Appearing on the podium only five times in his 14-year Formula One career, and never on the top step, Andrea de Cesaris was a figure known more for his efforts’ futility (a result of both bad luck and over-ambitious driving technique) than his successes. The Italian’s circumstances once led Murray Walker to describe him, in typical fashion, as “the man who has won more Grands Prix than anyone else without actually winning one of them.”
However, no hint of de Cesaris’ future struggles could be detected in his junior career, where he breezed through karting and Formula 3 with ease before catching the eye of Ron Dennis and moving to the future McLaren boss’ Project Four side for the 1979 Formula Two season.
Notching a win and three other podiums beside teammate Chico Serra, de Cesaris’ 1980 season served as a breakout moment, prompting Alfa Romeo to sign the 21 year-old away from Formula Two to replace Vittorio Brambilla for the final pair of races on the year’s F1 calendar; however, the manners in which he failed to finish both in Montreal and Watkins Glen foreshadowed much of the rest of his career, with engine trouble cutting short the Canadian Grand Prix but a driver-error induced crash two laps in ending his USA Grand Prix.
Despite these early troubles, de Cesaris reunited with Ron Dennis at McLaren in 1981, but the partnership didn’t last long: with 19 crashes over the season eliciting a team reaction akin to today’s Lotus garage’s response to Pastor Maldonado ending up in the ARMCO once again, McLaren even withdrew his car from the Dutch Grand Prix over fears the Italian would be unable to keep it intact.
However, after de Cesaris left McLaren for Alfa Romeo again in 1982, the driver, known by this point pejoratively as “de Crasheris” began to mature and see improved results: at Long Beach, he set a record for being the youngest-ever pole sitter that stood for the next 12 years.
The Italian’s post-Alfa years after leaving in 1984 were marred by mechanical unreliability, though, as bouncing from midfield team to midfield team, de Cesaris only managed a handful more of points finishes and podiums. Only after moving to Jordan in 1991 to partner a promising young German rookie, Michael Schumacher, did de Cesaris put together a consistent string of results, with four points finishes in a five race span.
After retiring in 1994, de Cesaris retained a host of dubious records, including most races run without winning one and most retirements in a single season; however, the Italian still retained his love for motorsport, returning to open-wheel racing for the short-lived Grand Prix Masters series in 2005 and 2006.
Though while not racing, the Italian worked as a currency trader in the winter to fund his second passion, windsurfing, in the summer months. As a rider and tester for the Ezzy team, de Cesaris enjoyed windsurfing in Oahu and Maui, Hawaii. However, de Cesaris’ years were cut far too short this month, as he died after colliding with a guard rail on a highway outside of Rome after losing control of his motorcycle.