As far as lump-in-throat,
grown-men-in-tears sporting tales go, they don’t come much better than the
story of former F1 driver Alessandro Zanardi.
To begin with, it’s one of those “if-only”
stories that circulated around September 11, 2001. The Champ
Car race at the Lausitzring in Germany,
the first major sports event to be held after the terrorist attacks, was almost
cancelled. It wasn’t, and the race cost the beleaguered Italian driver his legs.
Before sensationally returning with
prosthetic legs and crutches to race a hand-controlled BMW 320i in the World
Touring Car Championship, Zanardi pioneered the design of go-karts and skis for
those similarly afflicted.
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Later, in a modified Champ Car single
seater, he drove the laps he would have completed to win at Lausitz in
2001. Thirteen times, he passed the point at which litres of his own blood had
spilled onto the asphalt, but claims he didn’t think about the incident more
Later this year, Alex Zanardi will drive a
BMW-Sauber formula one car somewhere in Europe; his first real taste of the
pinnacle of motor sport since retiring on the first lap of the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka in 1999.
The thing about Alex, though, is that he’ll
do it for his own reasons. BMW will send out an invitation to the press; others
will note the significance of a Formula One monster being tamed by a man with
no legs; headline editors will note the event’s newsworthiness. And Zanardi
will do it just because he wants to go fast.
These days, driving a Formula One car is no
real feat; a fact backed up by the sight of innumerable 18-year-old kids whose
sponsors regularly pay for seats at tests and even grands prix. Recently, even
British journalist Peter Windsor had a go in a Toyota and likened
its recipe to a PlayStation, a round with Mike Tyson, and a rollercoaster.
That, precisely, is why Zanardi will do his
laps. “I feel that, psychologically, the accident is definitely behind me,”
Zanardi said. “I am a normal guy.” Perhaps most amazingly, he said of his new
life behind the wheel: “I have no fear at all.”