Elio was nothing more than a rich dilettante, but after pre-season testing, Andretti could be heard telling people,
“Elio may well be rich, but do not dismiss him lightly. Just watch out. He’s good, and very soon he’ll be among the best.”
Those who knew Mario were well acquainted with the fact that he was never wrong when it came to assessing a driver’s abilities, and Elio quickly made Mario’s words prophetic. After a mechanical retirement in the first race of the season, de Angelis put in a spectacular drive in Brazil, which almost resulted in him becoming the youngest driver ever to win a Formula 1 race. Only .5 seconds separated Elio and race winner Rene Arnoux. He also put in mighty drives at Monza and Watkins Glen, which secured him a pair of fine fourth place finishes.
Elio endeared himself well at Lotus with these results and his willingness to learn and master English in just a few months so he could better communicate in the British outfit. Suddenly, outsiders began changing their tune about the 22 year old as well. Elio would comment on this in an interview, stating:
“I slogged a great deal more than most people seem to realize. Of course it is true that I was able to start my career with my Father’s money. I don’t deny that. Yet the very fact made it all the more important to prove that I could make it because of my own ability. I was underestimated for a very long time.”
‘‘You can buy your way into Formula 1. But once your arse is in the metal monocoque, the only person who can help you is yourself!”
With Andretti moving on to Alfa Romeo for the last season of his F1 career, Elio became the de facto number one driver at Lotus for 1981, and was paired with British test driver Nigel Mansell. Elio quickly set about establishing himself as the number one on the track. He scored eight top-six finishes during the season, with a best result of fourth at Monza in front of his countrymen. Moreover he would finish eighth in the championship, scoring twice as many points as his esteemed teammate Mansell.
Elio’s growing reputation as being a consistent finisher would again be fortified in 1982. By mid season, he would amass five top-six points scoring finishes, once again dominating his teammate Mansell. Perhaps because of this, the once friendly relationship between the Roman and the Brit would begin to turn frosty, and for various reasons and in subtle ways, the team began to favor Mansell in spite of Elio’s racing superiority. In an interview, de Angelis commented on the situation,
“Nigel is a very difficult man, very hard for me to understand… he wants to be quicker than me all the time. It doesn’t matter whether we can improve the car or not. He just doesn’t seem to want to share our solutions when the car is difficult… Nigel has a lot of pressure on him, and I think he is not ready for it. In England he is already regarded as a big star. Nigel changed a lot since he came third at Zolder last year. I liked much more the Nigel Mansell that I met two years ago.”
In the second half of the season, modifications to the Lotus saw an improvement in aspects of its handling. On the back of this, Elio put in a staggering race in Austria at the Osterreichring, and fulfilled one of his life’s ambitions by winning the race over Keke Rosberg by just 0.050 seconds – less than half a car length. De Angelis was elated, and celebrated wildly on the podium.
He could now silence all of his critics.
But what he nor the rest of the racing world knew at the time was that the win would be the last for Colin Chapman. After the F1 season was over, Chapman suffered a massive heart attack at home and died at age 54. The Formula 1 paddock was rocked by the news, as was Elio, who had become unusually close with the Lotus chief.
“I was shattered when I heard of Colin Chapman’s death.” Elio said. “I owe him so much. Since I joined Lotus, Colin taught me not only how to drive but also how to live. I had absolute trust in him. I just cannot imagine motor racing without him.”
The business of Lotus F1 had to go on, and so it did in the 1983 season, with Peter Warr at the helm. The 93T was the last car designed by Chapman, and it was plagued with problems. In the first half of the season, it retired six times with mechanical issues in the hands of de Angelis. Elio’s best result, a ninth place in Belgium, was little reward for a great deal of effort.
The car was retired by the British Grand Prix and replaced with a new model, the 94T, which was designed and built in only six weeks by designer Gerard Ducarouge, who was brought into the team by Warr to stave off the string of failures. It too proved problematic and another spate of retirements came Elio’s way. De Angelis could only manage a fifth place finish at Monza, and the two points earned for it were the only ones he would score all season. To make matters worse for him, Mansell managed to fare much better, finishing thirteenth in the championship to Elio’s eighteenth.
Lotus and de Angelis would bounce back in 1984. The 95T was a very reliable and fast car. In Elio’s hand, it also proved to be successful, enabling him to score no less than 11 top-six finishes. It would be Elio’s best season yet, and he would finish third in the championship.
Equally improved was Elio’s relationship with his teammate Mansell.
“We had a long talk together at Hockenheim,” Elio recalled in a later interview, “and we had to admit that we both made mistakes, perhaps under the influence of other people or due to the pressures that always exist in motor racing, especially between team mates. I’m glad that he realized that, and it gave me a chance to ask him to forgive me for saying some things that were perhaps too hard about him.”
Just as the reconciliation between the two happened, Mansell accepted an offer to drive for Williams in the 1985 season. His replacement would in time make Elio long for the good old days of having Nigel as a teammate.
Ayrton Senna da Silva only had one season of Formula 1 under his belt, racing for the underfinanced Toleman Team. But what Senna managed to accomplish in the uncompetitive Toleman TG184 at Monaco the previous season set the F1 world alight. Staring from thirteenth on the grid, Senna made his way through the field in treacherous, torrential conditions to finish second. The performance made him the target of acquisition by many teams, but Lotus managed to snatch him up.
From the start of the 1985 season, a great rivalry developed between Ayrton and Elio. Senna drew first blood with his first Formula 1 win in the second race of the season at a rain-soaked Estoril in Portugal. Elio answered with his second career win the very next race in San Marino. Following this, Elio scored a fine succession of points scoring finishes and Ayrton suffered problems resulting in several retirements. Senna’s luck changed though and he scored three consecutive podium finishes while Elio experienced a pair of retirements.
This seesaw battle between the teammates would set the F1 world on fire, with debates breaking out as to who the superior driver was. Most would say that Elio had the experience and consistency on his side, but would concede that Ayrton had the edge in terms of pure speed. In qualifying, Ayrton was untouchable, scoring seven pole positions to Elio’s zero. Senna was also untouchable in the wet.
Faced with a teammate of such massive talent and commitment to racing, Elio was forced to look inward and take stock in what was truly important to him. He ultimately decided that nothing was more important to him than his racing, and he set about focusing all of his energy towards beating his teammate. As good as Elio was, he fell short of his target, when late in the season Senna scored another victory at Spa in Belgium, sealing his fourth place finish in the championship over Elio’s fifth. The writing was clearly on the wall for de Angelis: Senna would start the 1986 season as the undisputed number one driver at Lotus, and as such, Elio’s chances of beating him would be dealt a tough blow by the preferential treatment Ayrton would enjoy.
Elio wasted no time in looking for greener pastures. His close friend, Nelson Piquet, had announced at season’s end that he would be leaving the Brabham team to drive against Mansell at Williams. Piquet put a good word in for Elio to his former team, and Elio was signed to drive alongside Riccardo Patrese for 1986. Elio was eager to get behind the wheel of superstar designer Gordon Murray’s latest brainstorm, the low-slung BT55. The car featured some radical design elements, including having its engine tilted to lower the center of gravity and improve aerodynamics. But like most radical designs, it would require quite a bit of work to sort out the bugs.
At the season opener, Elio showed his mastery to come in a lowly eighth place, and in the next three races on the trot, the BT55 would let him down. Elio, never a big fan of testing, was nonetheless eager to put the car through its paces to find solutions to its reliability issues at the coming test at Circuit Paul Ricard in France.
A few days after the Monaco Grand Prix, on May 15, 1986, the Brabham team started testing along with a slew of other teams. Elio went out on track in his Brabham-BMW BT55, and after a few installation laps, began to test in earnest. Going into the Verrerie Curves at 180mph, the rear wing separated from the chassis of his car, resulting in a massive, sudden loss of downforce on the rear wheels. The Brabham speared off the track and somersaulted several times before vaulting the guardrails on the right-hand side of the track. The car came to rest upside-down 100 yards away from the impact with the railing. Elio remained trapped in the wreck as it slowly caught fire. A number of drivers, including Elio’s former teammate and rival, Nigel Mansell, stopped their racecars and tried in vain to extract de Angelis from the car. Owing to the fact that the circuit was not fully staffed with track marshals who could have provided him with emergency assistance, it took ten minutes for rescuers to arrive. Elio was finally removed from the car and was transported via helicopter to Marseille Hospital.
Despite the severity and speed of the shunt, Elio’s only visible wounds were a broken collarbone and light burns to his back. What was not readily apparent was the fact that the fire had deprived Elio of oxygen for the entire time he was trapped in the car. It was determined that he suffered massive brain damage as a result. He would pass away the following day.
In the end, surviving the ordeal proved to be the only challenge Elio de Angelis was not capable of mastering.
Of all the tragic stories covered here and in the first Fallen Before Glory review, perhaps none is more heartbreaking than that of Karl Jochen Rindt.
Born in the midst of World War II on April, 18 1942, in Mainz, Germany, tragedy greeted Jochen at the age of one, when his parents were killed during an Allied bombing raid. The orphaned boy was transported to Graz in Austria where he would be raised by his maternal grandparents.
From his earliest years, Jochen demonstrated a near-obsession with speed. His first brush with it would come from skiing in the Alps of his adopted homeland. On two separate occasions, a school-aged Rindt broke limbs in skiing races with his peers. These and other early misadventures on mopeds and motorbikes would help shape Jochen into the fierce and relentless racer he would later become, much like his idol, German Grand Prix driver Wolfgang von Trips.
While his predilection and talent for racing was obvious, they came at the expense of his schooling, and he gained a reputation as a disciplinary problem.
“I was always in trouble at school,” recalled Jochen, “and once I almost ran down one of the teachers on my motorcycle! In the end I got thrown out and went to England to learn English. I learned to drive while I was in England but I was too young to get a license. When I went back home I broke my leg again skiing but I decided I was more than capable of driving myself, even though I had one leg in plaster. I actually drove without a license for 18 months and then got caught the day before I was eligible to collect it.”
This disregard for anything but the pursuit of speed would on more than one occasion land him in hot water with the authorities. He would enjoy flinging his first Volkswagen around corners and race along the boulevards of his neighborhood with reckless abandon. He became no stranger to traffic fines and even arrests for his flagrant behavior behind the wheel.
After being bounced from a number of private schools, Jochen finally managed to graduate and moved back to Germany to take his place in the family business, a spice manufacturing company by the river Rhine named Klein & Rindt. His tenure there would not last long however, as his brusque manner (which did a lot to mask his overly sensitive nature) and longing for an exciting life in racing would inspire his familial employers to suggest, ever so gently, that his destiny lay elsewhere.
By 1962, Rindt seemed to agree wholeheartedly, and he left Klein & Rindt to enter the world of saloon car racing. He quickly excelled in this new arena, and after winning a slew of races, acquired an old Cooper and entered Formula Junior.
What is now recognized as the legend of Jochen Rindt had its beginnings during this period. The no-holds-barred nature of the series helped influence Jochen’s driving style into the unrestrained, wild, sliding and drifting method he exhibited throughout his career in single-seater racecars. He would win his very first Junior race at Cesenatico in Italy, and would subsequently fit a push-rod 1.5L Ford engine so as to be able to participate in the inaugural, non-championship Austrian Formula 1 Grand Prix at Zeltweg.
In 1964, Rindt entered Formula 2, purchasing a Brabham-Cosworth with financial support from Ford in Austria. He would truly launch his career and make a name for himself in two British Formula 2 races. At Mallory Park, he qualified on pole and finished third behind the factory works Lotuses of Jim Clark and Peter Arundell, and at Crystal Palace he astonishingly won the race. The racing world was left wondering who this Austrian upstart was.
They would find out forthwith, as Jochen’s performances set the attention of multiple F1 team owners firmly on him. He would get his first taste of Formula 1 later that year with a one-off drive in Rob Walker’s Brabham-BRM. He failed to finish the race, but clearly showed the racing world again that he was a talent on the rise.
A few months later, Jochen signed a three-year contract which would see him drive for the factory Cooper team alongside Bruce McLaren. Unfortunately for Rindt, the Coopers had just started an uncompetitive turn and he could only muster two points scoring finishes – a fourth at the Nordschliefe circuit at the Nurburgring and a sixth at Watkins Glen. What the statistics for the year wouldn’t show is the effect Rindt’s spectacular style had on all who witnessed it. His car control was no less than superlative, and his propensity to drift the cars around corners and exhibit spectacular examples of oversteer set the race crowds alight.
In spite of his lukewarm success in F1 in 1965, Jochen was garnering many trophies for his efforts in other forms of racing. In Sportscars, he came in third in the Nurburgring 1000kms, and won his class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Zeltweg 200, the Pries von Tirol and the Aspern GT. He also began a long association in Formula 2 with Roy Winkelmann’s privateer Brabham team, and would win at Rei and take third places at Pau and Vallelunga. These efforts would help build the legend of Jochen Rindt in his native Austria.
1966 would see Formula 1 change from 1.5 liter to 3 liter engines, and Rindt piloted a Cooper equipped with a Maserati V12 engine which was a more competitive power unit than he had previously. Jochen made good use of it, racking up six points-scoring finishes, including podiums in Belgium, Germany and the United States. He would finish third overall in the championship.
1967 would not see a repeat of such fine performances owing to technical problems with the Cooper Maserati package. Jochen would retire in eight out of the ten races he contested, managing to only finish fourth in Belgium and Italy. His efforts in Formula 2 however would help bolster his spirits, as he won no less than nine times in his Winkelmann Brabham.
It was an easy decision for Jochen to leave the sagging Cooper Team for the following season, and he duly signed to drive for the works Brabham team, alongside team owner and three-time World Champion, Jack Brabham. Despite the promise of the team, Jochen was once again let down by technical issues with the car. Retiring in ten out of the twelve races that season, Jochen’s only perks were two third places in South Africa and Germany. Once again, Jochen was left looking for a competitive ride, and his self-confidence led him to decide that it would be with a top team or nothing at all. Noted motorsports journalist Denis Jenkinson however, did not share in Jochen’s self belief, and declared that if Jochen Rindt were to ever win a Formula 1 race, he would shave his famous beard off. Jenkinson would soon be made to pay up.
Jochen entered discussions with Lotus team owner and designer Colin Chapman. There was no doubt that Chapman’s cars had great speed, but Jochen was concerned, as the speed was often the result of Chapman paring down assemblies to their bare minimum in an effort to remove all excess weight. Rindt felt that this made the cars fragile and susceptible to failure. His desire to race with a top team would win out in the end, and Jochen would race for Lotus in the 1969 season, as a replacement for the fallen Lotus star, Jim Clark.
Jochen’s concerns were well founded as the Lotus 49B let him down on six occasions during the season, including a terrifying accident at the Spanish Grand Prix at the treacherous Monjuich Park circuit in Madrid, where his rear aerofoil wing collapsed, sending him hard into the abandoned car of teammate Graham Hill who had suffered a similar failure. Jochen was lucky to walk away from the accident with a broken jaw and a concussion. During his rehabilitation, he wrote an open letter to the press calling for a ban on aerofoils. Jochen returned to racing in time for the Dutch Grand Prix.
The promise of speed that the Lotus held began to manifest in the second half of the season. Jochen put in a spate of remarkable performances beginning with a fourth place in Great Britain, and continuing with a second in Italy and a third in Canada. Finally, after four years in the sport, Rindt would realize his ambitions, and win the penultimate race of the season at Watkins Glen, battling the March of Jackie Stewart for most of the race. Jochen was thrilled. Less so was Denis Jenkinson, who would shave his beard the next day.
Having made his bones in the ’69 season, Jochen went into the new year as one of the favorites for the title. The season would be marked by constant battles with Colin Chapman, as the two disagreed on elements of the cars’ design that Jochen felt were unsafe. The new Lotus 72 was a beautiful and fast machine, but after testing, Jochen refused to drive it owing to the fact that he felt that the torsion bar set-up was unproven and potentially dangerous. He would start the season in last season’s 49.
Jochen’s racing year started off poorly with an uninspired drive to thirteenth in South Africa, and a DNF in Spain in a tentative drive with the 72 that ended with ignition failure. But Monaco would open Jochen’s points account, and perhaps more than any other race, cement his position as one of the greats.
Reverting to the Lotus 49C, Jochen qualified a mediocre eighth in the rain. On race day, however, he moved up to fifth where he spent the majority of the race. A string of retirements moved Jochen up to second, some 15 seconds behind race leader Jack Brabham. It was then that Jochen turned up the heat, and began obliterating lap records again and again until he was right on Brabham’s tail. The immense pressure he put on Brabham forced Black Jack into a mistake and a crash on the last corner of the last lap, and Jochen took the checkered flag victorious. Rindt was openly weeping when he accepted the winner’s trophy from Prince Rainier and Princess Grace.
Jochen’s joy would turn to sorrow in the coming weeks though, as two of his friends, Bruce McLaren and Piers Courage would die in races within 19 days of each other, the later perishing in the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort that Jochen would win. Pictures of the podium would show a stoic and mournful Rindt. Rumors subsequently began to surface that Rindt would soon retire.
Despite all of this, Rindt’s determination would remain constant. Following the hollow victory at Zandvoort, Jochen would string together three more consecutive wins in France, Great Britain and Germany, all in the now-sorted Lotus 72.
Going into the Italian Grand Prix weekend, Jochen was in the lead for the championship by a good margin, and was favored to win the title. Days before the event, Jochen and Colin Chapman had another of their now famous run-ins. Jochen did not want to race the Lotus 72 at the high-speed Monza track where the cars would approach 200mph. After much debate, the two agreed that Rindt would drive the 49. But when Jochen arrived at the circuit for Friday practice, there was a 72C chassis in the Lotus garage. Despite Jochen’s vociferous objections, Chapman was unmoved and told Rindt to get on with it. Jochen did, despite grave reservations. Improving his mood slightly was the fact that Chapman had the wings on the cars removed to aid top speed along Monza’s long straightaways. This managed to help the car’s stability, and Rindt reported the set-up allowed for 800rpm more on the straights.
On Saturday morning, Jochen drove out onto the circuit for final practice in a wingless 72C fitted with higher gear ratios to take advantage of the reduced drag. On his fifth lap of practice, under braking for the high-speed Parabolica corner, the very corner where his racing hero Wolfgang von Trips perished, something went very wrong with the car.
Denny Hulme, who was just behind Jochen on the approach to the corner, recalled that the Lotus seemed to weave slightly and then swerved sharply to the left. Jochen’s car mounted a slight hill and slammed into the Armco barrier. On impact, a joint in the barrier gave way, and Jochen’s car slammed head-on into a stanchion beyond the Armco. Owing to Jochen’s penchant of not wearing crotch harnesses to get out of the car quickly in case of fire, he submarined in the cockpit and suffered terrible injuries to his throat from the seat belt buckle.
Jochen was immediately transported via ambulance to a Milan hospital, but he died of his massive injuries en route at age 28. An Italian court later found that the accident was caused by a mechanical failure of the car’s front right brake shaft, but that Jochen’s death was due to the improperly installed Armco barriers at Parbolica.
There were three races left after Monza, and mathematically only Jacky Ickx still had a shot at taking the title. Jacky won the races held in Canada and the U.S. in his Ferrari, but could only finish fourth at the final race in Mexico. In the cruelest irony the sport has seen, Jochen Rindt, a man whose entire life was devoted to speed and winning the Formula 1 Championship, was awarded the title posthumously. His wife Nina, obviously still in shock from her husband’s death, accepted the trophy at year’s end.
To date, Jochen Rindt is the only man to have won the Formula 1 World Driver’s Championship without knowing it. If good fortune smiles upon the racing world, he will be the last.
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