For the first time since 1999, former grand prix driver Alex Zanardi returned to the wheel of a formula one car this week.
At the formula BMW ‘World Finals’ event at Valencia in Spain, the 40-year-old Italian completed a handful of laps on Thursday ahead of a more comprehensive test schedule for the weekend, becoming the first amputee to tame a grand prix single seater.
His two walking sticks apart, the only obvious sign of Zanardi’s horrific injuries sustained in a Champ Car crash in 2001 was that a crew had to help him climb into the C24 racer.
BMW-Sauber engineers also decided to send the former Jordan, Lotus and Williams driver out on rain tyres, underestimating that even with a hand-controlled throttle and prosthetic leg to produce the 80kg of braking pressure, Zanardi would quickly destroy the ultra-soft compound.
“Nobody was expecting me to push more than what the tyres could take,” the American news agency Associated Press quoted him as saying.
In 41 grands prix between 1991 and 1999, Zanardi’s best finish was a sixth, and he lamented at Valencia that he should have achieved more in motor racing’s highest category.
“Not because the team never gave me a reliable, fast car,” he insisted, “but for the fact I didn’t push myself as hard as I could have.
“But you can’t change the past, (you can) only learn from it.”