Last chance saloon? Journeyman Badoer prepares to race 12 Aug 2009
Stepping into another drivers Formula One cockpit is a daunting experience at the best of times, but spare a thought for Luca Badoer, who will climb into the Ferrari F60 at next weekends European Grand Prix. Not only is the car hell drive that of proven title contender Felipe Massa, but, were it not for a neck injury, it was destined to be the temporary workplace of seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher. Daunting indeed.
For a driver with 48 Grands Prix starts, but not a single championship point to his name, it may seem a lot to ask, especially when you consider that its been almost a decade since Badoer last raced a Formula One car competitively. But at 38, hell be the oldest driver on the grid, and he has more than 10 years of testing experience with Ferrari under his belt. His name may not be known to the casual Formula One fan, but Badoer is no unseasoned rookie.
In fact, in terms of testing hes a record breaker. Dominating the stat lists for the number of test days hes attended (469), test laps covered (31,375) and test kilometres completed (131,943), hes the most experienced tester in Formula One history. To put those figures into perspective, hes racked up over 139 days, 7,670 laps and over 30,000 kilometres more than avid tester Schumacher.
Of course, looking beyond the test statistics, the Italians and Germans careers couldnt be more different. While Schumacher boasts seven titles, 91 race wins and 68 pole positions, Badoers best race result was a seventh-placed finish at the 1993 San Marino Grand Prix, and his best qualifying a 12th-place grid slot at the 1995 Hungarian Grand Prix.
Before starting his Formula One career, Milan-born Badoer was widely-tipped in his home country to rock the racing establishment. An Italian karting champion, he had impressed during his first season of single-seater competition when he won the last round of the 1990 Italian Formula Three championship and went on to dominate his second year in the series, winning four races in a row.
Although three of those victories were later overturned due to tyre choice irregularities, it was enough to secure him a seat in F3000 for 1992, driving for Team Crypton. He quickly found his feet in the more senior series, scoring five pole positions, four wins and the title in his debut season. Racing against fellow future Formula One stars Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard, it was a worthy performance.
The next obvious step was Formula One racing and Badoer signed with Scuderia Italia for the 1993 season. With Lola chassis and Ferrari engines the team looked promising on paper, but the reality proved pretty disastrous. On his first outing he qualified in 26th and retired from the race with gearbox issues whilst running 20th.
Despite then scoring a (career best) seventh-placed finish at the San Marino Grand Prix, it was a season to forget, with a further five retirements, two DNQs and only one other top-ten finish (10th at his home race at Monza). It certainly wasnt enough to tempt rival team bosses and for 1994 Badoer was left without a drive.
Opting to test for Minardi instead, he displayed enough prowess behind the wheel for the Italian team to choose him to race for them in 95. Although a seat at the perennial underdogs was far from ideal, Badoer was glad to be back racing. Over the course of the season he scored two eighth-place finishes (in Canada and Hungary) and qualified as high as 12th (at the Hungaroring), but also suffered six retirements.
He moved to another Italian team in 1996, Forti Corse, but it was a disappointing switch, as he failed to qualify at four races, crashed out of two, and retired twice. To compound his woes, financial problems eventually forced the team to pull the plug after 10 races. Badoers F1 dreams looked over and he moved to GT racing for 1997. A season later, however, he was back, albeit as a test driver for Ferrari.
In 1999, after a two-year absence from the grid, Minardi decided to re-sign him to a race seat, a role he combined with his Ferrari testing duties. Although he never qualified higher than 19th, he enjoyed some success, including an eighth-place finish in San Marino, and was 13 laps away from scoring fourth place at the European Grand Prix before a gearbox problem caused him to retire.
Although TV cameras famously caught him crying at the side of the track, Badoers biggest disappointment that season had come earlier in the year. When Michael Schumacher broke his leg at the British Grand Prix, Ferrari passed over Badoer as his replacement and instead chose Mika Salo. Over the course of the next six races, Salo scored 10 points and two podiums. Badoer, meanwhile, was left wondering what might have been.
The following year he was unable to land another race seat and opted to take on the position of Ferrari tester full time - a role he still performs today. Ten years ago it was an age of virtually unlimited testing, and Badoer set about racking up lap after lap after lap of evaluation work for the Italian team, hence his staggering testing stats. Unlike many of his counterparts at other teams, Badoer chose to dedicate his time entirely to Ferraris Formula One programme and over the years hasnt raced in another major series. Instead, testing has dominated his days.
Of course, with todays testing regulations being far more restrictive, Badoer is yet to sample the F60 on track. The Italian, however, believes he is more than ready to race and only time will tell if his second chance will finally give him some much-desired points. One thing if for sure - you cannot fault his dedication to the Ferrari cause.