Zanardi returns in F1 after seven years | india | Hindustan Times
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Zanardi returns in F1 after seven years

Zanardi, who last drove an F1 car in 1999, lost his legs in a racing crash in September 2001 in the CART series.

india Updated: Nov 25, 2006 17:17 IST

Alex Zanardi, who lost both legs in a crash in 2001, completed his return to Formula One on Saturday by becoming the first double amputee to test drive an F1 car.

The 40-year-old Italian drove nine laps in a modified BMW-Sauber C24-B car at the Cheste circuit.

"It's fantastic," Zanardi said. "When I dropped my visor, the emotions were very heavy. It was pure pleasure being back in a fantastic race car."

Zanardi, who last drove an F1 car in 1999, lost his legs in a racing crash in September 2001 in the CART series, now known as the Champ Car World Series.

His smiling eyes were matched by the grin on his face when he drove into the garage. He was then immediately embraced by BMW Motorsports director Mario Theissen after being helped out of the car.

"It's a wonderful day, I'm very happy that we were able to make this happen," Theissen said.

The former Williams, Minardi, Jordan and Lotus driver improved with each lap, dropping his time on the 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) circuit from 1 minute, 27.2 seconds to 1:21.6.

"We gotta go under 1:20," was his response to the pit crew upon being told of his final lap-time.

Zanardi will get his chance later on Saturday, when he returns to the track to continue testing.

"Everything was absolutely working to the best, like a Swiss watch," he said. "I'm a little disappointed I can't push it as hard as I like because I'm not conformable sitting in the car." BMW-Sauber team manager Beat Zehnder said the crew worked on the car for just over an hour, making improvements on the settings that Zanardi drove four laps with on Thursday.

Apart from shifting the pedals so that Zanardi's stronger right limb can exert more pressure on the break pedal, most of the changes were electronic.

So, he has no excuses then?

"Yeah, I guess not," Zehnder said.

Zanardi said that the main problem had been using only his right hand to steer through corners, as his left operated the throttle. "The steering wheel is practically on my lap, which is why I can't push as much as I would like to," he said. Though Zanardi had an unspectacular F1 career, he holds the modern CART record for points in a season - 285 in 1998. He also holds the CART record for most consecutive poles (six), front-row starts (11) and top-three finishes in a season (15). For his wife Daniella, it was just another day at the track. "Yeah, this is OK," she said. "This is normal for me."