Wow, a day certainly is a long time in F1. I am not sure when I will get round to actually writing about the Hungarian GP, though at least there is a long break until the next race.
But the big news this evening is that the next race will feature Michael Schumacher on the grid. He has been announced as the replacement for Felipe Massa while the Brazilian makes his recovery.
A lot of names have been bandied around over the past few days, and none of them seemed terribly lucky. Optimists suggested that Fernando Alonso or Robert Kubica might be able to get out of their current contracts to move to Ferrari mid-season.
Mirko Bortolotti was another driver on the radar. Last year’s Italian F3 champion has impressed in previous tests with Ferrari. He is currently building up his skills in Formula Two is widely tipped to have a bright future. But it is near enough unheard-of for Ferrari to hire a young rookie.
Some talked up the chances of David Coulthard or Anthony Davidson getting the role. That seemed a bit like pie in the sky thinking though.
The other drivers who currently have relationships with Ferrari are the team’s official test and reserve drivers, Marc Gené and Luca Badoer. But they were unlikely to step in for a whole host of reasons. Neither has a particularly strong track record as a race driver, although you can argue that neither ever had a decent opportunity to show their skills.
But their lack of fresh experience will have seriously counted against them. Gené last raced five years ago for Williams, and faced the ignominy of being replaced by Antônio Pizzonia for being too slow! Meanwhile, Luca Badoer hasn’t raced in F1 for ten years.
The last time Ferrari had to replace a driver midway through a season was when Michael Schumacher broke his legs at the 1999 British Grand Prix. Then, it was widely expected that Luca Badoer, as Ferrari’s test driver, would take his place. Instead, the Scuderia controversially overlooked him and hired Mika Salo.
It was a bad year for Badoer, who came close to finishing 4th for Minardi in that season’s European Grand Prix before his car broke down. He has never had an opportunity to score a World Championship point since.
Luca Badoer has held the test role at Ferrari for a staggering thirteen years without there ever being a sniff of a race drive. If he was overlooked in 1999, he was going to be overlooked today.
Now that testing is banned, it makes you wonder just what the point of a test driver is any more. I recently read that neither Marc Gené nor Luca Badoer have had any mileage whatsoever in this season’s Ferrari F60, in which case the advantage of selecting them over Michael Schumacher — who has loads more talent and, perhaps even more importantly, ocean loads of PR value — is non-existent.
This comes mere weeks after an elaborate re-arranging of deckchairs at Red Bull, as they apparently sought ways to replace Sébastien Bourdais at Toro Rosso without putting Brendon Hartley in the car. Up until the mid-season point, Hartley had been the official Red Bull reserve driver. But mere days before the reserve driver would actually be needed, he was replaced by Jaime Alguersuari.
Other drivers left twiddling their thumbs this year include: Pedro de la Rosa, Gary Paffett, Christian Klien, Romain Grosjean (though perhaps not for long), Adam Khan, Kamui Kobayashi, Nicolas Hülkenberg, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Anthony Davidson and Alexander Wurz.
If a team had to bring in a replacement driver, how many of these would be considered ready and able to race? Not many of them have much in the way of decent mileage of 2009’s cars. Who is to say, for instance, that McLaren would not rather stick Paul di Resta in their car over Pedro de la Rosa? Would Toyota happily give Kobayashi a seat, or would they prefer to take Nakajima?
Just a few years ago it looked like drivers could make a decent living out of being a test driver. Now they never get to test, and they’ll be lucky to get to race.