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 different decision."
One of his main reasons for moving to F/l 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/l 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/l 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.' "