In 1997, he became the second man after Jacques Villeneuve to win the CART title the season after being named Rookie of the Year.
That season was impressive with a record five wins including a famous one in Cleveland where he fought back from 22nd place, but the next year was even better.
In 1998, he continued to rewrite the record books with seven wins to become the third driver to win back-to-back titles.
His CART achievements earned him a return to Formula One in 1999, this time with Williams.
But his car's poor reliability and his struggle to adapt to the technical changes the sport had gone through in his absence meant he was dismissed at the end of the year after disappointing performances.
The next year he enjoyed time off with his wife Daniela and son Nicola. There was pressure on him to retire but his passion proved too strong and in 2001 he was back in the CART series, which featured two stops in Europe.
Zanardi had struggled at the back of the grid for most of the season but the spark was still there and he was in contention for victory on the German oval when his career came to a brutal halt.