The toughest job in F1: being Luca Badoer

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.


  1. Duncan (here in America, people who like you would call you “Dunk”)—

    I love it when people remember to type the words “Schumacher”, “Parking” and “Rascasse” as naturally-flowing triad.

    By the way, has anyone ever been in there? It’s so close to the harbor that I assume it’s a soup & sandwich shop with table wine, and not an elegant dining destination. Does Vijay jaunt down the gangplank of the Indian Empress and into Rascasse for ‘just a nosh’?

  2. Hi Cridland,

    I get Dunk (or Dunc) here too. 🙂

    The “Schumacher” “Parking” and “Rascasse” triad is surely one of the most important rules in motorsport writing. 😀

    Ollie from Blog F1 has been in Rascasse before — you could ask him what it’s like. 😀

  3. Why didn’t you even mention Marc Gene? He just won Le Mans the week before and surely is in better shape with the F60 than Badoer.

  4. Thanks for the comment David. Marc Gené is a separate issue from the treatment of Luca Badoer, but I would have thought he would be faster than Badoer. There must be a reason why Ferrari have not considered him though. Rumour has it that he has perhaps got a 2010 contact with Campos?

  5. duncan stephen i sodding well hope he returns with campos i hope he gets that win he deserves and the points he deserves a career cant be this unlucky without something emerging later it cant…hes gonna do something great and wipe the smirks of the critics faces i sodding wellhope!