For thirty minutes he lay there, motionless under the bright May sky, unconscious to the world and the lack of attention being given. Debris was strewn over the embankment like shattered glass, glimmering in the light but telling a far darker story. Drivers stood around with heads in hands. Marshals looked on in utter disbelief. As the shimmering warmth from the glowing sun gave way to darkened clouds, Elio de Angelis left Formula One with a bitter taste and a tale of extraordinary negligence.
Being a gentleman, full of charisma and politeness one can only find in a young Roman, Elio de Angelis didn’t hesitate to entertain his fans, his team and even his rivals. The Italian’s popularity proved unmatched at a time when tensions in Formula One were running close to boiling point. He shook people’s hands, he smiled and joked. Always managing to light up a room, de Angelis will be remembered for his personality more than for his race craft. But even then, his place in the record books is as deserved as any other.
Some reports say that no one witnessed the accident. Others say that two Benetton mechanics saw what happened. All we do know is that at approximately 180mph, the rear wing on Elio’s Brabham gave way while the Italian was thundering though the Verrerie curves – the high speed left-right kink at the end of the main straight.
The BT55 cartwheeled over the barrier, landing upside down and trapping Elio inside. Unable to free himself, Elio sat there as his back began to burn from the smoldering wreck. Drivers and team personnel rushed to the scene and attempted to rectify the car, only to be forced back due to the heat.
After close to ten minutes, and with little help from the marshals who were in very short supply, Elio was freed from the wreckage, but was forced to wait a further thirty before a helicopter could transport the Roman to hospital.
Elio passed away the following day. His main injury? Smoke inhalation, which would have likely caused brain damage. Aside from this, a broken collar bone and burns to his back. Had Elio not been made to wait for a helicopter, it is likely he would have survived. Had Elio been freed from the car sooner, it is likely he would have made a good recovery.
Instead, Formula One lost one of it’s greatest characters. A competitive spirit who did his best to return a smile, to look on the bright side and to show courtesy and respect when all around him there was bitter rivalry and political shenanigans. A man who wouldn’t hesitate to entertain those around him, to play the piano he loved so much or to simply offer advice to a team mate. Elio was a gentleman, perhaps the last the sport has ever seen.
He lived with passion. He raced with passion. Elio.
The full version of this piece can be read at OllieF1: Elio.