Alex Zanardi surprised those working hard - and late - on the latest Ferrari when he turned up at the Gestione Sportiva building in Maranello to see old friend Stefano Domenicali.

Guided by the Scuderia Ferrari team principal, Zanardi visited the various departments where this year's F1 car, the F138, is taking shape ahead of Friday's launch, and was warmly welcomed by those present.

Already a favourite in F1 circles, Zanardi created another legacy for himself by taking a brace of gold medals at the London 2012 Paralympic Games - in the individual H4 hand bike time trial and road race - and anchoring the Italian team that took silver in the H1-4 Relay.

"It was a very exciting evening for me!" Zanardi told the official Ferrari website, "The thing that struck me the most when I went into the department where the new car was being built, was the smell, the same I used to smell when I went to the Chip Ganassi team headquarters in America. There, too, the car was red, but it definitely wasn't a Ferrari!

"I know many of the guys who work at the Scuderia from a long time ago, but this was my first time in Maranello and it was a great experience. Finally, I can claim to have got my hands on a red car!"

The Italian, who drove for Jordan, Minardi, Lotus and Williams during his short F1 career, admitted that he had been particularly impressed by the atmosphere at the factory, particularly with the launch and first pre-season test just days away.

"It's true that, these days, the top teams are pretty big, just like a real average-sized company, but, at Ferrari, I could see there was still that passion for the job that only comes with a love of racing," he reflected, "Then, thinking back to how nice the tortellini and cold cuts of meat were, you can imagine what a great evening it was, without any regrets about breaking the rules regarding my diet..."

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