Ferrari test driver and two-race stand-in, Luca Badoer, turns 39 today!
Once regarded as the next big thing in Italian motorsport, Badoer’s 51-race GP career is the longest of any F1 driver who has not scored a championship point.
Badoer 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 other F1 graduates like Andrea Montermini, Rubens Barrichello, Michael Bartels, Emanuele Naspetti, Jean-Marc Gounon, David Coulthard, Olivier Panis, and Allan McNish.
Badoer 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 nail in the coffin for his 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 8th in Canada and Hungary (where he also qualified an incredible 12th).
He switched to the Forti Corse team for 1996, but the team folded mid-season.
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 deeply hurt by 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 Nurburgring 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 Raikkonen and the team to six Drivers’ and eight Consturctors’ Championship titles.
A reprieve came almost 10 years after his last race start, when Felipe Massa’s accident and Michael Schumacher’s stand-in withdrawal 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.