Stefano Domenicali has had a few character building weekends since he took over as boss of Gestione Sportiva, otherwise known as the Ferrari Formula 1 team. But this past weekend with the requirement to make something of 38 year old Luca Badoer, who had not raced for 10 years, must rank high on his list of challenges.
It was an unconvincing performance by Badoer to say the least and afterwards Domenicali left the door ajar for a rethink on the plan that Badoer will drive until Massa returns. He also acknowledged that Ferrari needs a young driver programme and said that the team would announce one soon.
In his press briefing, which I attended, he spoke first in Italian and then in English. In Italian he laid to rest once and for all the notion that Michael Schumacher would drive the car at at later stage in the season, Asked if he could comment on stories that Schumacher was still training hard, published in the German media, he said,
“I’m pleased to hear it, but I can rule out the possibility that he might drive before the end of the season.”
That’s pretty definitive, but it probably won’t stop the German taboids from speculating. From people who hung out with Schumacher this weekend came word that he is training hard and that he’s full of enthusiasm for the idea of driving. But the neck injury is serious enough to rule him out this year.
As for Badoer, Stefano said that “For us the first priority is to understand when Felipe Massa will come back. For sure it is an important race for Luca Badoer next weekend (in Spa). We are expecting a big jump from him and then we will see.”
This opens the door for the possibility of change after Spa. I’m not sure how they will judge success in Spa, certainly not by using Badoer’s performance relative to Kimi Raikkonen as a yardstic; The Finn is outstanding at Spa and yesterday did not rule out the possibility of winning there, “if we have a little but of luck”. Kimi is likely to be even further out of reach for Badoer, so I guess it will be Badoer’s performance relative to other cars in qualifying and his rhythm in the race.
Meanwhile Massa has two important medical checks coming up this week, which will tell us much more about when he might be able to drive again. If these go well the doctors may be able to tell him when he might undergo the small operation he needs to tidy up the front of his skull, after which he will require a further month of recuperation. So it’s going to be touch and go for him to make it before the season finale in Abu Dhabi, in the last week of October.
How to fill the seat is a problem for Domenicali, who will probably have to resign himself to seeing the team lose third place in the constructors’ championship to McLaren, as they have two cars scoring points and are still developing their car, whereas Ferrari has stopped in order to concentrate on building a winning car for 2010. But after a year like they’ve had a top four finish isn’t the end of the world.
Raikkonen’s podium on Sunday gave Ferrari a total of 46 points, 65 less than they had at the same stage last year. McLaren are now just 5 points behind.
Anthony Davidson put his name forward for the Ferrari job yesterday. The former Super Aguri driver would be a neutral choice and plenty of us would love to see it, but even he hasn’t driven a car since last season, so would be pretty ring rusty.
Domenicali admitted that the events of the last weeks have made Ferrari realise that it should have a young driver programme in place, like McLaren, Renault and Red Bull,
“You have to consider that if you put a young driver in, it is for the future. We are thinking for sure to see if we can work on a young driver programme for the future. We have already decided that but unfortunately after what has happened to us, where everything is going in a certain direction and we will announce it very soon.”
Last word to Badoer himself. Asked for his target in Spa he said,
“I’m not a magician, but I know the track well and I will go better there. Then there is Monza, our home Grand Prix. I’ll be ready for a great race there.”