Schumacher calls off comeback; Badoer deputises!

A pain in the neck has brought a halt to Michael Schumacher’s planned comeback. The injuries caused by his motorcycle accident in February have proved too much to cope with.

There were rumblings about his neck immediately after his first test in an F2007, but the extent of the problem was not made clear. The possibility that Schumacher’s comeback was gently brought into focus last week when his spokesperson Sabine Kehm emphasised that his comeback was not certain and depended on medical assessments.

Now we know for certain that Schumacher will not be racing in Valencia. Now it was nothing more than a useful distraction for the media to occupy themselves with over the otherwise quiet holiday period.

Amazingly, in Schumacher’s place instead will be Ferrari’s veteran test driver Luca Badoer. In a way it is payback for the way he was treated in 1999. I always felt sorry him since he was overlooked in favour of Mika Salo when Michael Schumacher was unable to race after he broke his legs at Silverstone that year.

But Badoer’s comeback is a real shock for a variety of reasons. For one thing, he is almost as old as Schumacher himself. At 38, Luca Badoer will be the oldest driver on the grid in Valencia. He also becomes the second man on the grid to have raced against the likes of Prost and Senna. Like Rubens Barrichello, he made his début in 1993.

Barrichello has gone on to race in every season since then, in the process becoming the most experienced Formula 1 driver in history. But Luca Badoer has notched up a very different kind of record. He has amassed more starts than any other driver never to have scored a point. In 48 races, his career best finish was 7th, at the 1993 San Marino Grand Prix.

He did almost score three points at the hugely eventful 1999 European Grand Prix. But when his Minardi had to be stopped with gearbox problems, he famously broke down in floods of tears at the side of the track.

But in his defence, he has only ever driven for minnows in the past: Scuderia Italia, Minardi and Forti. This will make Ferrari the fourth Italian team he will have raced for.

His last race was a staggering ten years ago. I can’t imagine even Badoer ever believed he would get the race drive at Ferrari, especially after the 1999 snub. If he wasn’t good enough then, what on earth makes him good enough now, ten years since his last F1 race?

On paper, Marc Gené seemed like a much more feasible candidate. His last race was only five years ago. He scored a point for Minardi after Badoer’s breakdown in Europe, and scored another two at Monza with Williams in 2003 when he stood in for another Schumacher, Ralf.

He also has recent experience of other racing, having put in some relatively good performances in Le Mans Series. Indeed, he won this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans alongside David Brabham and Alexander Wurz. Being a Spaniard, Marc Gené would also have made commercial sense for racing Valencia.

I am sure Ferrari have their reasons though. I look forward to seeing how Luca Badoer performs. No doubt he is being thrown in at the deep end, but I for one am happy to see him getting one last chance to race in a Formula 1 grand prix.

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