Alex Zanardi has made motorsport history after becoming the first driver with amputated legs to successfully return to the cockpit of a Formula One car, the Italian completing the landmark test at Valencia with BMW Sauber.
The first time he has stepped inside a Formula One car since 1999 when he raced for Williams, Zanardi's comeback comes five years after he lost both of his legs in a horrific smash at the Lausitzring whilst competing the Champ Car Series.
Completing twelve laps in the car Nick Heidfeld, Jacques Villeneuve and Robert Kubica took to fifth place in the constructors' standings this year, Zanardi's chance comes following an impressive season in the World Touring Car Championship with BMW, by which he managed a win in Turkey.
Zanardi was understandably emotional about returning to the F1 cockpit, but, complete with revisions to the car's pedals, insisted it was easy to become accustomed to, instead comparing it to a road car.
“This is a special opportunity for me,” said Zanardi. .I saw some very happy faces; everybody was surprised that everything was working so smoothly. BMW always gave me maximum support, especially in the WTCC. Driving the Formula One car is another step. I am very proud that I am doing this.
“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.”
Indeed, BMW team director Mario Theissen was full of praise for the Italian who is on track ahead of the Formula BMW World Finals and is due to complete further laps ahead of the race.
”After just a few installation laps on Thursday, Alessandro Zanardi had far more time today to enjoy his Formula One comeback. I was impressed with how well the modifications on the car are working.
“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 forgot how to drive a race car like this at the limit.”