One of my all-time heroes, Alessandro ‘Alex’ Zanardi, is celebrating his birthday today!
Turning the ripe young age of 44, Alex’s F1 career is most certainly that of a huge talent unfulfilled, but how he has triumphed in the face of tragedy is a truly remarkable story.
A prodigy in the junior formulae, Alex was a late-season call-up to the Jordan squad in 1991, where he acquitted himself superbly with some storming drives in his first few outings of the season.
Without a drive at the start of 1992, he remained on the sidelines and only appeared on the grid when Christian Fittipaldi injured his neck, which allowed Alex to attempt to get his Minardi onto the grid.
A full-time role with Lotus came up for the 1993 season, and he achieved a point for sixth place in just his second outing for the team. Tragically, it would turn out to be his only point scored in F1, for the team’s (and Alex’s) form waivered, before he had a huge accident during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix that put him out for the rest of the season.
Back behind the Lotus saddle in 1994 (but only when Pedro Lamy was injured in testing), Alex tried hard as the outfit floundered under massive debts, occasionally moving aside so the pay drivers could have a go.
No further opportunities in F1 came about in the following year, so he moved to the US and contested the CART series, achieving ‘Rookie of the Year’ honours in 1996 before clinching back-to-back titles in 1997-8 with some storming drives that made him a darling of the American motor-racing scene.
Now hot property once again, he was signed by the Williams team for a return to F1 in 1999, but the project dramatically failed to gel and he was shown the door after just one year.
After a sabbatical, he returned to Champ Cars with Morris Nunn’s little outfit, enduring a horror run of luck until his fortunes seemed to improve with what looked like a race-winning drive at the Lausitzring, until he was T-boned in a freak accident as he exited the pits that amputated both legs.
Now since retired, Alex devoted his time to campaigning for better treatment and resource access for accident survivors, in addition to staging his own bid to compete in the London Paralympics in 2012.
He also recently penned his fantastic autobiography, My Story, which we have reviewed on our website.
We wish Alex a very happy birthday today!