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Valencia left deflated by Schumi absence

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Andrew Benson | 17:40 UK time, Thursday, 20 August 2009

This was supposed to be the weekend when the world's attention was focused on Valencia to watch the comeback of one of the greatest sportsmen of all time. But instead of Michael Schumacher at the wheel of a Ferrari in Spain it will be Luca Badoer.

The disappointment is palpable here. At least it is among the media, for whom a Schumacher return briefly appeared to be a fantastic story laid on a plate, vastly increasing interest in what, to be frank, is not one of the most glamorous events on the calendar.

World champion Lewis Hamilton, who has said that he always wished that he could have raced against the seven-time champion, summed up the wider mood by expressing his disappointment: "He's a racing legend, so it would have been a privilege and honour to race against him and to see him back would have been great."

But championship leader Jenson Button, who saw Schumacher at close quarters for seven years, offered a more equivocal view.

"I'm sure everyone was excited about Michael racing again and I'm sure he's disappointed as well," the Englishman said. "But we move on and we have a competitive field without him anyway. We already have three world champions on the grid (in Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen)."

Schumacher had intended to fill in for Ferrari driver Felipe Massa, who suffered a fractured skull during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix when he was hit on the helmet by a spring that had fallen off Rubens Barrichello's Brawn.

But a neck injury sustained in a motorcycle accident last winter put paid to that - Schumacher said the ligaments he damaged in that incident had not healed sufficiently for him to drive an F1 car in anger.

Michael Schumacher's neck injury prevented his comeback

Whatever people's feelings about Schumacher's aborted return, there is widespread mystification about why Badoer has been chosen to replace him.

This, after all, is a man who Ferrari rejected as a replacement for Schumacher 10 years ago, when the German broke his leg in an accident during the British Grand Prix.

Badoer was an active F1 driver for Minardi back in 1999, but Ferrari preferred the Finn Mika Salo as a stand-in for Schumacher, charged with helping his team-mate Eddie Irvine in his quest to beat Mika Hakkinen to the world title.

I asked a Ferrari insider at the time why the team had chosen the Finn over Badoer. "The problem with Luca Badoer," he said, "is that he is too slow."

Ten years on, at the age of 38, Badoer is unlikely to have got any quicker. Ferrari's line is that he is the official third driver, so he was next in line once Schumacher had decided he would not be able to race.

Luca Badoer chats to the media in Valencia

There is less at stake this time, of course. Ferrari are having one of their least competitive seasons for years so expectations are low, and having someone in the car no-one expects to perform takes the pressure off the team. At the same time, giving Badoer a chance silences those voices in Italy who criticise the team for not promoting Italian drivers.

Ferrari have other issues to deal with, too. It is regarded as an open secret that Alonso will be in a Ferrari next year - but that presents the thorny problem of whom he will replace, given that both Massa and Raikkonen are under contract until the end of next year.

The word is that Raikkonen will be the one to go - that Ferrari and his management have agreed he will leave and are arguing only over what proportion of his 2010 salary the team must pay him to walk away.

But Massa's accident complicates that slightly. The Brazilian says he intends to make a comeback before the end of the season, but when a driver has a fractured skull the extent and timing of his recovery is difficult to predict.

Ferrari's statement announcing that Badoer would fill in for Massa specified that the Italian would race in Valencia. But the man himself said on Thursday that the seat was his until Massa returned.

"Until Felipe comes back, this car is mine," Badoer said, "so I have time to develop and improve. Valencia is a race where I have to learn everything.

"I read that my last race was Japan in 1999. It was 10 years ago, but I've done 150,000km in an F1 car since then. I'm used to doing two race distances a day in testing so I'm not worried. And I know how it was in the past so I'm in a better position than someone who has not driven in F1 before.

"I'm calm and quiet and in a way I'm excited as it's a dream to drive for Ferrari. I'm a big fan of Michael Schumacher so it was good to see him at the track.

"We trained together and we are very good friends so we live the moment together. But we knew straight away it was him or me.

"To replace Michael is like [I am] a second choice as I am replacing the best champion in the world. Michael was really pushing very hard. He did everything. He tried 100% as it was sort of his dream to come back to F1 but it was not possible because of his injury."

Badoer and Ferrari have actually sneaked in a little bit of extra preparation ahead of this race. Although testing is banned during the season, teams are allowed to do up to 100 miles of running on so-called promotional days, and Badoer has done two of them on Monday and Tuesday.

Nevertheless, few expect him to make it into the final session of qualifying and, assuming he does not display a talent that was not apparent during his F1 career in the 1990s, scoring a point or two seems the most that could be expected of him.

It seems Badoer's hopes for the weekend are as low as everyone else's. "It would be nice to finish the race," he said.


  • Comment number 1.

    Well if people actually bought tickets to see MS's return rather than an F1 race then they're the kind of fans F1 doesn't need.

    Just like the 'free ride' media whipping themselves into a frenzy over Luca di Montezemolo's obvious and blatant attempt to circumvent the testing ban with Schumacher, they're the kind of media F1 could do without too.

  • Comment number 2.

    I still think that Ferrari should have just bit the bullet, coughed up some dosh to Renault to get Alonso in the car NOW as opposed to waiting until next year. It would have given him seven races to get used to the Ferrari under race conditions - with no pressure. We all know the season is a non-starter for them and this would have given them a bit of a head start on 2010. Ten years not being under race conditions is a very long time - I'll be surprised if Badoer finishes the first lap.

  • Comment number 3.

    I was a big fan of Luca Badoer back in his F3000 days where he beat a whole host of future F1 stars to the title, but never had an F1 car to demonstrate his talents. I was shocked at the time when Salo got the drive ahead of him.

    I feel that he has been given this drive as a reward for his loyalty, and it is well deserved. Pole position and a race win - now that would be a story.

  • Comment number 4.

    I don't understand why people are saying things like "to be frank, is not one of the most glamorous events on the calendar."

    There has been one race held there, and it looks like it is a much more interesting circuit than Singapore - it's just unfortunate that last year it didn't really get the chance to prove that.

  • Comment number 5.

    I was actually more excited to hear Badoer back than I was Schumacher. Badoer beat many later F1 drivers in F3000 and Italian F3. He also beat his teammates in F1 and was always overlooked in almost every team - at Minardi they chose Alboreto over him for a race seat despite Badoer soundly beating him at Scuderia Italia in 1993.
    He never had a car that was good enough to score points but it seems he was always considered a good development driver, so he ended up staying in F1 a lot longer than many other backmaker drivers and thus he ended up with his record of most starts without points.

    After winning F3000 and beating the likes of Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard in 1992, he ended up with an F1 drive. At the time you probably would have said Scuderia Italia looked the safer bet compared to where Barrichello went in Jordan. Alas, after switching from Dallara to Lola chassis for 1993, the car was no where near as good as the last year's. I think this sums up Badoer's career - very unlucky and very overlooked.

    I hope Luca has a good weekend and silences some critics. Even better if he scores points and finally rids himself of that record.

  • Comment number 6.

    I thought that chief amongst Ferrari's reasoning for not putting Badoer in the car back in 1999, was that they could not see an Italian driving for Ferrari being prepared to surrender the lead of a Grand Prix to an Irishman. Mika Salo was seen as a safer pair of hand's in this regard to Badoer. In the first race of Schumacher's absence - the Greman Grand Prix at Hockenheim, Mika Salo strongly led the race until the call from the pit's came to let Eddie Irvine through. Would Luca Badoer have been so keen?

    I think that Badoer should target at least Q3 followed by a race finish as good result. He should also look to beat the Renault debutant Romain Grosjean.

    Regarding the Valencia circuit, I would agree with neiltc13 (post#4) about waiting to see if this year's race produces a greater spectacle than the last. Give it time. Ok it wasn't as glamourous as Monaco, but let's be optimistic that what was seen last year as a race around an indusrtrial port will regenerate over the coming years to begin to rival the more glamourous locations of Monaco and Singapore.

  • Comment number 7.

    The Valencia circuit is a dump. It is never ever going to rival Monaco (tied as the most tedious F1 circuit around along with the Hungaroring and possibly Silverstone) and should be dropped or modified asap.

  • Comment number 8.

    You never miss what you didn't have. Schumacher never came back. People crying about it should get over themselves. Doesn't say much for Ferrari's strength in depth if they prefer a retired racing driver over their own drivers?

  • Comment number 9.

    It doesn't say much about that state of F1 if the return of a driver from 3 years ago could be the best thing to happen in what I regard as one of the most intriguing seasons for a long time. I think that this incident has brought into relief the biggest problem that F1 has to face in that the personalities are now more important than the racing, which is not a formula for long term success.

  • Comment number 10.


  • Comment number 11.

    hi there well i think schumi is gr8 but i expect button to win the title but i hoped lewis could win it

  • Comment number 12.

    Frobnitz wrote:
    "Doesn't say much for Ferrari's strength in depth if they prefer a retired racing driver over their own drivers?"

    Maybe you are unaware of this but Michael Schumacher is the most successful F1 driver of all-time, not just "a retired racing driver". You should check up on your F1 history chap.

    Czar-Orac wrote:
    "Well if people actually bought tickets to see MS's return rather than an F1 race then they're the kind of fans F1 doesn't need".

    I would've thought any kind of incentive to draw in more F1 fans was a welcome boost to the sport. Basically you are saying F1 only wants certain types of fans. I thought it was more case of beggars can't be choosers? You are exactly the type of "fan" F1 doesn't need.

  • Comment number 13.

    Hey Czar-Orac, who are you to decide what fans F1 can do without? I have been watching F1 since 1979 but have never been able to afford to go to a race. When I heard that Schumi was coming back I dipped into my savings and spent £800 on tickets to Spa justifying it that it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. I am still going to the GP but the tickets were bought to see MS. I am sure that most people buy tickets to watch a specific driver or team.

  • Comment number 14.

    Thats some neck injury Schumi has there (see pic above)!

  • Comment number 15.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 16.

    "The Valencia circuit is a dump. It is never ever going to rival Monaco (tied as the most tedious F1 circuit around along with the Hungaroring and possibly Silverstone) and should be dropped or modified asap."


    Yeah right! And Monaco races are always SO exciting aren't they.....?

  • Comment number 17.

    F1 doesn't need 'here today gone tomorrow' fans, it needs a solid fan base.
    I'm not deciding! Just like I didn't decide to spend £800 on the off chance a retired driver might grace some track with his presence!

    As for Valencia, it's very much like Montreal, except it's only 2 and a half hours away, has similar and fun nightlife, and some excellent beaches.

  • Comment number 18.

    I'll tell you why Ferrari decided to hire Badoer this time around - they'd banked on Schumacher being available and didn't have time to headhunt anyone else! Badoer's not the best guy available, he's the only one available within just a few days(rather than a few weeks) notice.

  • Comment number 19.

    Czar-Orac is right. The whole saga has been over-hyped, Michael Schumacher formally declared his retirement on the weekend of the 2006 Italian Grand Prix, fittingly after he had won the event - and then went on to take the title battle to Fernando Alonso all the way to the final race of the year.

    Given the finality of his exit, I was shocked to hear he was going to come back. OK, it would have been interesting, but for goodness sake, it is not a disaster in the slightest that he cannot participate. As Jenson says, we have a whole host of QUALITY drivers and world champions who currently compete, and to be honest, we have already seen many, many, many, many Schumacher wins, and I am still relishing the change of scene.

    Also, F1 fans seem to be sadly largely made up of pessimists, and here again, looking at the article and some of the subsequent comments, people shoot down the Valencia circuit in flames.

    I have said this once, and I will say it again. There has only been ONE race at this new circuit EVER! Yes it was boring, but look at some examples from this particular season. MONACO was TERRIBLE, as was SILVERSTONE. The fact that each of the circuits have had glory days in previous years, all the way from 1950, means they are classified as classics. If Monaco was new this year, then the race we saw would have also been slated.

    Now get a grip, and keep your fingers crossed for a race in which the drivers make it exciting for us. This Valencia circuit is by no means a flop, and lets enjoy it, before people who moan take it from the calendar before it's even had a chance.


  • Comment number 20.


    Thank you for your patronising comments. Yes, I am aware of the achievements of M. Schumacher. No need to "check up on my F1 history there.

    He is still, however, retired. I know this because I checked the F1 history books, and at the end of the 2006 season he retired. Maybe you are unaware of this...

    My point is that the team that is seen as some by the biggest player in F1 looks to someone that has not competitively raced for three years to drive its car. That is Ferrari's back-up plan? Why is MS the best option? Surely it should have better drivers that are able to step up to the plate.

    That is the point I was trying to make, chap!

  • Comment number 21.

    I think ferrari are playing this one very smartly.
    Whats the chances of winning any titles this year, none really.
    in season testing is banned.
    So they put their test driver in the seat for the rest of the season, nice way to get some miles under the belt ahead of next years rules changes, esp going out on full fuel loads.

  • Comment number 22.

    they could have tried bruno senna, davidson, gene, a younger driver to gain experince would have been nbetter and more beneficial badoer not the right choice

    however shcumacher is till a fezza employee so hats why prnbabnaty


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