Zanardi enjoys BMW F1 at Valencia
25 November 2006 – Alessandro Zanardi has made motor racing history once again: At the DELL Formula BMW World Final, the leg- amputee successfully returned to the cockpit of a Formula One car.
On Saturday morning, he completed a total of 12 laps at Valencia's "Circuit de la Comunitat". The 40-year-old's fastest lap was clocked at 1:21.63 minutes. The 1999 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka had been the last of his 41 races at the pinnacle of motorsport.
In 2001, Zanardi lost both legs in an accident, but made a spectacular racing comeback with BMW only two years later. Since then, he has managed to win two rounds of the FIA World Touring Car Championship for BMW Team Italy- Spain, thereby making a name for himself once again as a touring car driver.
"This is a special opportunity for me," said Zanardi. "I saw some very happy faces; everybody was surprised that everything was working so smoothly. BMW always gave me maximum support, especially in the WTCC. Driving the Formula One car is another step. I am very proud that I am doing this. The car was fantastic. Everything is so precise; I was really amazed - because usually you need more time to work on all the details of the car. I expected the car to be much rougher. But it feels rather like a beautiful BMW 7 Series, not like a Formula One car."
BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen said: "After just a few installation laps on Thursday, Alessandro Zanardi had far more time today to enjoy his Formula One comeback. I was impressed with how well the modifications on the car are working. Alessandro felt comfortable from the word go, which has also been proved by his lap times. It's obvious that he is no Formula One newcomer. He has not forgot how to drive a race car like this at the limit."
Because Zanardi can generate more force with his right limb, the engineers had moved the car's braking pedal from the left to the right side of the cockpit. The right prosthesis is fixed to the brake pedal via Velcro tape. In order to make the most effective use of the narrow space in the cockpit, Zanardi uses specially made prostheses. They are considerably smaller than the ones he uses normally. He shifts gears with a paddle on the right rear side of the steering wheel. On the left side there is another paddle, which is used to accelerate the car.
On Sunday, Zanardi will complete more laps on the 4.005-kilometre track. The highlight of the weekend, the DELL Formula BMW World Final, will get underway at 14:30hrs (13:30hrs GMT). In total, 37 talented drivers will be fighting for title glory and an attractive winner's prize: a Formula One test drive with the BMW Sauber F1 Team.