Pity poor Luca Badoer; he pounds around test tracks at the wheel of championship winning Ferraris for years, dreaming of his chance to race one of the blood red cars in a Grand Prix. When the call comes from President Montezemolo he has ‘no choice’ in his words but to accept and travel to Valencia, to a track he does not know, to qualify and race a car for the first time in ten years when he hasn’t been able to test. The dream turns into a nightmare.
In third practice, the last one before qualifying, he was just under two seconds slower than his team mate Kimi Raikkonen and a second slower than Jaime Alguersuari in P19.
But instead of moving closer in qualifying he went backwards, dropping to an embarrassing 2.6 seconds behind Raikkonen and 1.5 secs behind a 19 year old in only his second Grand Prix.
Where do you start to try to work out how this situation arose and what Ferrari do about it? To start with, if the excuse is that he hasn’t driven a car for almost a year, then why not stick him in the 2007 Ferrari which Michael Schumacher drove at Mugello and let him shake off the rust. If the excuse is that he is race rusty, scan the racing calendar, pick up the phone and stick him in a race somewhere.
Most of the ex F1 drivers I have quizzed about this say that they would have said yes if Ferrari had called, because that is in the nature of a racing driver; you want to race and to race a Ferrari is, litterally, a dream. But beyond that they are all agreed that the decision, by Montezemolo – and it was him, not Stefano Domenicali, who made the call – is a mistake and that of the available active drivers Nelson Piquet would have been the best choice to back up Raikkonen. It would also have provided some useful data on the relative performances of Raikkonen and Alonso, but that’s another story. Marc Gene, the team’s other test driver is active, he won Le Mans, but the feeling is that he is not as fast as Badoer.
Montezemolo was quoted in the Italian media on Friday as saying that Badoer could win this race, “We will win with a man from Veneto (a region of Northern Italy)” he said.
I went to Badoer’s press briefing this afternoon and he was putting a brave face on it, saying that “This track is new for me and it’s very difficult. So our expectation was more or less where we are today. I need to drive, to get confidence with the car. I ask you to be patient, because I’m not a robot or Superman. I’m human and I need time to get quick.”
The team has been very supportive and the feeling I get is that he will indeed treat the race as a test and then at Spa and Monza, which he knows like the back of his hand, he will be expected to be closer. The pressure at Monza, though, will be pretty intense.
The German media continues to ramp up the talk of Michael Schumacher making his comeback at a later stage in the season, possibly after Monza, but sources close to the driver say that it’s unlikely. It doesn’t do Schumacher any harm commercially to be the centre of attention again and as he always says, “Never say never.”