Valencia left deflated by Schumi absence
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.
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.
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.