Although he has tumbled from stardom in CART to mediocrity on
the Formula One circuit in only eight months, Alex Zanardi does
not regret his move. "Certainly I'm missing all the success I
enjoyed the last three years," Zanardi says, referring to the 15
CART races and two championships ('97 and '98) he won in that
time. This season Zanardi doesn't have a championship point
after driving in seven Grand Prix races for the once proud
Williams team. "But I would not be telling the truth," he says,
"if I said that I wish I could go back in time and make a
One of his main reasons for moving to F/1 was the desire of his
wife, Daniela, that their infant son, Niccolo, be raised in
their native Italy. Zanardi's decision to put his family ahead
of his career was admirable, but it has cost him. His best
finish this season has been eighth, in Monaco on May 16. His
Williams car has not even finished the other six races, and its
Supertec engine has consistently been 70 horsepower below the
800-plus of the Mercedes power plant propelling the McLaren of
points leader Mika Hakkinen.
Meanwhile the Target-Ganassi Reynard Honda that Zanardi drove on
the CART circuit has been steered to four victories this year by
23-year-old Juan Pablo Montoya. "I feel nostalgic when I see
that car winning," says the 32-year-old Zanardi. "I knew that
Montoya [a former Williams test driver] was very, very fast. But
for me, it was time for a new challenge, and it has certainly
been more difficult than I thought it would be."
Not only didn't he anticipate the Supertec's unreliability, but
he also needed to make adjustments behind the wheel when he
returned to F/1 after five years away from the circuit. "I still
have something to learn about driving on these grooved tires,
which have changed the handling of the cars dramatically since
the last time I was involved in Formula One," says Zanardi.
Grooved tires were introduced to F/1 in '98, replacing
better-gripping standard racing slicks, as a way to slow cars
for safety reasons.
"Nobody on this team is happy with the performance of the car,"
says Zanardi, who has nonetheless maintained his effervescent
personality. "All I can ask of them is to work hard and bring
the car back to the position it should be in. That's what
they're doing, so sooner or later we will have a car capable of
better results. Hopefully, in two or three years, I can be in
the position to say, 'Hey, that was the right call [moving from
CART]. Here I am, I've won another double championship.'"