F1 Driver Alex Zanardi returns to Brands Hatch for Paralympics
09:50 03 September 2012
The track at Brands Hatch is nothing new to former Formula One racing driver Alex Zanardi, but this week will be the first time he lines up as a Paralympic hand cyclist.
In 2001 Alex stalled during a race causing another driver to crash into him at 220mph, splitting the car – and himself – into two.
Despite losing three-quarters of his blood, Alex astounded doctors with his recovery. On awakening from an induced coma, he made new plans for the next chapter in his career and within nine months was racing again.
“When I opened my eyes I felt gifted with a great opportunity to carry on but first I took the time needed to clear out my past list of priorities,” he said. “After my accident I was not self sufficient and I couldn’t consider driving racing cars. But mentally I was ready to do something.”
His acceptance of the accident was rapid, but for Alex this was down to realising the nature of both his sport and that of life itself.
“I don’t think of myself as superman. I always knew something like this could happen. Life is like this. The simple fact of living our life puts us in some sort of danger,” he said. “You may be going in one direction in life but then all of a sudden something can dramatically change the direction you were heading in. If you do not accept this you are looking at a miserable life but if you say, ‘ok, that’s it’, you can look for a new horizon.
“I have got so far in this new life of mine that the things I like now are strongly related to my condition. It would be hard to go back. If a genie came up and granted me my legs back for sure I would take them but it would take some time to accept.”
Alex continued to race in a specially-adapted car, as well as designing his own prosthetic legs. Back at the wheel he carried on where he had left off, hitting speeds of up to 200mph and going on to win world competitions.
It was only in 2007 that he took up hand cycling and four weeks of practice later he came fourth in the New York City Marathon hand cycling section.
Spurred on, he decided to target being chosen for Italy’s 2012 Paralympic team and is now a gold medal contender.
“If you had asked me a few years ago about taking part in the Paralympics I would have asked you what you were on. In my career I have done many things but nothing like this,” he said. “It has been a great adventure trying to qualify for the Games and I have a big expectation for it.”
His bike is specially moulded to his body – he describes it as a “Cinderella shoe” that will fit no-one but him, and will help him hit speeds close to 40mph as he winds his way along the Brands Hatch circuit and surrounding roads on the 15.5km time trial and 64km road race.
The last time Alex raced at Brands Hatch was in 1991 and it is with fond memories and no regrets that he will take his place on the starting line this week.
“I never thought I would go back to Brands Hatch in this shape so it is great when they announced that our races were going to be held there. I was ecstatic because I know the place and it was a circuit that I loved. Now it is down to me to display the best I can do. I am not anxious but curious to see how I do.”