ZANARDI REMAINS ON TRACK FOR F1 SUCCESS DESPITE ROUGH OPENER By Dan Knutson indyf1.com Special Contributor INDIANAPOLIS, March 19, 1999--Two-time Champ Car champion Alex Zanardi's return to Formula One ended with a dented car. But the ...
ZANARDI REMAINS ON TRACK FOR F1 SUCCESS DESPITE ROUGH OPENER
By Dan Knutson indyf1.com Special Contributor
INDIANAPOLIS, March 19, 1999--Two-time Champ Car champion Alex Zanardi's return to Formula One ended with a dented car. But the Italian's motivation and spirit and confidence were anything but dented.
A series of reliability problems during practice for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix kept his Winfield Williams-Supertec in the pits and prevented him from getting valuable track time. In the morning practice March 6, for example, he only completed seven laps because of a hydraulic problem in the throttle management system. He ended up qualifying 15th. He didn't fare much better in the race when he hit the wall on Lap 21. "I don't really know what happened," Zanardi said. "I just turned into a corner and lost the back. I certainly had more problems this weekend than I thought I'd have. All I can do is gather my thoughts in preparation for the next race."
That comes April 11 at the Brazilian Grand Prix.
James Robinson, senior operations engineer at Williams, summed up Zanardi's weekend this way: "Alex was just really unlucky. He needs track time at the moment, and he didn't get enough. If we had a problem this weekend, it just seemed to end up on his car."
While his Williams teammate Ralf Schumacher ended up third, Zanardi wasn't phased by his own ill-fated race. Nor is he phased that the McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari cars are quicker than his Williams.
"I have a lot of confidence in the whole Winfield-Williams operation," Zanardi said, "and I believe that this team, technically speaking, is one of the greatest ever seen in Grand Prix history."
Team Williams has won the World Constructors Championship nine times, and its drivers have won the World Drivers Championship seven times. McLaren director Ron Dennis says that the best way to motivate a team is by losing. Last year Williams went winless for the first time in a decade.
"In this respect, Williams is fully motivated!" Zanardi said. "This is one of the reasons why it is exciting to be joining a team like Winfield Williams, because certainly it may not be easy given the clear advantage of McLaren and Ferrari. But a team like Williams has the capability of gradually, day by day, rebuilding itself into a competitive situation. There are a lot of things I was hoping for in my life that didn't work out, so I hope this one will."
Zanardi's first foray into F1 didn't work out like he hoped it would - it consisted of 25 Grand Prix races in uncompetitive cars between 1991 and 1994 with his best finish being a solitary sixth place.
His stint in Champ Cars worked out differently. During his CART career he was able to show his talent--winning 15 races and two titles during his tenure with Chip Ganassi's team. His aggressive style attracted the attention of F1 team owner Frank Williams, who invited Zanardi to join Williams. Ironically, Zanardi replaced another CART champion recruited by Williams -1995 Indianapolis 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve. Zanardi has never considered his F1 career to be "unfinished business."
"I live day by day and get the best that I can out of that day I'm facing," he said. "I always considered what I was doing in the United States to be the top. I never felt that I had to do something better ... or that I needed to achieve the next step.
"For me, this F1 ride is a great opportunity, as it was when I started to drive in America. We have a certain amount of days in our life that God gave us, and a certain amount that I will give to my career. In this amount of days I want to do as many things as I can.
"I'm a really lucky person. I had my career. I had a lot of ups and downs, and fortunately the last one has been a big up. I hope I will be able to keep my career on the same level in F1. Obviously if I'm here it is because I strongly believe that I'm capable of doing the job I've been asked to do by Frank and all his friends at Williams. I don't see it as something like unfinished business."
The latest F1 rules, which reduce grip with grooved slick tires and decrease stability with a reduction in aerodynamic downforce, have made the current F1 cars tricky and twitchy to drive. Virtually every driver had an off-track excursion sometime over the weekend during the 1999 season opener.
When he first began testing the Williams-Supertec, Zanardi candidly admitted it was going to take him a while to dial himself back into F1.
"They require a different driving style," he said. "You don't need to try to carry speed around the corner because the car doesn't want to go around fast around the corner. So it's much better to brake really late, turn around the corner somehow, and then rush to go on the power as soon as you can. This is against my instinct."
Zanardi gained a reputation as a hard charger in CART but claims he's not an aggressive driver.
"A lot of people say I am aggressive because I kept banging against other drivers," he said. "But you don't finish a lot of races by driving like that.
"I don't think I am that aggressive. In 1998, I not only won more points than anyone in CART history, but I also completed more miles in the races than anyone had done before in one season.
"I just try to take advantage of what the opportunity is. It's something that Michael (Schumacher) and Mika (Hakkinen) also do very well. When you see an opportunity and you believe you can outbrake somebody to gain a position, you take it. You know that you're not being paid to sit there and wait until the following lap."
Zanardi also gained a reputation of being able to overtake other cars in CART but admits it will be far more difficult in F1, where passing moves can be infrequent.
"I don't believe that the drivers in F1 have been asleep for the past few years," Zanardi said. "The simple fact is that it's difficult to overtake people in F1. The reason is related in some ways to the shape of the cars, which has been smoothed out in the last few years. I don't believe it is going to be as easy, and I am not expecting to start first, then go back to last and come back up to first as I did a few times in CART."
Another difference between his careers in F1 and CART is Zanardi's relationship with his teammate. At Williams he's paired with Ralf Schumacher, the talented younger brother of Michael Schumacher.
"I'm getting along very well with Ralf," Zanardi said. "He's a reserved guy, but he's certainly not reserved when he's driving a race car and he's flat-out out of the garage until when he comes back in. You can read in his eyes that he has great desire of proving how good he is.
"He's very talented, very fast, and for an old man like me, it's very challenging and it's a great motivation to have a fast reference point like him.
"Dreaming of having another relationship like the one I had with Jimmy Vasser is really dreaming because in a competitive sport like this one it's very rare that you have space for friendships like I had with Jimmy. I was probably kissed from luck to meet a great guy like Jimmy and to be able to have such a relationship with him."
The first thing Zanardi did after hearing that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will host the United States Grand Prix in 2000 was call Vasser and say he'd probably race at the Brickyard before Vasser would.
"Back in 1996 when I moved to the States," Zanardi said, "I thought the only thing I was going to do for sure was the Indy 500. And in the past three years it's the only thing I haven't done! So I'm certainly pleased that now I'm going back to the United States and Indy with F1." Looking ahead at the 1999 F1 season, Zanardi wants, simply, to do his best.
"Unfortunately," he said, "in this sport you cannot put the car on your shoulder and run faster than everybody. You have got to have good support from the machine you are driving. My dream would be to finish the season and say: 'I've done my best. I've sincerely done my best.'
"If the car will be as competitive as we all hope, we will also have some satisfaction by doing that. I can't really say that my dream is to win at least one race, because if a car is capable of winning one race, it's normally capable of winning all the other races. So why should I be happy with one? I want to win 16 out of 16."
The final question is, of course, when he wins a Grand Prix will he snap his car into a series of his famous smoking donuts as he did in Champ Cars?
"I was so happy for winning that particular race," Zanardi recalled of the first time he spun donuts in CART. "I had to hold my concentration for the distance of the race, and when I saw the checkered flag I finally could let it go out like a pressure cooker does with steam. I just came up with something crazy.
"Will I do it again in F1? It was not part of the plan, and if it would happen it wouldn't be part of a plan either. But if I win a F1 race I'd be so happy that I'd come up with something crazy again."
BAR escapes: British American Racing has escaped punishment from the FIA, which was unhappy with the way BAR had challenged the rule which states team car must have the same paint livery.
The FIA's World Motor Sport Council met March 12 in Geneva where BAR had to answer charges that it had "brought the sport into disrepute." BAR director Craig Pollock stated that in filing a complaint with the European Commission, BAR's lawyers had acted without his instructions and that a number of declarations made by the lawyers did not reflect his views. The Council accepted Pollock's word on these matters and asked him to submit in writing that he and BAR dissociated themselves from the statements made by the lawyers.
Pollock also apologized for what had happened.
The FIA has never taken lightly to its authority being challenged. It was thought by many people in F1 that BAR would be fined heavily or even get suspended from a race.
"We are pleased that this matter is now concluded," Pollock said. "I have apologized to the World Motor Sport Council for any misunderstanding concerning our actions, and the team can now focus on preparing for the next Grand Prix."