Luca Badoer has been named as the second Ferrari driver for the forthcoming European Grand Prix in Valencia, following Michael Schumacher’s announcement that he is incapable of racing because of the after-effects of a neck injury from a motorcycling crash in February. Badoer is Ferrari’s official test and reserve driver and has been since he replaced Nicola Larini in that role back at the start of 1998. He was passed over the following year when Michael Schumacher broke his leg in a crash at Silverstone, team boss Jean Todt deciding to give the drive to Mika Salo instead. This was a huge setback for Badoer but he kept his head down and continued to work for the team. It has been a long wait but at 38 Badoer will finally get to race a Ferrari in Valencia. He will be the oldest driver in the field and will share the honor of being the longest-serving as he and Barrichello made their debuts on the same day back in the South African GP of 1993. The pair had been rivals the previous year in Formula 3000 when Badoer won four victories while Barrichello stayed in the hunt by scoring points. Prior to that the native of Montebelluna, in the Treviso province of Italy, close to Venice, has had a fairly nondescript career in Italian Formula 3.
After a learning year in 1989 with the celebrated Pino Trivellato, he competed in a Ralt run by the little known MRD Racing in 1990. At the final round of the series in Vallelunga, he surprised everyone by beating championship contenders Roberto Colciago and Alex Zanardi. He was signed to drive for the Supercars team in 1991 and competing against the likes of Max Papis and Jacques Villeneuve won four races (although one was taken away for a tyre infringement) but managed to finish only fourth in the title race. It was enough to get him to Formula 3000 with Patrizio Cantu’s Crypton Engineering, which has achieved little in 1991 with Colciago. The difference was that the team has former F1 engineer Christian Vanderpleyn running the car and Badoer was quickly competitive, finishing in the points in his first three races and winning the fourth. He won two further victories in the weeks that followed but at Spa had a huge crash in Eau Rouge, which split his crash helmet and put him in hospital but he was soon back up to speed and won again at Nogaro to win the title at his first attempt.
Cantu, who had been the team manager of the Scuderia Italian Formula 1 team before setting up Crypton, talked team owner Beppe Lucchini into hiring Badoer to race in 1993, alongside veteran Michele Alboreto. The Scuderia Italia Chesterfield Lola-Ferrari team was a complete disaster, although Luca managed to finish seventh at Imola. At the end of the year Lucchini decided to merge the operation with Minardi and Badoer was dropped because Alboreto was a bigger name. He stayed on as the team’s test driver and when Alboreto retired at the end of 1994 he stepped into the seat. Before the 1995 season began he suffered a testing crash in a Minardi at Fiorano and broke his hand. When he came back he did well and scored several top 10 results but never managed to score a point. Dropped at the end of that year after Flavio Briatore took control of the team Badoer went to the struggling Forti Corse team but it folded in the middle of the year, leaving him with no work.
He did get a second chance in F1 in 1999 when Minardi took him on again but the team was not very competitive, although Badoer was running fourth in the closing stages of the complicated European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, when his car broke down, denying him points and leaving him distraught. He remains the F1 driver who has competed in the most number of F1 races (48) without ever scoring a point. During his time as the Ferrari test driver he has been close to the pace of the regular drivers and has completed tens of thousands of miles of testing although the testing ban has cut down his work in recent seasons. He had one serious accident in 2001 when his car lost a wheel at the end of the main straight and somersaulted over the barriers. He suffered an injury to his vertebrae but was back in action after a couple of months.
Stand-in Ferrari drivers can make a good impression. In 1991 the team put Gianni Morbidelli in to replace Alain Prost and he scored half a point in the rain-shortened wet race in Adelaide. In 1993 Larini replaced Ivan Capelli and was then lucky enough to have another chance in 1994 when Jean Alesi hurt his back. Larini finished second in the ill-fated San Marino GP at Imola, an achievement that was completely overshadowed by events of that weekend.
Salo’s efforts in 1999 saw him finish ninth in his first race but then allowed Eddie Irvine to win in Germany when the team demanded that he abide by team orders. Later he was third at Monza and his efforts helped to revive his F1 career, leading to a fulltime driver with Sauber in 2000.
It is probably too late for Badoer to do that but he will at least fulfil his ambition of racing for Ferrari and hopefully will score some points as well.