Alex Zanardi is many things. He’s a brilliant bloke, a double amputee, mighty fine and successful racing driver, a double Paralympic champion, an inspiration; it’s quite a long list.
His Paralympic preparations are dominating his time at the moment, so he’s currently on some downtime from racing, but plans to go again with BMW in 2017. Before then he’s hoping for three gold medals in the para-cycling, and is the current world champion as well as the Paralympic champion.
It’s a sport still its infancy, and as such Zanardi sees plenty of opportunities to steal a march on his rivals. “Some people sit high and some people sit low, some use big wrenches and others small ones. All the set-ups are different, but the performances are similar. This shows we’re all lacking somewhere. No doubt my racing background and curiosity is helping with this and my success.”
His racing career has been a long and varied one. He’s a double champion in Champ Car racing in America, has had two stints in F1, a long run in the World Touring Car Championship and has most recently raced in GTs, and tells enough anecdotes to conveniently fill an Autocar mag and web feature near you very soon.
Zanardi’s smile temporarily slips every so slightly when it comes to talk of modern Formula 1. Firstly, he insists he’ll set his alarm clock for a dead rubber in Japan with the title already decided as he loves the sport so much. “I’ll watch it no matter what and love what I see,” he says.
“But all that I talk about seems to have disappeared from F1. You can’t expect the cars to slide around anymore, for drivers to be counter steering and lighting the tyres. I believe that whoever is in charge hasn’t done the best possible job in setting the rules or we would be enjoying a different show.”
Fancy the job, Alex? “I have a lot of ideas… But it’s not fair for one person to decide. You need to get a group of engineers together and find out what you want to achieve, and then work out the technical solution to get there.”
His accident is impossible to ignore, of course, but Zanardi does not shy away from talking about it. Indeed, after it he never saw the challenge of getting racing again as a physiological one but as a technical one. He has achieved it, and even candidly admits that many of the opportunities he now has and is grateful for are because of the accident. He is happy with his lot, and inspiring with it.
Zanardi’s most heart warming accident is the best one to finish on. He spoke of a recent family day out, at the end of which Zanardi’s young nephew was put to bed by his brother in law.
“My brother in law told me that my nephew said he wanted to do two things: drive a F1 car, and lose his legs like Uncle Alex. In his mind, the reason I was so cool was that connection. It touched me.”