Archive: Valencia Street Circuit

There is a surfeit of motor racing championships that aim to usher in the next generation of Formula 1 stars. But only a few are worth paying serious attention to.

GP2 — the ‘official’ way to progress to F1

The most well-known by a long way is GP2. Backed by Bernie Ecclestone, GP2 is the closest thing there is to an ‘official’ feeder series to the pinnacle of motorsport.

Since its inception in 2005, GP2 has been a stepping stone for some of F1′s biggest names. With a solid F1-style car and a unique status as the support race to almost every European grand prix (thereby giving drivers vital experience at many F1 circuits), there is no doubt that GP2 is a strong category.

The main alternative: World Series by Renault

World Series by Renault logo

But beyond the ‘official’ routes to F1, World Series by Renault (sometimes known as Formula Renault 3.5) has established itself as a series to take seriously.

No fewer than 18 F1 drivers have raced in World Series by Renault or one of its earlier incarnations. Among them are Robert Kubica, Heikki Kovalainen and Kamui Kobayashi. In 1999, World Champion Fernando Alonso also won what was then the Euro Open by Nissan series.

Most impressively, in 2007 Sebastian Vettel was leading the championship when he became an F1 driver mid-season. We all know how that story ends.

Strong drivers in World Series by Renault

This year’s World Series by Renault field has some very strong drivers in the field. Two of the favourites for the championship, Daniel Ricciardo and Robert Wickens, are currently already F1 test drivers, for Toro Rosso and Virgin respectively. These drivers are so hotly tipped that both have been rumoured to become race drivers before this season is even finished. I will certainly eat my hat if they are not racing in F1 in 2012.

The pair put on a wet weather masterclass in Race 1 at the Nürburgring two weekends ago. In changeable conditions, they had the measure of the rest of the field while engaging in a tense battle for the lead.

The talent doesn’t end there. Other current F1 test drivers participating in World Series by Renault include Fairuz Fauzy and Jan Charouz (both for Renault F1).

Meanwhile, Jean-Eric Vergne is next in the queue behind Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull Young Driver sausage factory, and rightly so. His performances at Spa-Francorchamps were at times jaw-dropping.

Young Estonian Kevin Korjus (Race 2 winner at the Nürburgring) has also turned heads in his rookie World Series by Renault season.

Scrappy driving in GP2

When you compare it with this year’s GP2 field, the ‘official’ feeder series seems to lack that edge slightly. No driver has managed to take full control of the championship — nor has anyone shown signs that they deserve to.

Romain Grosjean has come the closest. But you could argue that he ought to be. He is highly experienced compared to most of his competitors, and even has some F1 races under his belt. He is this year’s Giorgio Pantano. He has been involved in some questionable incidents. He managed to crash into his teammate at Barcelona. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he then climbed all over him as part of the truly farcical scenes in the qualifying session at Monaco.

Meanwhile, the hotly-tipped Jules Bianchi (who is a Ferrari test driver) has been surprisingly clumsy, lurching from needless crash to avoidable gaffe. After a promising (albiet curtailed) GP2 Asia campaign last winter, Bianchi currently languishes in 15th in the championship, having managed to score points in just two of the eight races so far.

Giedo van der Garde has arguably been the most consistent, but still manages to make needless errors. In Valencia, he was penalised for overtaking under yellow flags.

Beyond this, it is difficult to see where the F1 stars of the future are in this year’s GP2 field.

A good alternative for both viewers and drivers

Moreover, the World Series by Renault season has been more action-packed for my money. This season’s calendar visits seven current Formula 1 venues, including some of the best circuits in the world. Spa, Monza, Silverstone and even Monaco all have slots in World Series by Renault. The calendar is refreshingly light on Tilke designs.

The Formula Renault 3.5 cars themselves are impressive, providing an ideal bridge between the well-established Formula Renault 2.0 cars. They typically run just a few seconds a lap slower than GP2 cars.

From next season, the car will step up a gear with a more powerful engine and greater downforce. But most eye-catching is the introduction DRS-style moveable aerodynamics. It could well be that the new Formula Renault 3.5 cars will prepare drivers for F1 better than a GP2 car can.

The combination of superb F1-style cars, excellent circuits and promising drivers is creating great entertainment. For me, it is the feeder series to watch.

What do viewers at home love about F1? It is great wheel-to-wheel racing? Lots of overtaking? Strategy calls? Or the venues? Looking at the polarised reactions to this past weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix got me wondering.

A few of the journalists were pretty effusive about the race. Will Buxton was particularly euphoric:

Epic race. One of the best of the season. Wow.

I saw that this drew a few hoots of derision, including from me! Because from the comments made by other fans watching at home was that… well… it was a bit dull really.

It wasn’t a stinker by any means. There was some good action and a fair few talking points. But large stretches of the race were rather processional. Hardly epic.

The epic race without the racing

Will Buxton justified his comments:

No sarcasm. Epic race. ALO VET lap trading, WEB early stop and brill drive, HAM / WEB moment, GLO driving arse off. KUB amazing.

There is some truth in what he says. While Webber and Kubica provided some entertainment, this was only because they were out of phase with the surrounding cars strategy-wise, so were not on an equal footing with the drivers they were battling with.

As for the battle at the front, the problem was that Alonso’s victory was never truly in doubt. He commanded the track all weekend, and always even looked like he might have a bit extra left in the tank too.

During the first phase of the race, Vettel drifted back to 3.5s behind Alonso. After the pitstops, the gap eventually grew to over 2s before slowly decreasing again. Vettel did get mighty close to the end of the race, but this was typical Alonso driving conservatively.

Renault engineers always talked about how conservative Alonso was as a driver. They never had to tell him to turn the engine down; he had already done it.

So it was in Singapore. Alonso had done just enough to establish himself as the certain winner of the Singapore Grand Prix and had the whole situation under control.

It may have looked good on the timing screens. I did indeed get excited when purple sectors were being set and Vettel started to decrease the gap. But the “lap battle” was partly down to the street circuit becoming cleaner and faster towards the end of the race.

I’m sure they were playing with each other, but neither looked to be pushing particularly hard. Alonso was always in control, and Vettel never looked interested in truly pressurising.

At the start of the race, Vettel had ceded the first corner, setting the tone for his race. It did not look like he was particularly interested in winning — a suspicion confirmed by Vettel’s comments that passing Alonso would have been too risky. And why bother? Alonso is the ultimate defensive driver, as his amazing battle with Michael Schumacher at the 2005 San Marino Grand Prix demonstrated.

The bottom line is that if you hold a race on a street circuit with one overtaking spot — two at a push — then the racing isn’t epic. There might be stuff surrounding the racing — strategy, crashes, pretty buildings… But not much overtaking.

Interesting, yes. Epic, no. The ingredients simply weren’t there.

Epic racing or epic facilities?

There is a trend for certain venues to be talked up a lot by the F1 circus, no matter how good the racing is. I particularly remember Valencia Street Circuit — which has served up three of the most turgid grands prix seen in the last decade — was universally praised by the teams as being a great venue for grand prix racing.

Scratch the surface of the headlines, though, and you see that they are not so interested in the racing itself. Ron Dennis said that the 2008 European Grand Prix at Valencia was so great that it made him “ashamed to be English”. But it left most others ashamed to be F1 fans, it was so bereft of racing.

Of course, Ron Dennis was thinking about the facilities. Facilities are apparently the only thing that matter in F1 these days. Never mind what the viewers at home make of the track. As long as the venue is equipped with a shiny silver throne for the McLaren chief to do his golden business in, who cares about the people at home?

Similarly, the journalists have clear favourite places to visit and places they can’t stand. China? Don’t talk to them about it. And spare a thought for poor, poor Magny-Cours. It was so awful — not because of the circuit, of course, but because it was in the middle of nowhere, as the journalists never missed the chance to remind us!

Meanwhile, Melbourne is always the “great place for a race” — is that code for a booze-up? And Singapore is now “epic”.

Never mind the fact that the Marina Bay Street Circuit is not great for overtaking. Never mind that the 2008 race needed a manufactured crash to pep it up, and that the 2009 race was voted the fourth worst of the season by F1 Fanatic readers.

TV coverage demonstrates skewed priorities

The scenario was not helped by some rather lacklustre television coverage from FOM this weekend. It looked to me like the director was more used to directing pop music videos than motorsport.

Coverage at night races is always dominated by shots of the lit-up buildings and the scenery surrounding the circuit. It feels more like the Singapore Grand Prix is more like an advert for Singapore than a motor race. Who was going to bed last weekend without seeing that flashing “Your Singapore” banner in their sleep?

When it comes to races like this, Bernie Ecclestone’s priorities are clear. Why else would the bland coverage of last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix have won an FIA award for best coverage of the season? Much of the race action was missed. Anyone not paying full attention would have thought that the race was won by a hotel that looks like a giant flashing lady-toy, so fixated were the cameras on anything but the cars.

Those in the inner circle in F1 should remember that the fans at home are looking for epic racing — not epic Holywood movies, epic nightlife or epic superloos.

I can hardly believe we are already more than halfway through the Formula 1 season. It has gone by so quickly. Normally I look at the performances of the drivers at the halfway point. But this year I haven’t felt as able to keep on top of everything, so instead I will look at the constructors.

12. Hispania

Of the three new teams, Hispania have probably had the hardest job after taking over the Campos entry at the eleventh hour after it hit severe financial difficulties. Although their car is probably the slowest, it does not have the poorest reliability record, and as such the team currently sits ahead of Virgin in the Constructors’ Championship. Hispania have also acted quickly to sort out the problems with the Dallara chassis, and have hired big name designer Geoff Willis to sort out the mess for next season.

However, recent musical chairs involving their drivers have left a sour taste in the mouth. Bruno Senna and Karun Chandhok are both well-liked drivers who have done an admirable job in hugely difficult circumstances, even though you might say neither is a potential future World Champion. Sakon Yamamoto is not liked very much, and is not terribly good as demonstrated in his previous two stints in F1. But the team appear to be desperate to get him into the car nevertheless. The process has been handled appallingly.

11. Virgin

On the track, Virgin is probably the least exciting of the new teams. Their reliability record is poor, and the speed is not particularly impressive, even if they occasionally manage to beat a Lotus every once in a while.

On the plus side, their controversial approach to design the car without the use of a wind tunnel has proved the doubters wrong, as the car has not been disastrously off the pace.

Both drivers have shown flashes of brilliance. But you sense that Timo Glock in particular would be capable of more if only he had decent equipment.

10. Lotus

Lotus have very quickly established themselves as the fastest of the new teams. But it has not all been plain sailing for them, and their reliability record needs improvement. I also wonder how much better they would be doing if they had two better race drivers than Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen, although the experienced line-up is probably ideal in a development sense.

The next target for Lotus is to start beating the established teams on a regular basis. But with Williams and Sauber both having made significant improvements recently, it is difficult to see how they can make much headway beyond battling with Toro Rosso. Whatever, next year will be important for Lotus — anything below ninth in the 2011 Constructors’ Championship would surely be a disappointment. But that just shows how far they have come already.

9. Williams

Although they have begun to make strides up the grid in the past few races, the fact remains that this has been another disastrous year for Williams. They have spent much of the season battling at the wrong end of the grid, counting Sauber and Toro Rosso among their rivals.

Perhaps the most worrying thing is that when you hear the likes of Patrick Head and Sam Michael try to explain the team’s performance over the past few years, they seem to be at a loss, except for vaguely talking about money being an issue. Williams lack answers.

Rubens Barrichello has been doing more or less the sort of job you would expect him to do. Meanwhile, promising rookie Nico Hülkenberg has not shown as much promise as you might have hoped. This has been coupled with a heavy dose of bad luck. I hope the second half of the season is better for Hülkenberg, of whom I am a fan.

8. Toro Rosso

I am finding it difficult to draw any firm conclusions about Toro Rosso yet. They have had some very poor showings indeed. But on the plus side, you must remember that this is their first year as a ‘proper’ constructor, designing their own chassis. On this basis, this season must be regarded as a success, even if they have not always been as quick as they may have liked.

Both Jaime Alguersuari and Sébastien Buemi are continuing to improve. Alguersuari has shown some real flashes of brilliance, and has impressed me a lot this season — particularly in a couple of battles with Michael Schumacher!

But with a more anonymous season, Buemi has been keeping his nose clean and has picked up the majority of the team’s points haul so far. That is mainly due to his assured performance at Canada, where he did well standing his ground as he briefly led the race as the pitstop phase was shaking itself out.

7. Sauber

After a promising winter testing season, the start of the actual season itself was deeply embarrassing for Sauber as they totally failed to convert pre-season promise into real race results. The car was not only frightfully slow, but it was also horrendously unreliable, making Sauber easily the worst of the established teams.

A question mark also hung over the choice of drivers, probably the riskiest on the grid. The decision to opt for Pedro de la Rosa, who had not raced since 2006, was bizarre — and I am a fan of de la Rosa! Meanwhile, Kamui Kobayashi was a man whose entire reputation was built on two races in odd circumstances.

The good news is that Sauber have turned the corner. de la Rosa is not making a fool of himself, and only needs more luck now in order to start scoring points. Meanwhile, Kobayashi looks set to become a points-scoring regular now. His performance in Valencia was absolutely superb, and he backed this up with another solid performance at Silverstone.

Sauber have also acted quickly to improve the car, making the decision to hire James Key early on as the car’s deficiencies became clear. The improvements he has made since joining the team can be seen vividly in the results.

In terms of racing, this year’s race at the Valencia Street Circuit was easily the most successful of the three that have been held so far. Although arguably it was mostly as a result of the shake-up that occurred after Mark Webber’s horrendous accident with Heikki Kovalainen — which we really do not like to see — the fact is that the spectacle was quite good. The start and the first few laps certainly had a lot going on, even before Webber’s crash.

Unfortunately, as often happens in Formula 1, the on-track events have been overshadowed by the inept management of the sport behind the scenes. The stewarding in Valencia was a complete shambles, making a mockery of the sport.

As if the shambolic nature of the stewarding wasn’t enough, the issue has been compounded by Ferrari’s over-the-top reaction. Yes, they have a point. They were hard done by. The FIA systems should have worked better. But, in the words of a former Scottish First Minister, it was more of a cock-up than a conspiracy.

It is unusual for Ferrari to jump up and down and complain about unfair treatment at the hands of the FIA. This is the team that brought us farcical events like Austria 2002 and the “manufactured dead heat” at Indianapolis the same year — yet now they complain about manipulated race results. Never mind, I suppose eight years have passed…

The stewarding problem wasn’t solved after all

Of course, one of the biggest changes in the way the sport is run this year (apart from the change of FIA President) has been the introduction of an ex-driver to advise the stewards. At first it seemed to be working — the stewards were staying quiet, keeping out of matters they didn’t need to be involved in, and generally doing a good job.

Unfortunately, it must just have been a run of good luck, because the past few races have seen a return to the bad old days of shambolic stewarding and controversial conclusions. They still need to be doing a better job.

Getting the involvement of former drivers is a welcome move. But it is only a sticking plaster when the problems with the way the sport is run are so deep. For the time being, the drivers are a piece of decorative tinsel.

It is unfortunate for them that, due to their high profile, the spotlight is unfairly focussed on the drivers. We have often seen, during the race coverage produced by FOM, pictures of the driver in the stewards’ room. In Valencia it was Heinz-Harald Frentzen. But no-one is interested in the other three stewards.

That is a shame because it would be useful to know more. I happened to recognise the name of one of the other stewards at Valencia. Radovan Novak was the controversial person who, in 2008, claimed that McLaren were “responsible” for the Max Mosley sex scandal.

Mr Novak was also reported to have spoken against the prospect of Jean Todt becoming FIA President. On paper, he doesn’t seem like the sort of person who might like to be part of a Jean Todt-led conspiracy in favour of McLaren. Then again, maybe things change easily when the new boss enters his office.

The real problem: The rules are too complex

Mike Gascoyne hit the nail bang on the head:

I think since we started changing the safety car rules, every time you change something you get all these scenarios thrown up, and I think it is just that.

Charlie [Whiting, FIA race director] is trying to do the job as he sees it, calls it as he sees it, and he has as difficult a job as everyone. I think it is just one of those things.

The real issue is that the rules of Formula 1 are too complex. As such, the regulations are filled with loopholes within grey areas. This makes the sport difficult to follow and impossible to fairly officiate.

In recent years, the Safety Car rules have become particularly complex. The FIA has struggled to get this quite right, with the result being ad-hoc changes tacked on to amendments. It reminds me a lot of the constant tinkering the FIA made to the qualifying format in the mid-noughties until it finally settled on the current knockout system.

Already this year, following the farcical finish to the Monaco Grand Prix, a badly written rule has been hastily re-written. It looks like more clarifications will have to come after nine drivers were ended up unintentionally breaking the letter of the law after the Safety Car was deployed towards the end of the lap for many drivers.

On this week’s Radio 5 Live Chequered Flag podcast, Lewis Hamilton described the confusion that the current Safety Car rules create. You can hear it from around 9:40 in:

When the Safety Car comes out, you get all these beeps in your ear, and you get all this different information on your dashboard and lights flashing at you. And you’ve got to have a certain time between the Safety Car 1 line and the Safety Car 2 line. Then between the two Safety Car lines you can go fast. It’s just all so confusing.

In Valencia, the stewards had to make sure they made the right decision. But this meant taking the time to find the evidence and come to a decision in the proper way, which lessened the impact of the penalty. Exactly the same thing happened quite memorably to Nico Rosberg during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.

While it’s understandable that the stewards would want to get their decision right, Formula 1 now needs to look urgently at ways of making these decisions more quickly and more efficiently. Formula 1 is a sport with a lot of technology at its finger tips.

There are lots of cameras (the FIA has access to more than we ever see on television), and GPS data, team radio recordings, telemetry and timing systems. Not all of this can be analysed on the spot, but a lot of it can. This ought to be utilised much more.

The words “will be investigated after the race” — which used to be almost unheard of but is now a regular occurrence — should only be used in extreme circumstances. Television viewers and fans at the racetrack need to have confidence that what they have seen play out on the track is the real result.

Most of all, there needs to be a mass simplification of the F1 rules in order to avoid as much this as much as possible. F1 is a complex sport, and it is clearly not easy to regulate. But action needs to be taken, because right now the FIA rule book is more useful as a doorstop than a way to effectively run a motor race.


I also recommend the following posts on this topic:

It has to be said that the writing was on the wall for the Bahrain Grand Prix before the teams even arrived there. And it’s not due to the refuelling ban. There are arguments for and against refuelling, but on balance I think banning refuelling is a good idea.

The legacy of refuelling

Some people had decided in advance that scrapping it was a bad idea, and have used the relatively pedestrian Bahrain Grand Prix as definitive evidence that they’re right. But one race is far too soon to judge. And as I pointed out in the previous article, there was actually more overtaking than normal.

It is no secret that F1 has a bit of an overtaking problem. The amount of overtaking has declined steadily throughout its history, and nose-dived in 1994 when refuelling was introduced in the modern era. In the intervening decade-and-a-half, the amount of overtaking has been relatively stable at this low level.

For me, the biggest legacy of refuelling has been to gift seven World Championships to a driver who isn’t particularly good at wheel-to-wheel racing, but transformed “overtaking into the pit lane” (i.e. gaining positions just by being in the pit lane at the right time) into the most important aspect of modern-day grand prix racing.

It is often argued that this “strategy” element adds an important dimension to the racing. The argument goes that what is lost in terms of on-track action is gained in terms of strategic intrigue.

This may have been true in the early days of refuelling, when strategists were still finding their feet with the new rules. But over time, it became clear what worked and what didn’t.

Armed with 15 years’ worth of data, teams had their strategies worked out by computers to the extent that there was one clear optimal strategy, and the race was won or lost on whether your first stop was made on lap 17 or made on lap 18. More often than not, after the first stop, it was clear how the rest of the race would play out, and the whole spectacle usually settled down.

The powers that be concocted increasingly contrived ways to re-inject a strategic element into the racing, but it stopped working. We reached the ridiculous situation where cars were qualifying on race fuel loads, which still did little to avoid the harsh reality that there is one optimal strategy.

How to re-introduce strategy while keeping purists happy

For me, there is far too much talk about “the show”. F1 is not a show. It is a sport. As far as I’m concerned, if you want to see a show, you should go to the pantomime. Todd on the latest Formula 1 Blog podcast said it best: “Jim Clark didn’t take part in a show. He took part in a race.”

Yet, with the obsession with making F1 more entertaining, the rules have constantly been tinkered with. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and the powers that be have to tread a fine line. They must make the sport more appealing to people who, truth be told, aren’t really interested in F1, while keeping the purists happy.

F1 is special because it is, at its core, about finding the fastest driver in the fastest car. Everything else is tinsel. Some of the new rules actively go against this attempt to find the fastest.

Look at the obsession with strategy. Look at attempts at mixing up the grid. The current tyre rules are among the most unpure in F1 today.

Forcing drivers to use two different types of compounds achieves nothing for anyone except Bridgestone. And I am yet to work out what is achieved by the new rule forcing drivers to start the race on the same tyres they qualified on. What does it prove? Do we tie one hand behind the back of footballers to “spice up the show” there? It is ridiculous.

Yet, all the talk is to introduce a mandatory two stops. That is certainly what Martin Whitmarsh implied on the BBC’s coverage last weekend. The idea sends a shiver down my spine. And quite how it is supposed to spice up the action is beyond me. Just now the optimal strategy appears to be a one-stop. Now they want to enforce a two-stop strategy? It’s difficult to see the scope for spiced-up strategy action here.

But I can think of a way of re-introducing the strategy element while keeping the purists happy: get rid of the mandatory tyre change. This would blow wide open the possibility of a no-stop strategy, thereby potentially reducing the predictability of the current situation. Sure, Bridgestone will be unhappy — but they are leaving the sport anyway so there is no point in making them happy.

Aerodynamics

The decline in overtaking pre-dates 1994. It has been clear for years that it is not as easy for F1 drivers in F1 cars to overtake as it perhaps should be. There are plenty of pet theories as to why this might be. The ones that get the most attention are the ones that are put forward by Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA, as they are the most powerful people in F1. But of course, they have their own agendas.

The FIA and Bernie Ecclestone have long blamed modern aerodynamics for the lack of overtaking. The received wisdom has become that aerodynamic grip is bad news if you want overtaking, and that the emphasis should be more on mechanical grip.

I was very interested to see James Allen write about what Frank Dernie thinks about this — that’s it’s a load of old cobblers. I have felt for a while that the argument that aerodynamics damage the racing does not hold water. On a Renault podcast a couple of years ago, Pat Symonds pointed out that the races that have the most overtaking, as everyone knows, are wet races. In the wet, aerodynamic grip is ramped up, and mechanical grip plummets.

When you think about it, it’s so right. It does amaze me that, in the face of so much hard evidence to the contrary, people still blame aerodynamics for the poor racing. I have come to the conclusion that many people’s views on the overtaking problem are shaped largely by fashion and spin rather than the evidence.

Speaking personally, I love seeing what sorts of devices teams come up with. We have all been fascinated by McLaren’s “F-duct” (even though it seems to have done them “F-all” good). Neutering these sorts of areas is the first step on the slippery slope towards spec chassis. And then it just wouldn’t be F1 any more.

I am not totally averse to restricting the cars though. Formula 1 is, after all, a formula — it always has been.

I am no engineer, but it strikes me that F1 cars are simply too fast to allow for much overtaking. In particular, the brakes on F1 cars are so good today that there is little opportunity for a driver to perform an outbraking manoeuvre. With such small braking zones, the scope just isn’t there in the same way it might have been in the past. Is somehow reducing the power of the brakes a viable option?

The points system

Bernie Ecclestone has also sought to blame the points system for the lack of overtaking, and the system has accordingly been tweaked. I personally think there is something in this. The points system rewards conservatism.

Think about instances where a driver attempting to overtake faces a 50-50 situation (or, more accurately, a ⅓-⅓-⅓ situation). By this I mean that there is a ⅓ chance that a clean pass will be made and a position will be gained, a ⅓ chance that an attempt will be made but will fail, and a ⅓ that the move will go wrong and end in a crash. (Obviously this is a major simplification of the real-life scenario, but I think this “50-50″ thought experiment still underlines an interesting point.)

Under last year’s scoring system, for a driver in second place trying to overtake the leader, this “⅓-⅓-⅓” situation would lead to an expected gain of… -2 points. Under the new points system, the expectation is -3⅔ (although as a percentage of the winner’s points haul, this is better). No wonder drivers can’t overtake. It’s not in their interests to even try unless they are practically left an open door.

This was the core reason why I was in fact, contrary to the fashion, in favour of Bernie’s proposed “medals” system. Then, attempting to gain a position would be unambiguously advantageous.

The circuits

However, I think there would be much more to be gained in ensuring that circuits are more challenging and provide more in the way of opportunities to overtake. Nothing is certain. After all, Suzuka is normally entertaining, but produced a bit of a stinker last year. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen.

But we all know that certain circuits, in general, produce better racing than others. I really do struggle to think of any grand prix held at Interlagos that was boring. But I know not to expect much action at, say, Valencia or Shanghai. Or Bahrain for that matter.

We know this because teams and drivers will often turn up a circuit and say, “there is only a certain place you can overtake, and it’s here”. Adrian Newey, Sam Michael and Martin Whitmarsh are all in agreement. As the Williams technical director said:

You’ve got to ask yourself, why do you go to a race such as Barcelona where no one overtakes, and then take exactly the same cars to Monza, Montreal or Hockenheim and you get lots of overtaking.

And the McLaren team principal said:

You only need to do simple statistical analysis and look at where the overtaking moves are If, say, we race on 18 circuits with 350 corners, then 90 per cent of overtaking moves in a year would happen at just 10 corners… The fact that overtaking is focused on such a small number of corners clearly demonstrates that it’s circuit-dependent.

Ferrari and Renault went to Valencia in 2008 proclaiming that they know from their simulators that there would be little in the way of overtaking. Ferrari even based a fundamental decision about their engine on this prediction. And they were right.

But Bernie will not entertain the suggestion that the circuits are to blame. This is because, unlike the effort made by drivers or the aerodynamics or the strategy, this is the area that he is responsible for. And he doesn’t want to take responsibility for it.

The effect of adding a new slow, narrow, bumpy, twisty section that looks as though it was almost designed to prevent overtaking was predicted before the race began. Quite why the organisers of the grand prix thought it would be a good idea is beyond me.

GP2 world feed commentator Will Buxton saw the writing on the wall, and was left exasperated by the negative effect this different circuit configuration had on the GP2 racing. He predicted a similar negative effect on F1, and it transpired that he was right.

What else is Bernie to blame for?

While I confess that it is a bit too easy to lay the blame on Bernie Ecclestone for the boring race in Bahrain, there is another core part of F1 that he is responsible for, which led to a dull spectacle being played out in our living rooms last Sunday. But that is what I will deal with in another article in the near future.

This article marks the return of Formula 1 to this website, as I have decided to (partially) close down vee8. For those of you who would rather not read the F1-related articles, you may like to subscribe to the F1-free RSS feed.

To break this process in gently, I have decided to make the first post a light-hearted look at what might happen in the 2010 Formula 1 season.


The season will be the most exciting ever, but the title of the DVD will make it sound like a wet Wednesday

Formula 1 Season Review 2009 coverIn 2006, Fernando Alonso took his second World Championship in scintillating style that went down to the wire. The title of the official Formula 1 season review DVD was “Once Again”, making it sound like your drunk uncle has just wet himself for the umpteenth time.

In 2007, after a tense season-long battle between McLaren team-mates Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Räikkönen amazed the world by snatching the title from both of them in the final race of the season, overcoming a 17 point deficit with two races to go. The DVD was called “Kimi made it at last”, as though he had just come home late from a heavy night.

In 2008 Lewis Hamilton took the Championship in heart attack-inducing style on the last corner of the last lap of the last race. The DVD was called “Luck does not come into it”, which I still haven’t worked out the meaning of.

And the DVD really sold the 2009 season well by calling it “Not in a hurry…”, as if Jenson Button did not have a record-breaking winning streak at the start of the season.

Even if the Championship showdown is host to the first ever alien visit to this planet and is settled with a massive 200mph laser gun fight involving seventeen drivers from the planet Q’txxp’he, it wouldn’t surprise me if the DVD was given some madly dull title like, “I’d rather be watching paint dry”, “Isn’t Corrie on the other side?”, or “I’d stick with watching lawn bowls if I were you”.

Confectionery diffuser face-off

2009 was the year of the Double Decker diffusers. The 2010 pre-season testing period has seen a similar curiosity surrounding the rear end of F1 cars, with teams being notably coy about showing off their behinds.

The concept has now moved way beyond Double Decker diffusers. Among the new types of diffuser will be Red Bull’s Drifter diffuser, McLaren’s Mars Bar diffuser, Toro Rosso’s Curly Wurly diffuser and USF1′s Snickers diffuser. However, once again, Ross Brawn will find the upper hand when he reveals Mercedes’s Boost diffuser.

FOM will fail to improve television coverage

Although Bernie Ecclestone’s FOM is supposedly covering the world’s most technologically advanced sport, the television pictures will still resemble a smudgy YouTube video. Bernie Ecclestone will insist that there is no need for HD coverage because, “my IT guy told me he swears by his old CRT television”.

Demonstration of FOM's coverage

Despite the decision to give HD the cold shoulder, FOM will stick with their existing on-screen graphics, which are so small that they are actually bloody impossible to read on any 4:3 display. They may be declaring the start of World War III on those captions for all I know.

Intense McLaren Championship rivalry

The title will come down to the wire in Abu Dhabi, with the main protagonists being McLaren team mates Hamilton and Button.

Towards the end of the race, John Button will think he has the upper hand by unleashing his killer move – undoing the last button on his shirt. Little will he anticipate that Anthony Hamilton will win the Championship by staring even more intensely.

Michael Schumacher will be the world’s most superstitious man

Following on from the revelation that Michael Schumacher has a mad superstition for odd numbers, the German will reveal a litany of hitherto unknown superstitions. Among these will be an insistence that his team mate runs with an inferior set-up because “it makes me feel a bit better about my car”.

He will also reveal that he has a special form of OCD that means he just has to brake-test any drivers that are behind him, and cannot stop himself from driving straight into anyone who has just overtaken him. He also has a strong superstition for getting to choose his own parking space, and will park his Mercedes car in Race Control, where he can literally control the race by tampering with the timing system.

No-one will think to point any of this out, because nothing is allowed to get in the way of Princess Michelle’s Fairy Tale Comeback.

Cosmopolitan Valencia will continue grid boy tradition

Valencia’s tradition of having grid boys in addition to grid girls at the European Grand Prix will continue. Coincidentally, Flavio Briatore will make his F1 comeback at the very same race.

New teams to struggle

Zavvi Racing

New teams will be unable to shake off speculation surrounding their ability to see out the season. While the early focus will be on USF1 and Campos, the spotlight will soon switch to Virgin Racing.

Suspicions will be raised mid-season when the Virgin team mysteriously re-brands with a green livery and makes a formal application to change its name to ‘Zavvi’. A few months later, the team will run out of money and close down, but not before a special fixtures and fittings sale where fans will have the opportunity to buy the screws that once held the car together.

The bearded beggar who appears at races is not homeless

Having made a tactical error by trying to get a drive at Mercedes only for some seven time World Champion or other to get in the way, Nick Heidfeld will begin the 2010 season without a job. He will resort to sleeping on the floor in the paddock and begging.

If you see a suspicious-looking bearded man in the paddock, it is probably Mr Heidfeld, the world’s greatest ever second place finisher. Although he might speak as though he is slightly drunk, he is not homeless and is perfectly harmless.

There is not a great deal to say about the racing at the Marina Bay Street Circuit this weekend. With the novelty of the night race concept having worn off, Singapore’s street circuit revealed itself to be on a par with Valencia’s in terms of on-track boredom.

That is not to say there aren’t a few talking points. Even though the race was quite insipid in many ways, there is little insipid about the podium. Lewis Hamilton put in a solid, though uneventful, performance to take a well-deserved second win of the season.

But I was most interested to watch the interview with his team mate, Heikki Kovalainen, after the race. Amid the latest rumours that Kimi Räikkönen is heading back to McLaren, Kovalainen is on the back foot. He needs to put in better performances in order to prove to McLaren and other teams that he deserves to be employed. But his demeanour after the race said it all — he sounded like a driver who realised he had been found out. 7th isn’t really good enough when the car is capable of winning.

Full credit must go to Timo Glock for finishing second. It is true that he largely inherited this position as a result of the woes of drivers in front: drive-through penalties for Rosberg and Vettel, and brake failure for Webber. But he was there to capitalise, having done well to qualify sixth when quite frankly to my eyes the car looked horrible on Friday. His team-mate Trulli, meanwhile, finished a lowly 12th.

Fernando Alonso obviously likes the circuit and scored the best result of the season at the same point where Renault’s fortunes turned last year. The Renault hasn’t looked capable of finishing on the podium all season. And Alonso has seemed strangely off-key to me this year. But he did it this time round, and caused a stir by dedicating his podium finish to Flavio Briatore. Some are interpreting it as a parting shot; others the human reaction of a man who has lost the boss who helped make him successful.

Whatever, it seems increasingly clear that his move to Ferrari for 2010 has been secured, with the rumour mill frantically suggesting that an announcement will come at Suzuka this coming weekend. Perhaps that is the reason why Alonso’s fire in the belly has returned to allow him to finish third.

Then we come to the title protagonists. Red Bull had another nightmare weekend which has pretty much hammered the last nail into the coffin for their championship hopes. All four Red Bull cars seemed to be suffering from brake issues, with such a failure making Webber’s race end in the barrier. Vettel could have had a much better result were it not for a drive-through for speeding in the pitlane, something which Vettel is adamant he has not done. In that context, fourth is a pretty impressive result for him.

As for Brawn, they salvaged something from what threatened to be a disaster. It seemed to be an up and down weekend for them. They seemed happy on Friday, but Button began complaining vociferously during Saturday Practice. Then both Brawns struggled in Qualifying, culminating in Barrichello’s session-ending crash. Ross Brawn declared qualifying to be disastrous.

As it was, they put in an okay performance during the race to finish 5th and 6th. Most importantly, Brawn have practically sealed up the Constructors’ Championship.

Meanwhile, Jenson Button has extended his Drivers’ Championship lead for the first time since Turkey. He edged further ahead of Barrichello by just one point, but with just three races to go, it looks like a tall order if anyone is to overhaul Button’s 15 point lead.

Maybe that makes the Championship boring now, which is perhaps why my eyes glazed over during that period in the middle of the race when nothing seemed to be happening. It has been an interesting season, but not an exciting one. Fair enough — we have had plenty of exciting seasons over the past few years and were perhaps overdue a dodgy one.

I am very much looking forward to the next race at Suzuka though. F1 finally returns to this classic circuit after three years, and it will surely provide a better class of show than the gimmicky Marina Bay circuit.

Just a final word about Adrian Sutil. What a chump. Fair play to him for trying to overtake someone, but his was a foul-up of Coulthard-esque proportions. Indeed, the entire incident was reminiscent of Coulthard’s attempt to overtake at Valencia last year.

But from my perspective, Sutil’s attempted move on Alguersuari was never on in a month of Sundays, and his determination to keep the throttle floored while in a spin was a stupid move when there was oncoming traffic. You have to feel sorry for Nick Heidfeld, who had his amazing run of consecutive finishes brought to a cruel end by a driver who should know better. Sutil’s $20,000 fine seems hefty, but I don’t feel much sympathy.

In my review of the European Grand Prix, I didn’t mention Luca Badoer, who made his high-profile Ferrari début at the race. It was always going to be a tough ask, because the odds were so heavily stacked against him.

For one thing, he had to get used to the car, which he had never driven at racing speeds before. According to Ted Kravitz:

Evidently the Ferrari F60 is a very complicated car to operate. There are many buttons and dials to turn and twist: Kers harvest and usage settings, brake balance and bias levers, fuel and oil pumps, front flap adjusts and the usual revs, throttle and mixture settings.

I’m not sure if he is implying that the F60 is more difficult to get used to than other current F1 cars. But whatever, it is certainly new territory for Badoer who is used to driving cars in the relatively tranquil environment of the test session rather than the intense spotlight and razzmatazz of a grand prix weekend. To deal with all of this in the first time he’s properly driven the F60 — and in his first race for ten years at that — is undeniably a big ask.

Luca Badoer must have been as shocked as everyone else when it was announced that he was to race in Valencia. It is typical of Badoer’s luck. F1 has shat on this driver for his whole career. I would highly recommend his biography on F1 Rejects for a full overview.

He may not be F1 championship material. But he is the 1992 Formula 3000 champion, having beaten Rubens Barrichello, Olivier Panis and David Coulthard among others in the process. So he is no fool.

But in F1 he never got the proper chance to demonstrate his abilities, being stuck with back-of-the-grid teams Scuderia Italia, Minardi and Forti — and despite usually having the upper-hand over his team mates on the racetrack, politics often meant he found it difficult to move ahead in his career.

You might have thought that signing with Ferrari to become their test driver in 1998 would have seen an upswing in his fortunes. In a lot of ways, Badoer must be the unsung hero of Ferrari’s success since then. He is the test driver who has helped develop cars capable of winning Championship after Championship following a twenty year drought for Ferrari.

Normally a team’s test driver would be the first choice to step in if a driver needs replaced. Inexplicably, when Michael Schumacher broke his legs in 1999, Ferrari opted to look outside the team. They placed Mika Salo in the car, when most observers expected Badoer to get the nod. Subsequently, Badoer stayed on with Ferrari having been promised that he would be the reserve driver.

Since then, Ferrari has had a remarkable period of driver stability. Between 1999 and 2009, Ferrari changed drivers only three times (Irvine replaced by Barrichello, Barrichello replaced by Massa and Schumacher replaced by Räikkönen)! At no point did any driver have to be replaced at short notice. No space for Badoer ever emerged. One must imagine that after twelve years waiting, he would have given up believing.

Then Felipe Massa was injured at Hungary. In the year that there was a radical change in technical regulations which is said to be the biggest in 25 years. In the year that testing is banned. In the one year that Luca Badoer had never driven the Ferrari car. And when the next race was at a brand new circuit which he had never visited.

Of course Luca Badoer didn’t get the call. Michael Schumacher did instead, and the media could barely contain their excitement. Schumacher is a seven times World Champion, but still people openly wondered: is Schumacher up to the task? Can he get used to the new car? Is he fit enough? At 40, will he be too old? In the end, it turned out that Schumacher couldn’t do the job because of the injury he picked up while racing Superbikes in Germany.

So it was down to Badoer to shoulder the responsibility of making something out of the pickle that Ferrari found themselves in. Of course, the media won’t be lining up with the same excuses that were already being served up on Schumacher’s behalf before his comeback. This was despite the fact that there are actually quite legitimate reasons for Badoer to be off the pace. Badoer is not much younger than Schumacher, and is the oldest driver on the grid. But that is not an excuse apparently, despite the fact that it supposedly would have been for Schumacher.

Instead, the media has spent its time openly laughing at Luca Badoer, almost willing him to do badly. The schadenfreude soaked through the reports as the journalists gleefully reported Badoer’s four pitlane speeding offences on Friday, a symptom of the fact that the pitlane speed limit is substantially higher during test sessions and Badoer needed time to adjust to the new braking points required.

All I can say is, Badoer is not the one who parked his car at Rascasse, but never mind. Of course, the journalists were just taking it out on Badoer because he isn’t Princess Schumacher so they lost their “fairytale” story that is so desperately needed to sell a turgid circuit like Valencia.

I found the gulf in opinion between the journalists and the drivers very interesting. While the journalists were busy thinking up oh-so-witty nicknames like “Look-how Bad-you-are”, the drivers in contrast felt sorry for the situation that Badoer found himself in. Jarno Trulli described Badoer’s situation as “impossible”. Lewis Hamilton said that Badoer has “done a good job just to keep it on the track”, while Kovalainen shrugged: “I don’t know what else you could have expected.”

The split was also demonstrated on the Chequered Flag podcast. David Croft mocked, “even Yuji Ide had more promise” (which is totally untrue — Badoer has already achieved much more in his career than Ide could ever hope for). F1 Racing‘s Bradley Lord said, “Badoer approached this race as a test — and he failed this one.” Ha-very-ha. Anthony Davidson had plead to his bloodthirsty journalist colleagues, “give him some space!”

David Coulthard summed up the situation nicely: “Who would be Luca Badoer? You wait 10 years for your chance to race for Ferrari and then, despite having no preparation whatsoever, you get slated for not being Michael Schumacher.”

In Checkpoint 10′s excellent analysis, it is shown that Badoer was not actually half as bad as the journalists would have you believe. His qualifying time was 103.4% of the fastest time, when the 107% rule used to eliminate drivers on a regular basis.

He struggled during the race. After a good start, he was obviously spooked by being surrounded by other cars on lap 1 and spun. He then panicked in the pitlane, seemingly allowing Romain Grosjean to overtake him before he crossed the white line. And he had a worryingly erratic second stint. But overall, Badoer showed improvement as the race progressed, and noticeably caught up with Räikkönen’s pace as the race progressed and Badoer became more comfortable.

In sum, yes, Badoer had a very disappointing weekend. But that is mostly because driving standards are so high these days. You don’t have to go far to find real joke drivers who definitely did not deserve to be racing and did a much worse job than Badoer.

I grew up watching people people who paid to get a race seat trundle around up to a dozen seconds per lap off the pace. Hell, you only have to go back a few years to encounter and Yuji Ide, who suffered the ignominy of being stripped of his super license. The last pay driver went when Sakon Yamamoto lost his seat. Driving standards all the way through the grid are very high compared with ten or even five years ago. This amplifies Badoer’s rustiness.

Badoer’s performance in Valencia is the sort of thing that would have been commonplace at the back of the grid in the mid-1990s. You might say that this is not the mid-1990s, but when you consider everything that is stacked against Luca Badoer — his age, his lack of experience, never having driven the F60 before, never having been to the Valencia Street Circuit before, and having to get used to the modern-day race weekend environment — I think he should be cut a bit more slack.

I feel very sorry for Badoer, who has had a very tough F1 career where he has been given the rough end of the stick at almost every turn. It looks likely that Badoer will be replaced come Monza, which would be fair enough if he doesn’t show a perceptible improvement in Spa.

But now Badoer will probably be remembered for these two difficult races where he was thrown in at the deep end, and everyone decided to point and laugh at this man (who, do not forget, is actually putting his life on the line when he goes out to race). I am not sure whether this is better than being remembered for breaking down in tears at his previous European Grand Prix, in 1999.

This year’s European Grand Prix was not the best race we’ve seen so far this year — but at least it wasn’t the utter snoozer we had last year. There are at least a few interesting talking points.

First, of course, is the performance of Rubens Barrichello, which was truly masterful. For once, the most experienced driver in the history of F1 has shown that the statistic doesn’t just mean he’s old — it means he can do the business as well. It is his first win for five years, and who would begrudge him this one?

Brawn were forced to spend Friday experimenting with set-up in an attempt to get to the issues that have prevented them from being competitive since Turkey. Despite this, Barrichello put all the car’s troubles behind him and didn’t seem to put a foot wrong all weekend.

I heard someone say that an emotional Rubens is a quick Rubens. It appears as though Felipe Massa’s injury has had some kind of impact on Barrichello’s form, not least because Massa has apparently been giving Barrichello tips on which lines to take in Valencia.

Certainly, not all of the performance can be put down to an improvement in the car because Jenson Button was thoroughly outclassed. In fairness, Button’s race was immediately compromised by a disastrous first lap — fatal on a circuit like Valencia. Even so, the Championship leader was strangely off the pace compared with Barrichello.

Barrichello even seemed to have the upper hand before the race started, as he was heavy on fuel and could pit later. It was marginal though, and it took until the third stint for the advantage to finally be realised.

There is a slight debate over whether McLaren’s bungled pit stop handed Barrichello the lead on a plate, though most agree that Barrichello would have ended up ahead anyway. Who knows how he would have coped under pressure from Hamilton though if that pacey McLaren was closer to him.

Hamilton and McLaren must count this as a lost victory, not a good second place. After the race, Hamilton’s words said he wasn’t disappointed or upset about the team’s mistake. But for me, his tone of voice said it all. This wasn’t the relaxed and happy Hamilton that we saw after the race in Hungary, and I detected more than a bit of tension in his voice in the post-race interviews.

I think Hamilton thought he had the race in the bag. I remarked at one point during the first stint that it sounded like he was taking it easy. Soon afterwards, Martin Brundle said that Hamilton was nowhere near his limit. For much of his first stint he was lapping in the high 1:39s or low 1:40s. In both his second and third stints he ended up consistently lapping rather faster, in the mid 1:39s.

It’s strange, because Hamilton has traditionally been criticised for not being conservative enough. But this is one instance where I think if he had pushed harder he would have won. His lead was indeed fairly comfortable during the first stint, but I feel he could have pressed home his advantage further.

Kimi Räikkönen scored his second consecutive podium in a row, and it was another relatively bland yet quick performance. He was barely on the television and there was apparently nothing interesting about his race, apart from the fact that he finished third.

This is interesting bearing in mind all the silly season issues, particularly while a question mark remains over the future competitiveness of Felipe Massa. People constantly say they struggle to understand Räikkönen, and many speculated about how he’d react to having Michael Schumacher as a team mate. On the current evidence, you have to say that he appears to have reacted rather well to no longer having Massa as a team mate. Räikkönen’s oft-predicted move to rallying in 2010 seems less likely now.

Fernando Alonso was another one who had a relatively uneventful race. But he and the Spanish fans will take the three points over the lap one retirement he suffered last year in Valencia. Alonso still does what I expect him to do in mediocre machinery, but is not yet showing enough of his double World Champion class which we saw last year.

BMW Sauber will be relatively pleased with how their weekend unfolded. The upgrade seems to have worked, with the team having its best qualifying of the season and Robert Kubica scoring a point. They are no longer the underachieving tail-enders, though you would still expect more.

As for the other big-name underachievers, Toyota, they are scratching their head over the fact that they were actually quite quick during the race, but were neutered by a poor qualifying performance. This year’s Toyota has always been bad round twisty places (such as Monaco and sector three at Barcelona), but despite its supposed “street circuit” status, Valencia isn’t actually all that twisty.

True enough, Timo Glock set the fastest lap during the race. Pascal Vasselon says that all of Glock’s laps during the race were fast. Looking at the raw lap times it doesn’t seem that way, but Glock’s slow times in the early part of the race are said to be down to a heavy fuel load. All told, it must be pretty frustrating to be fast, yet finish a dismal 14th, ahead of just the three new drivers.

There is one big team I haven’t yet mentioned. Red Bull — could you get a much more disastrous race? Webber was off the pace all race, never looked like scoring a decent result and ended up finishing behind a BMW. Meanwhile, Vettel’s brand new Renault engine rasped its way into an escape road just a day after another one spewed all over half the circuit. That’s not good for Renault’s engine department, but more on that in a future article.

Vettel wondered aloud if he is a “killer” of his engines in his post-race interviews. He has now used up seven of his eight engines, and with Spa and Monza coming up he is almost certain to take a grid penalty at some point in the next few races. If his Championship chances weren’t severely dented already, this near-certain penalty surely hammers a sturdy nail into the coffin.

Red Bull’s capitulation this weekend means that yet again Jenson Button has got away with a dire weekend virtually unscathed. Despite only finishing 7th, his Championship lead decreased by just half a point. Yet again, Button looks as likely as ever to become World Champion despite not having any good results. In Turkey his lead was 26 points. But after four dire races, his lead has only been cut by less than a third of that amount.

Since his last win four races ago, there have been four different winners. The lack of any real challenger gives Button breathing space. And for the first time in a while, Barrichello has moved up into second place in the Championship, hammering home the fact that Red Bull have not quite done enough to prove they can win the Championship.

But Spa will be a very different race, and conventional wisdom suggests that it will suit Red Bull. But do they have enough in the tank? Webber needs to overcome a substantial 20.5 point deficit to Button.

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.