INTERVIEW

Too much, too young: Andrea de Cesaris

For a decade Andrea de Cesaris has been fighting off a reputation he made as a youngster at McLaren. Today he is ninth in the World Championship and the Formula 1 circus is beginning to look differently on the Italian.

At Hockenheim Andrea finished fifth, his fourth points score in five races.

'This circuit is a very difficult one for teams using a V8 engine,' he said after the race, 'but I was still able to stay on a very competitive pace early on. The car was very very good.

'I wish we had a V10,' he added.

Despite the lack of engine power, this has been a great year for the 32-year-old Italian. Proof to his critics that he is not to be overlooked.

There has never been any doubt that de Cesaris was a quick driver. The doubts about Andrea stemmed from a tendency in his early years to crash - time and time again.

Andrea has a very noticeable twitch and, for many, this was the cause of his accidents. He has never accepted that explanation. He was, he believes, too young to be able to do the job properly.

Andrea was very young when he was given his chance to drive in F1. He made his F1 debut in Canada in 1980, driving for Alfa Romeo. He was 21.

Eleven years - and over 150 Grands Prix later - Andrea is still a Grand Prix driver and still trying to win his first Grand Prix.

Looking back Andrea feels that his early F1 career was a big mistake, particularly his first full season - in 1981 - with McLaren.

'It will sound as though I am making excuses,' he says, 'but the truth is that the year with McLaren was the worst thing that could happen to me. First of all it was the same McLaren it is today. It was a very small team. John Barnard was just arriving and I raced for half a season with the old car. When I had the new car I had soft skirts. Halfway through that season everyone started running double stiffness skirts and that was much quicker. I never had a chance.

'I also tested for just one day in the whole year. To mature you need experience. If you come into F1 too early you cannot cope with the pressure and your mind goes a little crazy. At 23 you have enough experience.

'So, I was 21 years old, I had no experience, I didn't know the tracks. It was a mistake.'

In many ways Andrea's career has been similar to that of Riccardo Patrese - a wild youth gradually being tempered, but without success. As a result, both drivers are still hungry for success at a time when other racers are beginning to slow down. Just as Riccardo is answering his critics with superb performances for Williams, Andrea is finally beginning to shake-off his reputation with a string of solid performances with Team 7Up Jordan.

'You know,' says Andrea reflectively, 'Riccardo is in a better position than me. He has now been with Williams with three or four years and that is a very big advantage, particularly in the number one team. He didn't have the chance to win in the last few years because he didn't have a good car. This year he has proved he can win when the car stays together.

'I think Mexico was the best race of his life. In the past he won some times when others went down but in the Mexico he drove like a champion, won the race how one should win races.

'Everybody thought Riccardo was a good driver, but he didn't have the right car. That's like me. Only one car wins. Except for when I was at Alfa Romeo I never had a good car. I was with Ligier and they haven't had a good car in the last 10 years. I was with Rial - it was not a very good team; I was with Minardi. Then there was Brabham and that closed down. Tell me which of those teams I could prove myself with. Only Alfa Romeo was I in a position to win. I led a race and the engine blew up, I never had the chance otherwise.

'Because of all the accidents in the first year I got this reputation, but it is not true at all. Ask Scuderia Italia, ask Bernie Ecclestone about Brabham.

'As I said only one car wins. Look at the Ferrari drivers now. In two years, if Jean Alesi doesn't win races, he will be a nobody again. You have to have a winning car. There are a few drivers who can win and many others who would if they had the right car, but it is difficult to perform without a good car.

'This year I have a good car. We are not there to win, but we are there to be the first of the rest. We are achieving that and I think I am doing my job. For sure, having a car that can perform well has been motivating. I can drive better and can relax and get the most from it. I've been trying to do that for 10 years.'

Did he expect the Jordan team to be as competitive as it has been?

'Yes,' he snaps back. 'Honestly I did. I knew at the start of the year our aim was to get out of pre-qualifying and to get behind the top teams. When I saw the car, I thought it was good to do that. I gambled until the last moment because I wanted to join the team. It could have worked out wrong and I would have been without a drive, but I wanted to wait.'

The wait was worth it. By the Canadian Grand Prix the team was in a position to score points and in Mexico Andrea found himself fighting with the McLarens and Ferrari.

'When you are fighting with the top cars you feel you are driving at the top,' he says. 'I know my job is get the best out of the car, so even if I am sixth that is the best job I can do, but in Mexico, fighting with Ayrton Senna, I was very happy, because you do not normally have the chance to do that. I am getting back the motivation and getting quicker and quicker.'

Many people have commented on the performance of Jordan. What does Andrea think?

'The engine is very reliable,' he says, 'and that is very important for a small team like us. We don't have much testing. If we lose one day of testing, we lose a day of practice at the races. It's nice easy car and Gary Anderson is a good engineer. He's very smart and quick to understand problems. I think we've done a good job in the way we choose the way to go. That is important.

'At the same time, the organisastion of the team is good. The parts are properly built and so on.'

Leaving Hockenheim, with both drivers again scoring, the Jordan team had moved up to fifth in the Constructors' Championship. Benetton only is 10 points ahead.

'I don't really know where we can finish in the World Chmpionship,' says Andrea, 'but if we keep improving we can be fourth. At the moment I think fifth is good enough for us.'

'Realistically, there are six cars which fight for a place on the podium. At maybe two races, the rest have a chance. Some of the six cars stop. From our point of view it is impossible to predict when the chance may come. One was in Mexico, but my fuel pressure problem stopped that.

'All I know is that when the chance comes again I will not let the opportunity go. I don't know if we can do it, but I will try.

'Here, at Hockenheim, the difference between the top cars and us was huge -- three seconds in qualifying. So it was tough.'

What about Hungary?

'Germany was very important for me. I will be even more motivated for Hungary, where I think we can do even better.'

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