Today we celebrate the 41st birthday of Luca Badoer, a man once regarded as the next big thing in Italian motorsport, but whose 51-race, zero points GP career is an ignominious record for a driver whose talents in the junior formulae indicated so much more potential….
Badoer was a prodigy. He rocketed up the Italian motorsport ladder, winning the Italian karting and Formula 3 championships before making his debut in Formula 3000 with Team Crypton, taking the 1992 F3000 title ahead of the likes of a host of other F1 graduates like Andrea Montermini, Rubens Barrichello, Michael Bartels, Emanuele Naspetti, Jean-Marc Gounon, David Coulthard, Olivier Panis, and Allan McNish.
He was earmarked for F1 greatness, but his debut season with the execrable Scuderia Italia Lola Ferrari in 1993 was a complete disaster, and he could only compete with his team-mate, Michele Alboreto, for the final place on the grid.
The debacle was almost a death knell for his Formula 1 career, and he was overlooked in place of Alboreto for a race seat with Minardi in 1994 when it merged with Scuderia Italia. He secured a race seat with the Faenza team in 1995, finishing eighth in Canada and Hungary (where he also qualified an incredible twelfth).
He switched to the Forti Corse team for 1996, but the team folded mid-season – his two incidents of note were a spectacular flip at the Argentine Grand Prix, and taking out Jacques Villeneuve at Monaco while he was being lapped.
He found solace as Ferrari’s test driver, and returned (on loan) to Minardi for the 1999 season. The turning point in his career should have been Michael Schumacher’s leg-breaking accident at Silverstone during the season, but Ferrari inexplicably opted for the services of Mika Salo as the German’s stand-in. Although introspective, Badoer was furious at the snub.
He continued with Minardi for the remainder of the season, and his heartbreak was further compounded when a gearbox failure robbed him of a certain fourth place at the Nürburgring with a handful of laps to go – Badoer burst into tears alongside his stricken car.
Unable to find a full-time drive for the 2000 season, he reverted to the role of Ferrari’s test driver where his countless miles pounding around Fiorano assisted Michael Schumacher, Kimi Räikkönen and the team to six Drivers’ and eight Constructors’ Championship titles.
His final reprieve came almost ten years after his last race start, when Felipe Massa’s accident and Michael Schumacher’s last-minute withdrawal from substitute duties vaulted the now-38-year-old Luca back into the F1 spotlight as a stand-in for the team at the European and Belgian GPs of 2009.
With next to no mileage in the difficult Ferrari, he was on a hiding to nothing and was miles off the pace at both events before being quietly dropped back to the test driver role in place of Giancarlo Fisichella.
While the result was hardly surprising given how his entire F1 career had seemingly rolled out, it was far less than this likeable man deserved.