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Alex Zanardi

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Daniela Zanardi (m. 1996)

Car no.

Racing driver

BMW Team Italy-Spain

Alex Zanardi

Debut season


Niccolo Zanardi

Alex Zanardi smiling and looking afar while wearing black cap and white and blue jacket

Alessandro Zanardi 23 October 1966 (age 57) Bologna, Italy (

Dino Zanardi, Anna Zanardi

Laureus World Sports Award for Comeback of the Year

Gold medals
Cycling at the 2012 Summer Paralympics – Men's road time trial

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Alex Zanardi: Racing driver with no legs | DTM Exclusive

Alessandro "Alex" Zanardi ([ˈaːleks dzaˈnardi]; born 23 October 1966) is an Italian professional racing driver and paracyclist.


Alex Zanardi smiling while proudly showing his medal

He won the CART championship in 1997 and 1998 in North America. He also had a less successful career as a Formula One driver. More recently, he has attracted widespread praise for his return to competition in the aftermath of a crash in 2001 that resulted in the amputation of his legs. He returned to racing less than two years after the accident, competing in the FIA World Touring Car Championship for BMW Team Italy-Spain between 2003 and 2009.

Alex Zanardi looking afar while sitting on his car

Switching sports, Zanardi took up competition in handcycling, a form of paralympic cycling, with the stated goal of representing Italy at the 2012 Summer Paralympics. In September 2011, Zanardi won his first senior international handcycling medal, the silver medal in the H4 category time trial at the UCI World Road para-cycling Championships. In September 2012 he won gold medals at the London Paralympics in the individual H4 time trial and the individual H4 road race, followed by a silver medal in the mixed H1-4 team relay, and in September 2016 he won a gold and a silver medal at the 2016 Paralympics in RIO de Janeiro.

Alex Zanardi's car crash

Blancpain gt series alex zanardi explains his unique driving system

Early years

Alex Zanardi's car crash

Alex Zanardi was born in Bologna, Italy, son of Dino and Anna Zanardi. His family moved to the town of Castel Maggiore on the city's outskirts when he was four. His sister Cristina was a promising swimmer prior her death in an automobile collision in 1979.

Alex Zanardi smiling while wearing black polo shirt

Zanardi began racing karts at age 13. He built his kart from the wheels of a dustbin and pipes from his father's work. In 1988, he joined the Italian Formula 3 series, with a fifth place as his highest finish. In 1989, Zanardi took two Pole positions and three podiums despite his team's switching to unleaded fuel, which reduced his car's engine power. In 1991, he moved up to the Formula 3000 series with the Il Barone Rampante team, themselves newcomers to the series. He won his F3000 debut race, scoring two more Wins that season and finishing second in the championship.

Formula One (1991–1994)

Alex Zanardi's car crash

Zanardi had his first taste of Formula One at a test session for Paul Ricard, where he drove a Footwork. By the end of that year, he had begun his career in Formula One. Three starts for Jordan were his reward for a strong F3000 campaign.


In 1992, however, Zanardi had to be content with guest drives for Minardi, replacing the injured Christian Fittipaldi. In the off-season, he tested for Benetton, but he contracted with Lotus for 1993.


Zanardi compared reasonably to teammate Johnny Herbert and was important in fine-tuning the team's active suspension system, scoring his only F1 point at the Brazilian Grand Prix.

Zanardi was injured when an elderly motorist collided with his bicycle, knocking him down and running over Zanardi's left foot. Despite suffering several broken bones, Zanardi raced in Germany, but he spun out and did not finish. Zanardi's season ended prematurely after he sustained a concussion as a result of a crash in practice for the Belgian Grand Prix.


Still recovering, Zanardi missed the beginning of the 1994 season, but he returned in the Spanish Grand Prix, replacing Pedro Lamy, who had been injured in a testing crash. However, that year's Lotus lacked pace and reliability, and Zanardi failed to score a single point or qualify higher than 13th.

Sports car racing

With Lotus Formula One having folded, Zanardi took time to race in sports car racing. His first meeting was at a Porsche Supercup event at Imola. Zanardi later raced at a four-hour event at Donington Park where he and Alex Portman retired with eight minutes remaining despite leading by over a lap. The pair managed to finish 4th at a wet-weather race at Silverstone.

CART Championship series

During 1995, Zanardi went to the United States for a drive in the CART Series. He felt that finding a race seat would be easy with Formula One experience but no teams took any interest. However, Reynard Commercial Director Rick Gorne managed to secure Zanardi a test drive at Homestead with Chip Ganassi Racing. Zanardi officially signed a contract on 23 October 1995. The team's race engineer Mo Nunn advised Chip against signing him, as he believed Italian drivers were too prone to mistakes.

He rapidly became one of the series' most popular drivers. He took the pole for his second race, although his first win didn't come until mid-season. In total he won three races in his rookie season and five pole positions, finishing third in the championship behind teammate Jimmy Vasser and Michael Andretti. He and Andretti were level on points but Andretti took second place by virtue of having five race wins to Zanardi's three. Zanardi was named Champ Racing Rookie of the Year. He won the championship for Ganassi in both 1997 and 1998, bringing home twelve victories.

A win came at Laguna Seca for the final race of the 1996 season, where he conducted a highly risky overtaking move at the Corkscrew corner (known to many racing fans as "The Pass"; the maneuver was banned for future years), on race leader Bryan Herta, having fought his way through the field. After winning a race, Zanardi was fond of spinning his car around in tight circles, leaving circular doughnut-shaped patterns of tyre rubber on the track; this would eventually become a popular means of celebrating race wins all across America.

Return to Formula One

Zanardi's CART success caught the eye of Sir Frank Williams, with whom he made contact in 1997, to inform them he would be available for contract negotiations if needed. Williams visited Zanardi, who signed a three-year contract in July 1998 which was publicly confirmed in September of that year. He began testing at the end of that year alongside test driver Juan Pablo Montoya. Zanardi also received offers from BAR and Honda. In Australia, Zanardi was 9th quickest in the first free practice session but had limited track time due to reliability issues and traffic in qualifying meant he could only start 15th. He showed promise in the warm-up with 6th but the race saw him crash out on lap 21. Moving on to Brazil, Zanardi once again experienced limited time on the track which was mainly due to engine issues. He started 16th and retired with a differential failure. Zanardi also incurred a $5,000 fine for speeding in the pit lane.

At Imola, his form improved with a start position of 10th. The race itself threw up a surprise for Zanardi. His car was suffering electronic issues and ran a steady 7th in the closing stages and ran over oil from Johnny Herbert's Stewart at the Villeneuve chicane and spun into the gravel. Zanardi out-qualified Schumacher at Monaco by over half a second. More drama occurred on race DAY as the seat in his Williams broke off during the early stages of the race but he managed to finish 8th and last of the runners. In Spain, despite setting the 5th-quickest lap in first free practice, a wrong set-up placed Zanardi 17th in qualifying. His car's gearbox seized after a pit stop. Similar problems occurred in Canada where Friday practice running was limited. Managing to out-qualify Schumacher, Zanardi's race was incident filled. Whilst running in 8th, he spun off into the gravel trap early on and dropped to last. Further time was lost when leaving the pit lane during a safety car period and receiving a stop-go penalty. A further excursion occurred when a maneuver on Luca Badoer's Minardi ended with Zanardi crashing out.

The wet qualifying for the French Grand Prix saw him qualify 15th after the Williams team misread conditions and aquaplaned during the race. At Silverstone, Zanardi qualified 13th and finished 11th. In Austria, he started 14th. In the first part of the race, Zanardi's radio communications failed and around lap 33, his team hung out pit boards calling him in to pit but a battle with Pedro Diniz distracted the Italian and twice missed the board and eventually ran out of fuel. At the German Grand Prix, Zanardi qualified 14th due to a miscalculation for his position and incurred another pit lane speeding fine. In the race, a differential failure affected the engine and brakes forced a retirement. At Hungary, Zanardi reverted to using left-foot braking but suffered a third consecutive retirement from a differential failure, having run off the road earlier in the race. In Belgium, Zanardi started from 8th and the start saw him overtake Rubens Barrichello and Damon Hill into La Source. Zanardi ran as high as 4th before pitting and eventually finished 8th.

In Monza, Zanardi qualified 4th ahead of teammate Ralf Schumacher. He overtook David Coulthard and Heinz-Harald Frentzen at the start. Frentzen took over 2nd from Zanardi at the Roggia chicane. On the third lap, the floor on the Williams became loose and he was forced to wave his rivals past but managed to finish 7th. At the next round at the Nürburgring, Zanardi qualified in 18th, placing blame on traffic. He performed well at the start but was forced to take avoiding action when Alexander Wurz clipped Pedro Diniz. The incident left Zanardi in last position but he regained positions before his car succumbed to his engine stalling. The penultimate round in Malaysia had seen Zanardi start from 16th with a first-lap collision that damaged his front rim with a pit-stop preventing better progress. He later ran wide which caused damage to the car radiators and forced another pit-stop with Zanardi finishing 10th.

The final race of the season was in Japan, where he qualified 16th. In the race, Zanardi overtook many of his rivals, driving as high as 9th before his pit-lane limiter activated with the engine shutting off when he attempted to turn off the limiter on the first lap. At the end of the season, Zanardi and the Williams team decided to go their separate ways with an estimated cost of $4 million for the termination of Zanardi's contract.

CART return and Lausitzring crash

In the 2000 season Zanardi was not signed for a team, but was interested in a CART comeback. He tested for Mo Nunn in July at Sebring driving for 246 laps and opted to sign to the team for 2001, however he was not successful for the most part.

In his most competitive race of 2001, the 2001 American Memorial, he suffered a violent accident at the EuroSpeedway Lausitz on 15 September. Zanardi started from the back of the grid and was gaining ground on his rivals. The crash occurred while Zanardi was leading the race in the closing laps. After a late pit stop, Zanardi was attempting to merge back onto the track when he accelerated abruptly and spun into the path of Patrick Carpentier. Carpentier was able to avoid him, but Alex Tagliani, who was just behind Carpentier at the time, could not and Zanardi's car was impacted from the side, behind the front wheel, severing the nose of the car. Zanardi lost both legs (one at the thigh and one at the knee) in the impact and nearly three-quarters of his blood volume, though rapid medical intervention saved his life. Further portions of his legs were amputated during three hours of surgery to clean and facilitate closing the wounds. This was the end of his open-wheel racing career.

Post-amputation motor racing career

Zanardi was fitted with two prosthetic limbs and began an ambitious rehabilitation program. Dissatisfied with the limitations of legs available commercially, Zanardi designed and built his own custom legs, to allow him to compare the weight and stiffness of various feet in order to find the ones most suitable for racing. In 2002, CART honoured Zanardi by giving him the privilege of waving the checkered flag in Toronto, Canada. In 2003, Zanardi was racing again, with the aid of hand-operated brake and accelerator controls. He ceremonially drove thirteen laps at the Lausitzring, having crashed 13 laps before the end in 2001. He lapped fast enough that had he been qualifying for the race that weekend, he would have been fifth. It persuaded him that a race return was something to pursue.

Zanardi competed at Monza, Italy, in his first race since the accident in a touring car modified to allow the use of his prosthetic feet, finishing the race in seventh. In 2004, Zanardi returned to racing full-time, driving for Roberto Ravaglia's BMW Team Italy-Spain in the FIA European Touring Car Championship. In 2005, the series became the World Touring Car Championship by adding two non-European races. On 24 August 2005, Zanardi won his first world series race, celebrating with a series of trademark "donuts". He took further wins at Istanbul in 2006 and Brno in 2008 and 2009. At the end of the 2009 season he announced his retirement from the WTCC.

Zanardi returned to a Formula One car in late November 2006 at a testing session for BMW Sauber in Valencia, Spain. The car had been specially adapted to have hand controls fitted on the steering wheel. After the drive Zanardi said that the main problem he was having was using only his right hand to steer through corners, as his left operated the throttle. Zanardi said, "Of course, I know that I won't get a contract with the Formula One team, however having the chance to drive an F1 racer again is just incredible."

Since 2004, CRG has made and sold a range of kart chassis bearing Zanardi's name. Zanardi chassis have been raced in the European KF1 Championship and World Championship as well as in many other racing events worldwide. Dutch driver Nyck de Vries won the CIK-FIA Karting World Championship in 2010 and 2011 with Zanardi karts.

In November 2012 Zanardi tested a BMW DTM touring car, completing 32 laps of the Nürburgring. He later said that the test had rekindled his interest in motor racing, and in January 2014 it was announced that he would return to motorsport in the 2014 Blancpain Sprint Series season, racing a BMW Z4 GT3 for Ravaglia's ROAL Motorsport outfit.

Handcycling career

After the injuries sustained from the accident Zanardi decided to return to sport, taking up handcycling. In 2007 he achieved 4th place in the New York City Marathon in the handcycle division, after only four weeks of training. He has since taken up handcycling in earnest, and competed at the Para-Cycling Road World Championships in 2009. He stated that he was targeting a place in the Italian team for the 2012 Summer Paralympics. In 2009 he won the Venice Marathon in the category for the disabled, riding his wheelchair in one hour, thirteen minutes, 56 seconds, and won the Rome City Marathon in 2010, in a time of one hour, fifteen minutes, 53 seconds. In 2011, at his fourth attempt, Zanardi won the New York City Marathon in his handcycling class.

On 5 September 2012, Zanardi won a gold medal in the men's road time trial H4 at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, finishing 27.14 seconds ahead of Nobert Mosandi. Two days later, he won the individual H4 road race, ahead of Ernst van Dyk (South Africa) and Wim Decleir (Belgium), and then a silver medal for Italy in the mixed team relay H1-4 on 8 September 2012. The bike used by Zanardi was constructed by Italian racecar constructor Dallara. Both events were held at Brands Hatch, a circuit Zanardi had previously driven in during his motorsport career.

Before the Games in London, he expressed interest in returning to auto racing for the 2013 Indianapolis 500; while this failed to pan out, at the event he was presented with his 1996 CART Laguna Seca-winning car by Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

In December 2012, Zanardi was named one of "The Men of the Year 2012" by Top Gear.

Zanardi completed the 2014 Ironman World Championship with a time of 9:47'14, ranking 272nd overall and 19th out of 247 in the 45–49 year category. He used a handbike for the cycling section and a wheelchair for the running section.

In September 2015 Zanardi announced that he would be taking part in the Berlin Marathon using a recumbent hand cycle.

At the 2016 Summer Paralympics in RIO de Janeiro he won the gold medals in the H5 category road cycling men's time trial and mixed team relay, and also silver in the road race.

Personal life

Zanardi has been married to Daniela (née Manni) since 1996, and they have a son, Niccolò (born 7 September 1998). He has co-written two books based on his life, Alex Zanardi: My Story (2004) and Alex Zanardi: My Sweetest Victory (2004). Zanardi and his story have been featured on the HBO sports series Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.

Zanardi is a longtime best friend of fellow driver Max Papis. He and Papis raced in Italy at numerous events such as carnivals and fairs. Zanardi is a devout Christian and sponsored Papis' sons, Marco and Matteo, as a godfather when they were baptized.


Zanardi's helmet is silver with a blue shape around the visor. The chin area is grey with a silver grid, a yellow line runs across the back of the helmet near the blue shape of the visor, a red line runs under the top and there is a pineapple on the rear (an allusion to his nickname).

Zanardi Edition NSX

The Alex Zanardi Edition Acura NSX, also known in both Japan and Europe as the Honda NSX Type-S variant, was introduced in 1999 for the U.S. market to commemorate his two back-to-back championship wins in 1997 and 1998 in the North American CART Champ Car open-wheel racing series. Only 51 examples were ever built, and all were painted New Formula Red to reflect the color of the Champ Car he drove to two titles for Chip Ganassi Racing. Number 0 was a press car, while number 1 was a gift from Acura/Honda to Zanardi himself. Numbers 2 through 50 were sold to the general public through Acura dealerships across the nation.

Complete International Formula 3000 results

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position) (Races in italics indicate fastest lap)

Complete Formula One results


Complete CART results


Complete World Touring Car Championship results

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position) (Races in italics indicate fastest lap)

International Race of Champions

(key) (Bold – Pole position. * – Most laps led.)


Alex Zanardi Wikipedia