INTERVIEW

Andrea de Cesaris

Andrea has now taken part in 168 Grands Prix. It is a record which he shares with Nigel Mansell and which makes the pair the second most experienced men currently in F1 - behind the incredible Riccardo Patrese (who has started 227 races).

But Andrea is by far the most experienced driver in F1 history never to win a race and yet he is still only 32. He started young, making his F1 debut at the age of 20 in the Canadian GP of 1980.

Once he was the great white hope of F1. He joined McLaren is his second season, but what followed was a wild year of accidents. In his third season he was with Alfa Romeo. That year he was on pole at Long Beach and led the race, and in Detroit was again on the front row. The results, however, were few and far between: a pair of second places in 1983; three thirds, the most recent for Dallara in Canada in 1989. Not a lot. Andrea, said the paddock, was quick, but given to moments of wildness.

After Alfa Romeo, Andrea's career took him to Ligier, Minardi, Brabham, Rial, Dallara, Jordan and, this season, to Tyrrell.

But if a lot of his career was spent in no-hope machinery, the last 18 months have shown that Andrea has lost none of his pace. He has gained a little more reserve. He seems much calmer. But for an engine failure at Spa last year he might even have won for Jordan - a new team. That would have been some achievement - and Andrea knows it.

"I am pretty sure that if any other driver had done the job I did with the Jordan he would be at Ferrari, McLaren or Williams now," he says wistfully. "When Alesi was at Tyrrell he did good things - but not as much as I did last year at Jordan. I know I can drive properly. I am showing people I can do it. If a chance comes from a top team, I would accept and be very happy, but it is not the reason for my life. If it was I would have stopped years ago. Anyway, in the last six years there have been only two or three cars winning: Ferrari, McLaren, Williams. Some races were won by Benetton. What should all the other drivers do? Go home? They can never win. If you start to think: "I want to go to a top team or I stop", then there would be no more F1 - there would be no drivers.

"At the end of the day I do my job the best I can and I get the maximum I can from my car and when I achieve a good result it is like winning. To finish fifth in Mexico this year with all the problems I had and the way the race started for me was something very difficult. It was the maximum and I was happy. Okay if I won a race I'd be happier - but I'm not mad. Dreaming all the time doesn't do you any good."

After a good year with Jordan in 1991, Andrea had hoped to stay with the new team, but as things have turned out, Tyrrell seems a much better bet. Jordan is struggling and Tyrrell is threatening. It was a good choice.

"I had a very good deal last year," admits Andrea, "and I did a great job for a team in its first year. They proved that the people there are good and I think the best that I can say of myself is that I had the capacity to make sure that most of the time we were on the pace - especially in the races. Many times the package I chose for the races was the right choice, and for a team with only a little experience that was important. You can get lost very easily and waste a chance when you have it. We did not waste a chance, except maybe in Spa where there was a little problem on the engine.

"Then I found myself struggling at the end of the year. First of all I have to say that I have been with Marlboro for many years. I am one of the best Italian drivers and Marlboro likes to be with me. Many people say I am Marlboro, but that is not why I have Marlboro. It is because I have many years of driving with them and I drive properly. They don't have a better option. If they had a World Champion in Italy maybe they would leave me off, but at the moment Marlboro is with me and I like to be with them. This was the first problem. because Eddie was going with Barclay.

"Then he was looking for a lot of money and I didn't have that money and I don't think it was right that I should have to find that money. Everybody is doing their own business, but my business was that I couldn't get the money. At the moment, the reality is that in F1 - besides five teams that have the money - all the rest of the drivers, directly or indirectly, have to have something behind them. I didn't bring my money myself, but everybody has to have money whether through managers or whoever. There is no money in F1 at the moment. None.

"I was sad, but I couldn't get what Eddie wanted and I think that Eddie didn't behave very well with me in one way. He told me at the end of September that he could find a way to have me in the team. It was a big disappointment when it turned out to be different afterwards. If I had known it was not a safe thing in September I would have had a lot more options. Eddie liked to have all his opportunities open, but that is not fair. I did a lot for him. The team did a lot for me because they gave me the chance to perform, but I did a lot for the team and I don't think it was fair to treat me like that."

Whatever the case, in December Andrea started talking to Ken Tyrrell.

"He told me he wanted me as first choice," says Andrea, "but the fact that we signed after the FISA deadline was because he and I had to find an agreement between us. It was nothing to do with sponsors. The fact that Alessandro Zanardi was nominated was because we didn't have everything in place and he had to put up a name. He asked Zanardi.

"When I went to see Ken in December he showed me the car for this year and I had a long discussion with the engineers, because I was worried about the thing because of the rumours at the time. Ken told me his plan and after 10 years in F1 I can judge what is going to be a good car and what is not. I thought this was a good car - maybe not a winning car, because to win you really need something extra - but a car that give me the chance to be there and perform quite well."

And perform well it did in South Africa, Mexico and Brazil. Apart from a few first lap problems...

"Yes," smiles Andrea, "I went off in both the first two races. In South Africa someone spun in front of me and I had no option but to avoid him and then in Mexico I start very well and I arrive at the first corner in sixth or seventh and then Herbert loses it and it is the same again. At the moment I think I am number one for overtaking other cars this year. It will be good if I can stay on the track on the first lap, because then I can fight with the cars up front all the way through. I don't know if I can get a podium finish. At the moment it is difficult to say. That depends on the race. If our car is really good we could fight for the podium. When I say "fight" I don't mean that five cars ahead of you stop, I mean actually getting to the podium because we deserve to be there. We can probably do that if he set-up is right. At the moment, the Williamses are much quicker. Also there are some cars which are undervalued now which will be much quicker later in the year.

"At the moment this team believes in me and I like the team. I am impressed by the way they work. They are really well organized and I like that. I really hope there is a future here because it is a nice team and if the sponsors and the package stays together, this can be a top team.

"I am driving quite well, and I think I have proved that each time I have a good car I am there. Now, finally, I think I have a team that can be competitive all the way through the year.

"I love being a Grand Prix driver. It is my work, but I love it. You know, you see people of 60-65 who work like hell because they love it. If you like your work you can always find the motivation. If you don't like it you soon lose that. Last year was good, this year is good, so I have found more motivation than three or four years ago. If I keep going well, I shall go on, but if I'm not as quick as I should be then I will stop. I don't really plan. One day everyone has to realise that they are not as quick as they were and maybe that is the time to stop.

"But that's not for me yet."

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