Messy thoughts while we know that Alex Zanardi he is in intensive care after being under the surgical knife in Siena. We slip in 1980: I was not a journalist and he was not yet a pilot. But on August 2 of that year he was going to the first hills of the Apennines between Bologna and Tuscany. A new kart, finally, was waiting for him in some minor workshop, then he would go immediately to test it on the small track of Vado, almost in the mountains. Coming from Castelmaggiore, north-eastern outskirts of Bologna, the two Zanardi, father and son, planted themselves in the paralyzed city. Closed. The had exploded bomb at the Bologna station: deaths and blood, black and red slopes, sidetracking, secret services to paralyze / distort / cover up, a guilty material that has not yet been identified. Result: a day of pure teenage happiness turned into an ordeal.
Zanardi is in intensive care, very serious conditions
But Zanardi was already Zanardi, although he could not have known. Victories in karting came. Then in the minor formulas. But his dream was Formula 1, how could it have been otherwise? We met for an open heart interview for the weekly Autosprint, my head then. We spoke at times in a spurious Bolognese dialect, we made friends. The boy wanted to go over, it was clear immediately. Who knows if he had the titles at the driving level; no doubt his heart would have taken him everywhere. I joined the cause and married Zanardi, who at that time was already an interesting, but still an irregular. And this, in my personal feeling, was a plus.
At the 1992 Belgian GP I talked about him with Peter Collins, former Benetton F1 manager (then thrown out the window by Flavio Briatore who took full powers in record time, and in hindsight he had the titles) and now at Lotus from little detected by the group of Colin Chapman’s heirs. “Zanardi is one real?”Collins asked me. To my positive answer, he contacted him by phone and offered him a place in Lotus (without paying!) For the 1993 World Cup. I remember the moment exactly: Peter was in Japan hunting for sponsors, I had agreed with him a surprise phone call on my mobile phone while I was having lunch with Alex at the Panino Giusto in Corso Garibaldi in Milan. When the call arrived, punctual and completely unexpected from Alex, I understood that love had broken out. Zanardi made his debut on Lotus and things did not go as hoped. The team was a group of good hopes, but on a technical and economic level he limped a lot. Alex made his own with a terrifying exit in the Belgian GP tests, something to thank for still being in the world. I remember him at his mother’s house in Castelmaggiore, a few days later. He spoke slowly. The bruises on the cheekbones and around the orbits told what is beyond that fine line called death. The fault of the whole had already been officially charged to a Lotus suspension failure, but he was not interested in establishing responsibilities.
Closed in relentlessly diminishing the experience with Lotus, which continued in 1994 first as a Lotus tester and then again titled after an accident that happened to Pedro Lamy that had actually snatched the wheel, here is Zanardi the American. The team of Chip Ganassi first he enrolled him and then elected him to his planetary flag. Two consecutive CART titles, some film masterpieces such as overtaking Brian Herta on the impossible double downhill curve of the Laguna Seca Corkscrew, the last lap of a race that had to be won in Alex’s brain – and that’s it.
Zanardi returned to F1 in 1999, on the wings of a myth that already understood the concept of beyond. Beyond the technical balances. Beyond the technique itself, sometimes. In addition to the acceptance of the other drivers, who are often critical of him for being too aggressive on the track. It didn’t go well, the year in Williams. Too distant Alex from the pharmaceutical balances that F1 imposed; Williams was too disappointed that she understood how much Ralf Schumacher, Zanardi’s partner, was going strong and costing a lot less. Result: America again. And without anything sensational to report, up to the dramatic worldwide accident of the Lausitzring. It was in that September 15, 2001 that an already extraordinary automotive history entered the myth. The myth with a capital M, which does not require any motorsport competence to understand its scope, historical and moral relevance.
Deprived of his legs, amputated due to the damage of that collision on the track, just out of the pits of the Lausitzring, perhaps betrayed by a stain of water and oil or maybe who knows, Zanardì fought first with death and then with a life to be rebuilt as an impossible puzzle. At the festival of the Golden Helmets of Autosprintthree months later, Alex arrived almost late. He had gone to an institution in the province to collect his prosthesis. He tried them for the first time on that stage, helping himself with two crutches. Then he abandoned them and lifted the helmet while balancing on his own: a move he had never tried before. In the audience it was literally impossible to suppress the tears: it was evident that we were facing a superman.
The rest is news. A return to a normal life, without more economic problems for at least two generations, escorted makes one wife adorable to presentissima, Daniela, and a son cradled and beloved despite the impairment. Then the handbike, finding a competition despite everything, the Olympic triumphs. Today’s Zanardi is something he too, I am sure, would not have believed. It is an example. A model of behavior, of love for life, which is what everyone should have in common and that Alessandro has taught us day after day, smile after smile, beat after beat. Victory after victory. Because he, Alessandro Zanardi, is one who wins. He won’t be able to stop now …