Ah, so it was the press who were to blame. The dreaded ‘meejah’. And there was I, in my innocence, thinking it was the fault of the driver.
When Felipe Massa was injured in Hungary, there was endless conjecture about who might sub for him in the No 3 Ferrari, and when Michael Schumacher announced his intention temporarily to return there was considerable elation both in the paddock and among Formula 1 fans. Equally, when a while later Schumacher declared that he wouldn’t be coming back after all, that his injured neck simply wasn’t equal to the demands of the job, the sense of disappointment was profound – not least, of course, within Ferrari. What to do now?
Perhaps the most sensible course of action would have been to hire an outsider, as Ferrari did in 1999, when Mika Salo was brought in to partner Eddie Irvine in the wake of Schumacher’s accident at Silverstone.
This summer perhaps the most logical choice would have been Sébastien Bourdais, who had lost his drive at Toro Rosso, and was thoroughly familiar with both the Ferrari engine and, of course, the Bridgestone tyres.
As it was, Ferrari took the sentimental route, announcing that Luca Badoer would drive the second car at Valencia. It was seen as a ‘thank you’ to a man who had served as the team’s main test driver for a very long time.
Not too much, it must be said, was expected. Briefly there had been enormous excitement at the thought that the most successful F1 driver of all time was coming back; now, in his place, we had one whose only claim to fame was that he had driven in more Grands Prix without scoring a point than any man in history.
Still, everyone was willing to cut Badoer some slack. He was 38 years old, and he hadn’t raced an F1 car for 10 years. Even more significantly, perhaps, the intra-season testing ban introduced this year necessarily meant that he hadn’t so much as sat in a Ferrari for some months. Plus, he didn’t know the Valencia track. It was asking a lot. Give the bloke a chance.
All that being so, it was still a surprise that Badoer qualified last in Spain – and even more of one that he was a second and a half slower than anyone else. In the race it was the same story, but Badoer said things would be better at Spa, a circuit he knew well. Again, though, he qualified – and finished – last. Team-mate Kimi Räikkönen, meantime, won.
It goes without saying that even one of Badoer’s talents drives a Grand Prix car at a speed beyond the understanding of normal folk, and it’s hardly a disgrace to be a couple of seconds – almost a blink of the eye – slower than Räikkönen around Spa. Multiply that by 44 (laps), though, and it’s the difference between first and last.
Clearly this couldn’t go on, not least because Ferrari has constructors’ points to consider. Most observers were of the belief that Valencia should have been enough, that Ferrari should have had someone else in the car at Spa, but the races were run on consecutive weekends, and the simplest solution was to stay put, however dismal the prospects.
After the Belgian weekend, though, it was obviously out of the question even to contemplate running Badoer a third time – and at Monza, of all places. As expected, Giancarlo Fisichella got the nod, whereupon Badoer announced to the world it was the press what done it. “The media,” he said, “played a fundamental role in the decision to replace me. I would have done better from the third Grand Prix.”
Upon what delusion was that forecast based? Badoer was never ‘quick’ even when he was young, and many wondered how he kept his test job all those years. The only positive comment one can make on his brief return to the races was that he was at least commendably fit. To blame the press – or anyone else – for Ferrari’s decision not to waste a car for a third successive race is palpably absurd, and in doing so Badoer has merely added petulance to his other shortcomings.