Frank Williams took notice of these results and decided to sign Zanardi for F1 in 1999. The relationship did not gel and an unhappy Zanardi quit the team after just one season, opening the way for Jenson Button to get his break in F1.
Zanardi went back to IndyCars in 2001 with Mo Nunn, who had been his engineer at Ganassi. However, in September of that year he lost both of his legs when he was hit side-on at high speed by another car in a hideous Indycar crash at the Lausitzring in Germany.
Zanardi’s heart stopped three times as he was flown by helicopter to hospital in Berlin, but surgeons there saved his life during an eight-hour emergency operation.
Alex accepted that he would have to live a very different life, and, one step at a time, went back to doing what he loved doing most of all: racing. It is an amazing story of human courage and the refusal to give in in the face of adversity. Two years after the accident he returned to the Lausitzring and drove a specially adapted Indycar in a demonstration run, finishing the final 13 laps that he should have driven on the day that he nearly died. Hollywood could not have asked for a better story.
Later that year Alex tried his hand at touring car racing at Monza, driving a specially modified BMW, and he did so well that he was hired by Roberto Ravaglia's BMW Team Italy-Spain to take part in the FIA European Touring Car Championship in 2004. He stayed with the team in 2005 when the series became a World Championship and, in August that year, he won his first victory, taking advantage of a reversed top eight grid. He would go on to win further races in Istanbul in 2006 and at Brno in 2008 and 2009.
In the autumn of 2006 he drove a specially modified BMW Sauber F1 car in a test at Valencia, then in 2007 he entered the New York Marathon after only four weeks of training with a handbike. He finished fourth and began to take the sport more seriously. Two years later he won the Venice Marathon and, after announcing his retirement from motorsport at the end of 2009, won the Rome Marathon of 2010.
The following year he won the New York Marathon at his fourth attempt. Next, his goal was to win a gold medal in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. He ended up with two golds and a silver.
Having achieved that, Zanardi began to look for a new challenge, and after testing a BMW DTM car at the end of 2012, he set his sights on returning to the sport. He has just announced that he will be racing a BMW Z4 GT3 in the Blancpain GT Sprint Series in 2014. The car will be prepared by his old friends at ROAL Motorsport, previously known as Ravaglia Motorsport.
Who would bet against further successes?