Schumacher’s first F1 team-mate – mercurial racer, currency broker, tragic death

Legendary Formula One driver Michael Schumacher needs no introduction. The seven-time world championship winner had an unrivalled career in the sport.

But what about his first ever team-mate? What happened to the man with whom arguably the greatest ever race driver made his debut alongside?

It was driving for Jordan that Schumacher began his F1 career, joining with the vastly more experienced Andrea de Cesaris. While de Cesaris couldn’t come close to what his young new team-mate achieved in the sport, he did have an entertaining career, earning himself a reputation as a mercurial driver, and an interesting life after retiring from the racing.

A slew of accidents early in de Cesaris’ career earned him notoriety as a fast and wild driver, and made him all the more entertaining to racing fans despite his lack of success. He started 208 Formula One Grands Prix without ever winning one, making him the record holder for most races started without a victory.

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The mercurial Italian started his F1 career at Alfa Romeo in 1980, with his debut finishing after just eight laps as a result of engine failure. In his second outing, de Cesaris tangled with Derek Daly and crashed after two laps. He moved to McLaren the following year.

During his spell at McLaren the nickname ‘Andrea de Crasheris’ was earned, having crashed 19 times that year, and managing only to finish 6 of the 14 races he started that year. Team boss Ron Dennis grew so upset with the Italian’s frequent mishaps that not only did he not extend his driver’s contract, he never signed an Italian driver to McLaren again.

Moving back to Alfa Romeo, de Cesaris became the youngest man ever, at 22, to take pole position at Long Beach Grand Prix. Whilst leading the race, a bout of road rage took over, angrily shaking his fist at the backmarker who had forced him wide. As a result, de Cesaris forgot to change gear, hitting the rev limiter, allowing the returning Niki Lauder in second to overtake him and win the race. The Italian’s race ended, predictably, with a crash. His best achievements in his second spell at Alfa Romeo were a podium finish in 1982, and two second place finishes in 1983.

A brief spell at Ligier was de Cesaris’ next move. Despite looking promising at the start of the season in what many believed to be the drive of the day to finish third in the Australian Grand Prix, the wildcard driver’s Ligier career ended with him destroying his car in a quadruple mid-air rollover at the Austrian Grand Prix, being instantly fired.

The subsequent three years proved to be very uninspiring for de Cesaris. Driving for Minardi in 1986 he retired from every race but two. The following year for Brabham, he did not finish 14 out of 16 races. At 1988 for Rial his best finish was fourth.

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In 1989 a move to Dallara saw some promising early signs. However, while on course for a podium position in Monte Carlo, de Cesaris was taken out by Nelson Piquet. Following the collision De Cesaris lost his temper and berated Piquet's Lotus team upon returning to the pits. In this year the wild driver also ran his team-mate into the wall whilst being lapped by him. Racing in Canada a third-place finish would be the last time de Cesaris stepped foot on the F1 podium. In 1990, his final year at Dallara, the Italian was involved in a number of incidents, and failed to score a single point.

The following year de Cesaris was driving for Jordan, where he combined with the debutant Schumacher, finishing the season ninth in the standings. His best finish since 1983.

An unremarkable two years at Tyrrell in 1992 and 1993, saw de Cesaris start the 1994 season without a team. During the year he would drive again for Jordan, and later for Sauber, eventually ending his career when retiring with throttle problems at the 1994 European Grand Prix.

That is not the end of the de Cesaris story, however.

In a surprising career change, the Italian moved to Monte Carlo where he became a successful currency broker. It has been reported that he spent six months a year in this occupation, the other half of the year he spent windsurfing around the world. In 2005 de Cesaris returned to racing in the Grand Prix Masters series for retired F1 drivers, setting the fastest time in the first test at Silverstone.

The entertaining race driver met a tragic end when he was killed at just 55 years old in a road accident whilst driving his motorbike. Living in Rome at the time of his death, de Cesaris lost control of his vehicle on the city’s ring-road, eventually crashing into a concrete barrier. It was reported that the Italian was killed on impact, such was the severity of the collision.

Despite limited success, de Cesaris goes down as one of the most enigmatic and entertaining race drivers that Formula One has seen.

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