Luca Badoer’s return to grand prix racing after almost ten years of testing for Ferrari may not be as newsworthy as the comeback of a seven times world champion, but his oft-cited testing pedigree, however much confined to the nuances of Mugello, makes him one to watch at the European Grand Prix in Valencia.
Badoer’s first grand prix for Ferrari could have come as early as 1999, only two years after he signed as their test driver, after Michael Schumacher broke his legs at Silverstone. But Ferrari called upon the services of Mika Salo, a move that received criticism at the time and was no doubt a bitter pill to swallow for Badoer.
Ten years on and with thousands of kilometers at the Mugello and Fiorano test circuits under his belt, it is second time lucky for Badoer.
The Italian veteran will arrive on the grid at Valencia as the oldest driver at 38 years old. He also carries the accolade of being the driver to have competed in the most grand prix without scoring a single point, although that is as much to do with the machinery he had at his disposal. His first few years of racing were with backmarkers Lola, Minardi and Forti and he returned to Minardi in 1999 before becoming a full time Ferrari test driver.
Badoer comes highly regarded by Michael Schumacher. The Italian has a strong track record against the clock at Mugello and Fiorano and his ability to develop a car is second to none; he was instrumental to Ferrari’s revival in the early millennium and he was a key player in the team that Jean Todt assembled to bring about this turnaround.
However, his lack of racing experience will be a concern when he arrives at Valencia.
Luca Badoer’s career in detail (source: wikipedia)
Badoer was born in Montebelluna, Veneto.
Prior to reaching Formula One, he graduated through the time-honoured route of karting, in which he was Italian champion. He beat Alex Zanardi in the final round of the 1990 Italian Formula 3 Championship. In 1991 he won four races in a row, but was disqualified after a technicality concerning his tyres. For 1992 he was offered a ride with Team Crypton for the F3000 Championship, in which he emerged as champion.
His debut Formula One season in 1993 was mired by Scuderia Italia’s uncompetitive Lola chassis, which, despite Ferrari engines, was the slowest car in the championship in terms of qualifying pace. He regularly beat his experienced team-mate Michele Alboreto, but lost out to him for the second drive when Scuderia Italia merged with Minardi for the 1994 season. He was retained as test driver however, and took over the drive in 1995 when Alboreto retired. In the underfunded team his best results were eighth places in Canada and Hungary and ninth in Japan. In 1996 he switched to Forti Corse, where he was only able to qualify for six of the ten races the team entered, which folded after that year’s British Grand Prix.
Badoer testing for Ferrari at the Circuit de Catalunya in 2008.
In 1997 Badoer began his long spell as Ferrari’s test driver, a role he continues to perform. He returned to racing for one season in 1999, with the Minardi team. In the July of that season, Ferrari’s number one driver Michael Schumacher broke his leg in an accident at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. As Ferrari’s test driver, Badoer expected to be promoted to the race seat in Schumacher’s absence, but the team opted for Mika Salo instead, prompting criticism from former Ferrari driver Jean Alesi.
Badoer holds the dubious distinction of being the driver who has competed in the most Grands Prix (48) without scoring a single point. He nearly achieved his first points finish in the 1999 European Grand Prix when a strong drive saw Badoer lying in 4th place, unfortunately with only 13 laps remaining, the gearbox on his Minardi subsequently failed and television cameras showed Badoer weeping by his stricken Minardi.
Badoer was unable to find a satisfactory race seat in Formula One after 1999, and he became a permanent test driver for Ferrari. He covers thousands of kilometres at the Mugello and Fiorano test circuits each year and it is likely that Badoer has driven more kilometres in a Ferrari F1 car than any other Italian in history.
At the opening ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, Badoer demonstrated one of the team’s 2005 cars in the centre of the stadium, revving the engine, and performing several doughnuts, creating a large cloud of tyre smoke, and leaving circular black marks on the white platform. The event was witnessed by millions of television viewers worldwide.
On 11th August 2009 it was confirmed that he will return to F1 after almost 10 years to replace the injured Felipe Massa at the 2009 European Grand Prix in Valencia. Massa was injured during the qualifying session for the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix when a piece of suspension fell from the rear of Rubens Barrichello’s BrawnGP Car and struck Massa’s helmet, knocking him unconscious and causing him to crash into a tyre wall. Michael Schumacher was set to replace Massa, but a neck injury Schumacher sustained in a German superbike test earlier in the year forced him to pull out. Ferrari confirmed that Badoer (Ferrari’s longest ever serving test driver) will replace the injured Massa instead.