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Paddock Postcard from Monza 09 Sep 2012

Alex Zanardi (ITA) won a silver medal during the Team Relay event at the 2012 Paralympic Games. This brought his total to two Gold Medals and one silver medals for London 2012. London 2012 Paralympic Cycling, H1-4 Team Relay, Brands Hatch, England, 8 September 2012. Ma Qing Hua (CHN) HRT Formula One Team HRT F112 Development Driver and Pedro De La Rosa (ESP) HRT Formula One Team HRT F112 in the garage.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Italian Grand Prix, Practice, Monza, Italy, Friday, 7 September 2012 The HRT Team and the Formula One Paddock celebrate 100 Grands Prix for Pedro De La Rosa (ESP) HRT Formula One Team.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Italian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Monza, Italy, Saturday, 8 September 2012 Jean Todt (FRA) FIA President and Michelle Yeoh (MAL).
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Italian Grand Prix, Practice, Monza, Italy, Friday, 7 September 2012 Davide Valsecchi (ITA) DAMS side by side with Johnny Cecotto (VEN) Barwa Addax Team. GP2 Series, Rd11, Monza, Italy, 7-9 September 2012. Race 1 winner Luca Filippi (ITA) Scuderia Coloni on the podium. GP2 Series, Rd11, Monza, Italy, 7-9 September 2012.

After enduring some pretty turbulent weather at Spa, everyone was pleased to be basking in the sunshine at Monza this weekend, though initially at least everyone’s attention was focused on London, as ex-Formula One driver - and local Italian hero - Alex Zanardi won a Paralympic gold medal in the H4 handcycling time trial.

Zanardi, who lost both his legs following a Champ Car crash back in 2001, beat his nearest rival by 27 seconds at the famous Brands Hatch motor racing circuit in Kent, where the event was held.

“This is a great accomplishment, one of the greatest of my life,” said Zanardi. “I worked very hard to get here. It was great to live such an experience at 45. You should not chase pipedreams, but if you have a horizon to look into, happiness is just around the corner.”

Zanardi, CART champion in 1997 and 1998, and who contested 41 Grands Prix between 1991 and 1999 for Jordan, Minardi, Lotus and Williams, went on to win a second gold in the handcycling road race and a silver in the Mixed H1-H4 team time trial.

There were celebrations in the paddock, too, with Monza marking its 90th anniversary and Caterham’s Vitaly Petrov celebrating his 28th birthday on Saturday. Shanghai-born test driver Ma Qing Hua made history on Friday morning when he became the first Chinese-born driver to officially drive at a Grand Prix. His HRT team mate Pedro de la Rosa was also in high spirits, celebrating his 100th Formula One appearance.

“Very few drivers are able to stay up there for that long and gain the respect of everyone in the way that Pedro has,” said team principal Luis Perez-Sala. “He’s an admirable driver and person and we’re extremely proud for him to reach this mark with us.”

The Monza pit lane was teeming with familiar faces from Italian racing. Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo spoke about his view for Formula One racing’s future and presented a spectacular F99XX to its new owner after an auction had raised 1.4 million euros for the victims of the Emilia Romagna earthquake.

Piero Lardi Ferrari also made a visit, as did 1965 and 1969 race victor Sir Jackie Stewart and fellow racers Jean Alesi, Arturo Merzario, Tonio Liuzzi, Gianni Morbidelli, Emanuele Pirro, Maria Teresa de Fillipis, Markku Alen and former Osella sporting director Gianfranco Palazzoli (aka ‘Pal Joey’).

FIA President Jean Todt also made an appearance, as did former F1 team owner Giancarlo Minardi, engineers Enrique Scalabroni and Gabreiele Tredozzi and team owner Paolo Pavanello. Actor Liam Cunningham came to his third Grand Prix of the season.

On-track, the GP2 action was as frantic as ever. In Saturday’s feature race, Luca Filippi scored an emotional victory for Coloni as he returned to the category for the first time in a year. He hounded poleman Max Chilton’s Carlin car before slipping ahead going into the Ascari chicane, and pulled away to a four-second triumph.

Behind the jubilant Italian, Johnny Cecotto Jnr made up for his recent disappointments and overcame a five-place grid penalty with a strong run to second place for Barwa Addax ahead of iSport’s Marcus Ericsson, who built on his Spa success with a solid third in front of the disappointed Chilton.

Racing Engineering's Fabio Leimer finished fifth despite clashes with title contender Luis Razia and DAMS’s Felipe Nasr in the second chicane and the resultant stewards’ investigations, while series leader Davide Valsecchi extended his advantage over Razia to eight points with sixth ahead of Briton Jolyon Palmer (iSport) and Stefano Coletti (Rapax), who took pole for Sunday’s sprint race.

Briton James Calado’s title challenge effectively ended after a disappointing race in which he finished 12th, while front-row starter Giedo van der Garde’s Caterham car faded early on.

The sprint event saw Valsecchi take his fourth victory of the season to stretch his championship lead to 25 points going into the final round in Singapore. Starting third, the Italian dominated the race to win by 0.4s at the flag over Leimer.

Third place went to Palmer, after he won a last-lap tussle with team mate Ericsson, while title contender Razia could only manage 16th place after starting 25th thanks to a five-place grid penalty for his collision with Leimer on Saturday.

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