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Inspired By a Legend, Alex Zanardi: Racecar Driver, Paralympian, Hero


Those of you who follow our ULU blogs know that Mondays are reserved for PR and content extraordinaire, Anthony Peacock. And those of you who are familiar with our ULU team will also know that both Anthony and Paul (ULU founder) are big names in the Motorsport world. So, in addition to research around CBD you’ll always see plenty of racing content here at ULU. This week, Anthony writes about his interview with Alex Zanardi, professional racing driver, Paralympian paracyclist and all-round inspiration.


Inspired by a legend, Alex Zanardi

Have you heard of Alex Zanardi? He’s a charismatic Italian racing driver whose life was torn apart on a race track in Germany in 2001, when he was involved in a terrifying accident that ripped his legs off. He faced a long and hard rehabilitation, but came back not only to race again, but to claim a gold medal at the London Paralympics in hand cycling.

What’s remarkable about Zanardi is that he looks back at his ordeal without any bitterness. In fact, he says that in many ways it was one of the best things that ever happened to him, as it taught him how to appreciate what was really important in life. And his humour was one thing that emerged firmly intact from the whole episode. I interviewed him a while ago and it was one of those embarrassing situations where there was only one chair. Of course, I insisted that he had it. “But I don’t need it,” said Zanardi. “I’ve not got any legs…”

With sport – including motorsport – now returning to our screens, Alex Zanardi is perfectly placed to deliver a unique perspective about what makes a champion. To share some wisdom on the mindset of success.


“Ambition and talent alone aren’t enough to make a champion”

“The one single most important thing you need to win is a real passion for what you do,” said Zanardi. “I remember listening to interviews with Ayrton Senna, and he spoke a lot about the commitment and training that you need to succeed. But that made me laugh a bit because I knew that deep down, he absolutely loved what he was doing and that he considered himself extremely lucky to be doing it, as I did myself. Ambition and talent alone aren’t enough to make a champion, in my view. What you need most to succeed is to first of all really enjoy what you are doing.”

There’s a lesson in there for all of us, and it doesn’t only apply to cars. It applies to bikes, other sports, every task that we apply ourselves to. Even our everyday jobs. It’s hard to be successful at something that you don’t enjoy doing.


“The pleasure of doing the job”

“Crossing the finish line at Brands Hatch to claim my Olympic gold medal in paracycling was a special moment, but if I hadn’t as felt as much joy in every kilometre of training as I had in that single moment, then I don’t think I would have achieved anything,” added Zanardi. “It was important for me to know that I had chosen something where I would look forward to doing my job every day, rather than just seeing the results at the end of it. That’s really what I mean by ambition alone not being enough. I’m proud of my gold medal, but it’s already just a picture to hang on the wall. The actual pleasure of doing the job rather than the souvenir of having done it well is what counts.”

All too often, we concentrate on the destination rather than the journey. The rewards gained from having arrived, rather than the hard work to get there. And what Zanardi teaches you is not exactly how to overcome adversity – he doesn’t really think about that, he says – but how to enjoy the process of doing so.


“pressure and the weight of expectation”

This year, the favourite to win the Formula 1 championship (for the seventh time) is Lewis Hamilton: another inspirational figure for so many people, who is often considered to be the greatest driver of all time. Not just that, but he is also a personality beyond motorsport who takes a strong stand on social issues, such as the unrest in the United States and the rest of the world following the death of George Floyd.

Zanardi remembers speaking to Hamilton many years ago and asking him if he’d rather be at the start of a race, having qualified in, say, fifth position with it all to do but the means to do it, or crossing the finish line with the slowing-down lap and the podium to look forward to.

“Are you kidding me?” answered Hamilton. “The first one, obviously.” And that’s exactly how Zanardi has always felt too. We all feel pressure and the weight of expectation on our shoulders, especially if we’ve been accustomed to success. Work is often one of the areas where we see this most often, especially in today’s ultra-competitive corporate environment. But look at it this way, thanks to some insight from Alex Zanardi. Imagine what it feels to be him, or Lewis Hamilton.


“You know you’re good enough”

“When you line up on the grid for the first race at the start of the season with the number one on your car and everyone calling you the favourite, there’s a certain degree of pressure for sure,” Zanardi concluded. “I remember the feeling well and here’s what you need to remember. You’re in that situation for a reason: it’s a brand new beginning and you’re ready to play. You know you’re good enough. How could you not feel happy? That’s what I think makes a champion.”

The sportsmen and women returning to action now after many months off would do well to bear these words of wisdom in mind. But not only them. As we come back to work, we can all learn something from Alex Zanardi. If you feel pressure to deliver, it’s just because people believe you can do it – and not only do it; but do it well. To accomplish your goal successfully, the only thing that you really need is to enjoy the process of getting there.


For more of Anthony’s content, why not check out some of his recent articles below?

Roll Over Beethoven: Classical Music and Mental Health According to Stephen Fry

Anthony Peacock: Back to School

Paul Hembery’s 2020 Formula One Review – Not!

With the recent spread of the coronavirus, COVID-19, the world has been thrown into uncertainty. And with worldwide governments moving to a ‘delay phase,’ many large events have been cancelled. Paul Hembery, (Pablo) ULU founder and former executive director of Pirelli is a household name within the motorsport world. In this article, Paul Hembery gives his thoughts about how the Formula One industry should be responding to this crisis.


A note from Paul Hembery…

I had originally written an article before the Formula One season started. But of course the world is currently finding itself in increasingly extreme conditions due to COVID-19 coronavirus. This means anything that was planned or indicated before the cancellation of the Melbourne Grand Prix is really now superfluous.

It is also clear that with the cancellation of subsequent races in Bahrain and China and almost certainly Vietnam, Formula One is finding itself in a very new scenario.

Due to my career history, I’ve received a lot of recent questions about my take on this. Especially about whether or not I agree with the cancellations. Not just in the motorsport industry, but the sporting world in general.

It is always difficult for people to make tough decisions when it comes to event cancellations. Of course, with any cancellation comes significant commercial and financial impacts. However, the reality is that sport does not supersede other more important issues in the world or in life. In these situations, the health and safety of all is paramount – from the fans to the drivers, and the teams. In fact, this applies to all of the people involved in creating the show that his Formula One. So, it is now time to return home and rethink the scenario.

While hindsight is a wonderful thing, it was rather curious that Formula One had even ventured to Australia. Especially as Australia is well-known for its very extreme control of incoming viruses and diseases. Already, two weeks ago there were indications that the virus was gaining a significant hold in many countries. Not least Italy, where there are two Formula One teams and one of the major suppliers to the sport. In this instance, the decision to travel seemed not brave, but rather short-sighted.

Many will no doubt be writing about the process of the cancellations and what could’ve been done better. However, the main issue now facing Formula One is to find a clear and transparent direction for the remainder of the season. The clear indications coming from Europe and the USA is that the virus will only gain in intensity. Many reports show that the coronavirus will not reach its peak for another 10 to 12 weeks. This puts the peak at some time around the end of June.  Based on this information, the most sensible course of action for Formula One, following other sports, would be to cancel the season up until the midyear, the midseason break.

This is an extreme action of course! However, indecision will only increase uncertainty and risk. Formula One teams are made up of unusually strong international team members. And these members are used to travelling and mingling with many cultures and people. This makes for a pretty high-risk group. So, as with the rest of the population, at this time it is far more important that they have the ability to be around their family and focus on their health. There will undoubtedly be an increase in the need for self-isolation to reduce the potential spread further of the disease. And Formula One teams should be no exception to this.

That decision in itself is an easy decision, because it is based on good medical guidance. The difficulty for Formula One, and indeed the rest of the world, is the financial consequences of the coronavirus. The business model of Formula One relies on television income, hosting fees, and sponsorship. The lack of events and the lack of something to sell to the broadcasters means there will be a substantial drop in income. There will also be a substantial impact on the finances of teams, as well as to Liberty the rights holder. There may well be specialist types of insurance cover that will lessen the blow. But of course, something like a virus is often deemed a natural disaster or ‘force majeure.’ Something which is often beyond the scope of a number of insurance policies. 

The costs of running a Formula One team are immense. Some of those costs are variable costs related to the number of races and the changes during the development of the cars.  However, there is also an ongoing fixed-cost spend to support the structures of salaried employees. These are the issues that are facing every business across the world today. The impact of stopping or reducing business is going to have significant economic impact on the running of the economy. And this includes Formula One teams and employees. After the welfare of the Formula One community is settled within the limitations every person is living with, the thoughts will turn to financial survival. 

I sincerely hope that the leaders of Formula One now make a very clear decision as to what is happening for the season. It is essential in situations of turbulence to provide the strongest guidance and leadership. It is time to dispel panic and provide clarity. Only then can the Formula One community start to address together the financial implications of such an unprecedented situation. It is going to require an exceptional effort from everyone. 

So, rather than give what was meant to be my impression or view of how the Formula One season will evolve in 2020, which rather feels superfluous at this moment in time, I just want to wish all of the fans and members of the Formula One community a safe return home to their friends and family. 

In the grand scheme of things, driving around in circles is really not that important right now. 



For more content from Paul Hembery, read his article about living and working in an age of anxiety.

For more sports-related content from our community, ULU Nation, read our blog about avid cyclist, Tom Corbet.

If you’re struggling with mental health during lockdown, read this handy blog: Coronavirus: Guidance for Better Mental Health