Features - Interview

MARCH 1, 1990

Alex Caffi


Alex Caffi wasn't particular happy after the US Grand Prix in Phoenix. The young Brescia driver had been as high as second in the race, chasing after Alain Prost's McLaren. He had to pit, but was charging back through the field. He was going to end the day on the podium but, more importantly, it would have been his first top three finish in F1.

Alex Caffi wasn't particular happy after the US Grand Prix in Phoenix. The young Brescia driver had been as high as second in the race, chasing after Alain Prost's McLaren. He had to pit, but was charging back through the field. He was going to end the day on the podium but, more importantly, it would have been his first top three finish in F1.

"Then," he says with a shrug. "I met de Cesaris..."

The bizarre thing, of course, is that Andrea de Cesaris is Alex's Scuderia Italia team mate. Andrea, as sometimes happens, was in a world of his own, not looking in his mirrors. As Alex tried to dive past, his car was hit by Andrea's and bumped into a wall.

Alex wasn't pleased but, back in the pits, there were no histrionics. He had resigned himself to the fact that such things happen.

He was disappointed, certainly, but there are more important things in life for young Alex. A podium is always possible another day.

In this modern age of jaded superstars, who enjoy themselves only when they leave the racing circuits behind and are flying home in their private jets, Alex is unusual. To see his face after he finished fourth in the Monaco GP, you would have thought he had won the race.

He has a genuine enthusiasm for racing and everything that surrounds the F1 circus. And he isn''t exactly new to it, having made his Grand Prix debut in the Italian GP in 1986.

"I really love this life," he says. "I'm always happy. It's good to be in F1. I think it is good to take life easy -- not to be too hungry.

"Yes, if things don't go so well, I'm not so happy. For me success in is important, I like to do a good job, but it's more important to be happy as much as possible.

"If I am so preoccupied and not happy it's bad, because I don't drive so well and I make mistakes.

"If I am happy, and I take it easy, it comes naturally, I can drive well and then I have no problems."

At Monza in 1986 Alex made a sound impression, he was lapped umpteen times in the cumbersome old Osella-Alfa, but he kept out of everyone's way and, by the end of the weekend, people were noting that they should watch the name Alex Caffi.

His career since then has been a solid one, while others have flown like meteorites to the top, the under-financed Alex had to spend a further year with Osella.

Then came a welcome break. Beppe Lucchini, a rich industrialist from Italy, put together a new team. Money was not going to be a problem. He wanted a young Italian driver and Caffi fitted the bill. He joined the new Scuderia Italia at the start of 1988.

Alex has always shown flashes of potential since his days at Osella, and last season he was impressive, finishing seventh in Portugal. But how good was he? Being a single driver in a team makes it hard to judge a driver. Was the Sergio Rinland-designed car good or was it Caffi. It was probably both.

"Yes, I did a good championship last year," he says. "The car was very good. If you don't have a good car, you cannot have a good championship, that's natural. Last year, the car was very good, it permitted me to get good experience and to show well.

"With more luck last year I could have scored some points, but that's not important. This year I'm okay, My career has been a good progression. I had a year's experience with Osella, then with Scuderia Italia I was able to finish in the top 10. This year I am in the points and next year, I hope better..."

This year there is no doubt about Alex. His team mate de Cesaris is a known quantity -- and Alex, rather than Andrea, has been leading the way for Scuderia Italia.

Looking back, Caffi thinks that his progress has been about right for a young driver -- he is, after all, only 25.

"I think it is good for a young driver to start his career in a small team," he explains. "To begin immediately in a top team is very dangerous. You have more pressure so, I think, it's not very good for a young driver.

It is more important to go step by step. You need a lot of experience in F1. You can get experience in a top team, but you must always go very fast, because otherwise all the people will say that you have a good car but you are not very fast.

"If you go slowly with a medium team it's not so bad, in a top team you are finished."

To many the fact that Alex has had to pre-qualify this year was an outrage, he had performed well in 1988, but having to give way when de Cesaris arrived in the team with his experience in F1 (and his bags of sponsorship money). Was Alex disappointed?

"Yes a little," he says. "But it's normal. The world is so. Now it's not a problem. I have points and after Silverstone I don't have to do pre-qualifying again. It's impossible to think that De Cesaris should make the pre-qualifying instead of me. He has many years of experience."

Experience or not, Alex races like you would an imagine an Italian driver to, giving his all. On the other hand the fire is tempered somewhat with caution.

It's interesting that, when you talk to him, racing is not what he loves most about the sport.

"I like the qualifying," he explains. "It's the best moment in a race meeting, because you must put all your drive into it.

"It's about you, the man, and about the car. You must make one lap with the possibilities you have. I love it when I make good laps.

"It's especially good this year with qualifying tyres. You have one chance and you must do it all right that one time for a fast lap.

"I don't like the race so much because you have full fuel tanks and hard tyres, it's not very fast.

"Every driver has a different style of driving, I was born so, so why change my style?"

He also likes street tracks. He was quick at Monaco, and even quicker in Phoenix. Does he feel more comfortable racing between the walls?

"I love Monte Carlo. You are always on the edge. That's very good. If you go well at a track, you like it. If you have a bad time, you don't like the place so much. I scored points in Monte Carlo, I like it!"

Alex's successes to date, however modest they may be when compared to drivers in larger teams, haven't changed him much.

Perhaps, now, he is less shy that when he started out with Osella, but otherwise he remains the same, untouched by being a celebrity. Curiously, he doesn't look forward to having further success.

"I like it when people know me," he explains, "particularly the girls! But I don't like to be so famous. It's not a good condition for racing. I like to talk to people, but when you get more and more people it gets difficult.

"If there is the opportunity to win a race, I don't know if I'll like doing all the interviews afterwards!"

It's an odd way of looking at success. There is no question in his mind that he can do it. It seems natural, he's merely worried about being crowded...

Certainly there are teams in F1 now, watching Caffi's every move, thinking about signing him up for the future.

"I don't know about this," he laughs. "I don't have a manager. I am alone. I was very lucky to find Scuderia Italia to help me, because if that hadn't happened, I think, it was not possible for me to find a place in F1.

"I don't know if any team is looking at me. I haven't spoken to anyone. For me it's important to do a good job for my team. I think we have a good possibility to become a top team.

"My dream would be to win a Grand Prix one day with Scuderia Italia. That would be a great thing.

"If there is some other team, I don't know."

Not yet anyway...