Tag Archives: Williams

Alex Zanardi – what heros are made of

When double Paralympic gold medallist Alex Zanardi first featured on my radar it was 1991 and he was driving for an Italian team called Il Barone Rampante (The Rampant Baron). Colleagues close to the team alleged that rather than driver debriefs, its motorhome was used mainly for the rampant snorting of white powder. It was an ‘interesting’ environment, not least for Zanardi who unassisted by the devil’s dandruff was attempting to win a major motor racing championship.

ImageI met him first eight years later on his second coming to Formula One. I interviewed him two thirds of the way through the year. Things weren’t going well. He hadn’t scored a point and as it turned out wasn’t going to. But he was punctual, polite and gave full attention to my questions about how he could turn his season around. Some of his erstwhile fellows – stand up please Ralf Schumacher – managed to hide those qualities remarkably well.

Three years later I spoke to a very different Alex Zanardi. His Formula One career had ended and racing an IndyCar he’d lost his legs in a horrific crash. Yet the same competitive instinct and trade mark good humour was present.

Asked if he wanted to give son Niccolo a sibiling, he laughed: “No, (wife) Daniela is happy with one. I would like more, and believe me I could! I might have lost my legs but I’m still capable. All the blood that was in my legs has to go somewhere!” And you couldn’t keep that grin away. You might have wondered if Ralf Schumacher, his one-time Williams team mate, had been in touch after Zanardi’s life-changing crash. Again, that broad grin: “That’s a ridiculous question! Ralf can drive a car quickly but not much more. Of course he hasn’t called me.”

Rather than wallow in self-pity, the overriding impression he gave was of a man determined to continue enjoying life. He’d designed his own prosthetic legs after growing frustrated with the ones he’d been given. And one of the other memorable quotes in the interview was when he said: “I have so much in my life.” Now of course he has even more: two Olympic gold medals and the promise that a US team will provide a car for the legendary Indy 500 oval race. Don’t bet against it happening.


‘Wanker’ Williams comes good (again)

In 1986 Frank Williams was given three years to live. It’s now 26 years after the car crash that condemned him to life in a wheelchair and he’s still going strong. He’s just hit 70 and his team has just won its 114th grand prix. That’s more than any team bar Ferrari and McLaren.

Image

I remember the first time I interviewed Williams it was 1995 and I was a bit in awe. Afterall, this was a man who had started his business from a phone booth outside his factory. He’d won world championships and turned himself from ‘Wanker Williams’ into boss of a multi-million pound empire. We sat in the Williams team’s awning at Silverstone. His cars had qualified first and third for the following day’s grand prix and Frank sat at a table with a fruit drink. “Have you always wanted to do this?” I asked, meaning be boss of a mega successful grand prix team. “What drink from a straw?” he answered quick as a flash.

The following day his nurse told me a story about how he’d lifted Frank from his wheel chair into the passenger seat of his Renault Safrane (they had to get rid of them somehow). He went round to the driver’s seat, climbed in and Frank was leaning head first against the dashboard. “Why are you doing that?” the nurse asked. “I haven’t got any bloody choice, have I? You didn’t strap me in did you?” Frank retorted smartly. It says much about a man who can deal with crippling adversity with humour.

I’m not surprised Williams has won another grand prix.If this is the beginning of a resurgence just don’t expect too much too soon. Formula One needs time. No one knows that better than Frank Williams. But I for one wouldn’t bet against his team winning more races with Frank at the helm.