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Zanardi celebrates Formula One comeback 27 Nov 2006

WTCC driver Alessandro Zanardi (ITA) drives a specially converted BMW Sauber F1 car around Valencia. Alessandro Zanardi Drives a BMW Sauber F1 Car, Valencia, Spain, 23 November 2006. World © Sutton

Alessandro Zanardi has returned to the cockpit of a Formula One car for the first time since losing both his legs in an accident back in 2001. Zanardi completed more than a dozen laps of the Valencia circuit in Spain at the wheel of a specially-adapted BMW Sauber.

“This is a special opportunity for me,” said Zanardi after clocking a best time of 1m 21.630s on Saturday at the Formula BMW World Final event. “I saw some very happy faces; everybody was surprised that everything was working so smoothly. 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.”

Because Zanardi can generate more force with his right limb, the engineers had moved the car’s brake pedal from the left to the right side of the cockpit. His right prosthesis was fixed to the brake pedal via Velcro tape. In order to make the most effective use of the narrow space in the cockpit, the Italian used specially-made prostheses, considerably smaller than the ones he uses normally. He changed gears with a paddle on the right rear side of the steering wheel. On the left side there was another paddle, which he used as an accelerator.

“I was impressed with how well the modifications on the car are working,” commented BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen. “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 forgotten how to drive a race car like this at the limit.”

Zanardi, 40, had both his legs amputated following his Champ Car accident at Germany’s Lausitzring in September 2001. He made his motorsport comeback with BMW two years later and has subsequently won two rounds of the World Touring Car Championship with them. Zanardi’s Formula One career comprised 41 Grand Prix starts between 1991 and 1999.