Flashback: Dallara F1 drivers De Cesaris and Caffi on the Monaco pitwall

Maurice Hamilton recalls a contrasting weekend for Dallara’s F1 drivers Andrea de Cesaris and Alex Caffi at the 1989 Monaco Grand Prix

Dallara drivers de Cesaris and Caffi at the 1989 Monaco Grand Prix


There’s every chance that the forthcoming Monaco Grand Prix will induce familiar complaints about overtaking. Of all the previous outbursts of indignation created by the narrow track, few can equal the moment of madness involving the driver on the left of the picture.

Andrea de Cesaris and his Dallara team-mate Alex Caffi, right, had performed superbly in 1989 by qualifying on the fifth row of the grid. De Cesaris made the most of it and found himself in fourth place before the race had reached half-distance. The Italian’s quick and clean performance was not matched by Nelson Piquet as the Lotus driver trailed along at the back of the field, soon to be lapped.

Assuming an unaccustomed rite of passage, de Cesaris chose to dive down the inside at the hairpin. Piquet swung left just as the Dallara came alongside, the two cars becoming locked together. Not only did they remain immobile despite the best efforts of the marshals, the red car and the yellow car blocked the entire track. Alain Prost, in pursuit of the leader, Ayrton Senna, was forced to a furious standstill for 20 seconds. The pantomime was completed by an outraged de Cesaris, having undone his belts, doing nothing to help while going completely berserk in the cockpit.

Piquet was a retirement. De Cesaris persevered to finish 13th. But there was salvation for Dallara as a classy drive saw Caffi inherit the place vacated so unceremoniously by his team-mate. Fourth would be Caffi’s best result in 56 grands prix. His F1 career would more or less end with a massive accident – ironically at Monaco. During qualifying in 1991, his cumbersome Footwork-Porsche clipped the entry to the swimming pool chicane and tore itself apart against the barrier on the exit. The Italian was fortunate to escape unharmed.

I didn’t come across Caffi again until 2011 – in the most unexpected circumstances. Scanning the Monte Carlo Rally entry list, I spotted a Skoda Fabia driven by ‘Alessandro Caffi’. Not only was this Caffi’s first attempt at the Monte, it was also his first rally. Being a private entrant with little support and no knowledge of which tyres to fit for the changeable and tricky conditions, he simply watched the top seeds leaving the service areas and plumped for the majority choice.

Caffi was classified an impressive 11th. There was a poignancy about this cheerful little guy returning with an undamaged car to finish on the Monaco harbour front and rebuild a reputation that had been trashed at the very same spot 20 years earlier.

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