Everybody reading this will be well aware of Luca Badoer‘s racing exploits this year for Ferrari. Some were surprised he was given the seat, others that he was so slow. I certainly wasn’t, considering his prior history in the sport…
Although, you don’t get to be a Ferrari tester by being completely rubbish, after all.
Luca started off, as all F1 drivers do, in Karting. He won several races here and was even Italian 100cc champion in 1987. He took the Super-100cc class championship the year after too. It was a good start to the Italian’s career, and surprisingly, it got better from there.
He stepped up to Italian Formula 3 in 1989, and a year later he surprised everyone by winning the final round of the season at Vallelunga, even beating Alessandro Zanardi in the process! He ended the year 10th overall, and was being tipped as a title contender for 1991.
After a slow start to the year, he started to pick up the pace, and went on to take four consecutive wins mid-season. Rival teams started becoming suspicious of his sudden rise of form, and rightly so. He was stripped of his fourth victory for using illegal tyres, and afterwards his form slipped again, finishing the season 4th overall.
However this was enough to earn him an F3000 drive for the following season, driving for Crypton Engineering. He was up against the likes of David Coulthard, Rubens Barrichello and Olivier Panis. Surely it was curtains for his F1 ambitions, competing against such talented drivers?
Amazingly, he didn’t just beat the trio, he ran rings around everybody. He started out well, finishing in the points in his first three starts. But then, the unbeliveable became a reality. He reeled off three consecutive victories to establish himself as championship leader, and also took Pole and Fastest Lap at Pergusa-Enna and Hockenheim. He was riding the crest of a wave.
But as we all know, waves must come crashing down back to earth eventually. That’s literally what happened at the next race at Spa-Francorchamps, after a massive shunt at Eau Rouge split is helmet in two and sent him on his way to hospital.
Determined as ever though, he bounced back at once, taking second to the man who would turn out to be his closest title rival, Andrea Montermini, at the Albacete track in Spain. He wrapped up the title a race later with a win at Nograo, in what would turn out to be his greatest achievement in motor racing.
Along with Barrichello, F1 beckoned for Badoer. While Barrichello had signed for Jordan, Badoer had signed for BMS Scuderia Italia, a move he would come to regret. They had a Ferrari customer engine supply, admittedly a rather old engine, but powerful nonetheless. With a good car under it, it could be a reasonable midfield contender.
Alas, BMS had linked up with Lola for their chassis, who produced an absolutely terrible and outdated machine. It was so bad, I’m not going to be unreasonable and compare him to the rest of the grid, as the only other driver he had a shot of beating all season was team-mate Michele Alboreto.
On his debut, he qualified stone dead last, 9 seconds off Alain Prost‘s pole time, and 2.8 seconds behind Alboreto. His gearbox packed in 20 laps into the race, ending a disappointing weekend.
Then the FIA, in the first of many rash rule changes that year, decided the 26th fastest car in Qualifying wouldn’t be allowed to race. Fortunately for Badoer though he found the speed he desperately needed and took 21st place, way ahead of team-mate Alboreto, who scraped past Ivan Capelli‘s Jordan for the final grid slot.
He finished 12th, and last, 3 laps down and on Alboreto’s tail after needing a new nosecone mid-race. It got worse from there, as he missed the cut for the race at Donnington, 0.2 seconds from overhauling the Tyrrell of Andrea De Cesaris in 25th.
The next race saw his fortunes take a turn for the better, and rather ironically, took his best ever F1 result in his worst car ever at Imola. Alboreto failed to qualify and Badoer was 24th on the grid, but a race with a huge attrition rate meant he climbed all the way up to 7th place, with a Minardi the only thing between him and the single point he needed to avoid the statistic he dreads most: Zero points in 56 starts makes him the man with the most starts without a point in Formula One.
A DNF in Spain and a DNQ in Monaco, identical to Kyalami, coming 9 seconds off Prost’s pole time. But Badoer and his Lola BMS team almost took a sensational 1-2 result at Montreal the following race.
Albeit by default rather than on speed.
The FIA had decided to ban all electronic devices, including Active Suspension and Traction Control, with immediate effect. Teams were livid at the sudden change as it made all cars except the Lolas illegal, demonstrating how outdated the car really was. It was looking increasingly likely Badoer would score a maiden win, or at least a second, until the FIA finally caved days before the Grand Prix and postponed the ban until the end of the season.
Only one Lola-BMS car made the grid in Canada, and it was Badoer, by 0.o25 seconds. He went on to finish in 15th place. He bumped his team-mate out of the races at Magny-Cours and Silverstone, and would have done it again at Hockenheim if the FIA hadn’t reversed the 26th car rule for that race. He failed to finish those three races and the next one at Hungary, two due to suspension failures.
But the car managed to gain some reliability towards the seasons end, as Badoer managed 13th at Spa, 10th at Monza and 14th at Estoril. But the team folded afterwards and joined forces with Minardi for the following season.
Despite the pretty bleak season, both Badoer and Alboreto got tests for Benetton, and were in the running to be Michael Schumacher’s team-mate. But both were unimpressive and Benetton went for JJ Letho instead.
The duo then went back to Minardi looking for a drive, but only one was available, as team-mate to Pierluigi Martini. Alboreto got the nod, and Badoer had to take the test driver role for a year. It seemed a little unfair on him, considering he had mostly outperformed his more experienced team-mate in 1993.
However in 1995, Alboreto retired and Badoer gained promotion to a race seat alongside Martini. However the opposite of 1993 applied to the Minardi; Good chassis, bad engine. They had just lost their Mugen-Honda engines to Ligier and were stuck with the underpowered Ford ED V8 engine instead, which wasn’t even the top Ford-Cosworth engine at the time (Sauber‘s Zetec-R was the ‘works’ engine).
It was a pretty bad year for Badoer and Minardi overall. The year started out with a gearbox failure at Brazil, but then a drenched qualifying in Argentina saw him qualify in an astounding 13th place.
But it all went horribly wrong on Sunday, after ramming into the back of Mika Salo‘s Tyrrell, and soldiering on to smash into Barrichello’s Jordan later in the lap. The red flags came out, and with no spare car, Badoer had to sit out the restarted race. Two retirements at Spain and Monaco followed. He only made things worse by emulating one Rene Arnoux for all the wrong reasons at Imola, acting as a mobile chicane the whole race on his way to 14th. But he followed this up with a decent run of form, coming 8th, 13th and 10th at Montreal, Magny-Cours and Silverstone. Another 8th followed two races later at Hungary via yet another broken gearbox in Germany.
The next two races really kept Badoer on his toes. At Monza, he tried his hardest to write off the car, firstly by flipping it during free practise. Then Max Papis decided to give him a hand by spinning in front of him and causing a multi-car pile-up at the start of the race. But Badoer missed the wreck, and had to finish the job himself by shunting his car on Lap 26.
Then it was Ukyo Katayama‘s turn to freak out Badoer at the race start, this time at Estoril. He ran up the Minardi’s right rear wheel and sent his Tyrrell flipping over multiple times causing the race to be stopped. Badoer was able to make the restart and finished in 14th place though.
9th, 11th and 15th places followed in the next 3 races, and at the final round in Adelaide he had qualified in 15th place. Electrical problems meant he couldn’t start the race though, and it ultimately cost him his drive at Minardi as new team-mate since Hungary, Pedro Lamy, came home 6th and scored the team’s only point of the year. He would be replaced by pay driver Taki Inoue, but the deal fell through and test driver Giancarlo Fisichella was promoted instead.
Katayama uses Badoer as a launchpad
Badoer was forced to sign with absolute backmarkers Forti in 1996, and had former F3000 rival Andrea Montermini as his team-mate. The team were cash-strapped from Pedro Diniz‘s switch to Ligier, and grateful for the Antera sponsorship Montermini brought with him. They had upgraded to the Ford Zetec-R engine for 1996, but it was fitted to a revised version of the previous year’s car, which was barely a decent car to begin with.
Both Badoer and Montermini failed to qualify for the season opener in Melbourne, thanks to the new 107% rule. Badoer made the cut at Interlagos, and so did Diniz and Tarso Marques despite not even setting a time in qualifying. He trundled around to an 11th place finish, albeit 4 laps down.
In Argentina, he qualified 21st but crashed out of the race in spectacular fashion after a collision with Diniz. Some blinding stupidity followed from the marshals, who didn’t even bother to check the now upside-down Forti and left Badoer for dead. Badoer unbuckled himself and wriggled himself free of his car after a few moments. By now a sole marshal had decided to walk to the stricken Forti, but Luca was having none of it and shoved him away in anger. It pretty much summed up his season to come.
Badoer flips out in more ways than one…
A DNQ for both drivers followed at the European GP. The FG03 had finally reached completion, but only one was available for Imola, and it was given to Badoer.
It seemed to help, as he was 1.6 seconds faster than his team-mate in qualifying. He made it to the finish in 10th, albeit last, but to finish alone would be much harder next time round, at Monaco, where there was utter chaos from the start.
Only 3 cars made it to the finish, the lowest in F1 history, and had Badoer been one of them, he probably would have scored the point he most desired. It wasn’t to be however, as he tangled with Jacques Villeneuve at Mirabeau, squeezing him into the inside wall and causing Badoer’s car to become airborne momentarily and then breaking his suspension. The altercation earned him a one race suspended ban, but in the end the punishment became pointless when he failed to qualify for the next race in Spain.
Badoer tries a Schumi, with the same outcome…
A DNF at the next race followed, yet Forti had managed to gain sponsorship from the mysterious Shannon Group, which it needed due to the increasing struggle to keep the team afloat. It didn’t help Forti’s on track prospects at all however, as a 20th place grid slot and subsequent fuel pump failure in the race at France and a DNQ at Silverstone is all Badoer would manage before the unheard of Shannon Group inevitably defaulted on their payments, meaning the cars didn’t even venture out onto the track at Hockenheim, with the team folding soon after.
Badoer was left in no-mans land, with nothing on the table for 1997. Some odd tests for Minardi were all he managed F1-wise, as well as some outings in FIA GT, driving a Lotus Elise Turbo and GT1.
But in 1998, he was thrown a lifeline by Ferrari. Nicola Larini, who had been their test driver for 6 years, had finally packed up and left, leaving a space for Badoer to fill. At first, Ferrari had been reluctant to let him race elsewhere, but the following year, they finally caved and let him race for Minardi for the second time in his career alongside his testing duties.
Once again, Minardi had built a decent chassis for Badoer and team-mate Marc Gene, but it was stuck with a donkey of an engine, the same Cosworth Zetec-R found in the back of the Forti FG03 3 years previously. It was still a decent year considering the lame powerplant but if you were to mention the word gearbox to him after 1999, he would probably cringe. It ruined some of his best chances to score points that year.
Despite the fact he wouldn’t qualify any higher than 19th that year, his surprisingly decent race pace made up for it. At the first round at Melbourne, despite the poor qualifying, he had rocketed up to 11th in only a handful of laps. As attrition picked off cars in front, he eventually made it into the points before, you guessed it, the gearbox packed in. He was running ahead of both Arrows at the time, and Pedro de la Rosa in their lead car finished 6th. ‘What might have been’ is a phrase that came up rather too often that season…
A testing accident ruled him out of racing at Interlagos, but he came back for Imola, albeit still hampered by the injury sustained to his hand. He made it to the end however, taking 8th place. His gearbox gave up again at Monaco, and then duly went and binned it at Barcelona, but a possible decent finish went to waste when both he and Olivier Panis were given stop-go penalties for their erratic driving, winding up 10th by the finish.
Badoer duplicated that result at Magny-Cours, but Silverstone looked promising. He made up 5 places off the start before Michael Schumacher put his car in the wall at Stowe. At the restart, he was shoved off the track by Toranosuke Takagi (not for the last time that season either) but soldiered on, only for yet another technical failure to blight his Minardi. Care to guess what part it was that failed? Yeah, it was the gearbox, again.
Schumacher’s injury from that crash meant Badoer was first in line to replace him…well, so Badoer thought. However team principal Jean Todt picked Mika Salo instead, a bitter pill to swallow for Badoer.
More disappointment was to come. Another good start at Austria meant he was up in 15th, but Damon Hill booted him off the road and Badoer was forced to pit for repairs. He eventually came home 13th, but the driver he was running in front of before the altercation was Diniz, who finished in 6th.
A 10th at Hockenheim compared to Salo giving away what would have been his first Grand Prix win to Eddie Irvine was probably hard to take, but he had a shot at revenge when Salo could only manage 18th on the grid in Hungary. He managed to leapfrog the Ferrari at the start, but couldn’t stay there and ended up in 14th to Salo’s 12th. It was Badoer’s final race finish of the year.
Badoer helped to put Villeneuve and BAR‘s miserable season into perspective, when in Belgium Badoer was hounding the Canadian for much of the race, only to break his suspension by getting a bit too friendly with the high kerbs. Then Takagi struck again in one of the most pathetic overtaking moves ever seen in Formula One, locking his brakes and ploughing into the back of Badoer.
Takagi gets too friendly…again
The European GP at Nurburgring h0wever saw Badoer experience both the highest and lowest point of his career at the same time. It was another chaotic wet-dry race, and he made all the right strategic calls to climb his way up to fourth place. It was a monumental effort, and with only around 10 laps left, the dream became closer to reality. Until reality bit him back. The millionth gearbox failure of the season forced Badoer to park up, and 6 years of chasing his first point had all come to nothing. It was such an agonising moment for him, that he simply stepped out of the stricken Minardi, knelt beside it and cried his eyes out. What could have been a spectacular result went to waste.
Heartbreak, European Style
The usual suspects of Hill and Diniz hit him at Malaysia, the latter sending him on an off track excursion, causing the radiators to become clogged up and inducing the engine to overheat. Another engine problem ruined the season finale at Suzuka for him, and the end was nigh. Minardi weren’t interested in retaining him, and plumped for young Argentinian Gaston Mazzacane instead.
And so Luca Badoer’s Formula One career came to a close…or at least we thought it had.
Ten years later, and still a Ferrari tester, Felipe Massa had a horror accident when a piece of suspension from Rubens Barrichello‘s Brawn GP car knocked him unconscious. At first, Ferrari management went for another out of work driver, this time the retired Michael Schumacher. But when a neck injury put paid to any hopes of a comeback, Luca was there to step in. The dream had finally become a reality; he would race for his beloved Ferrari.
The golden opportunity to escape his mediocre reputation had finally arrived, or so we thought. Admittedly the car was a midfield runner on a good day, but Badoer didn’t endear himself to the team or the Tifosi either. He finished dead last in all practise sessions and qualifying, and on Friday even managed to rack up four penalties for speeding in pit-lane.
But he redeemed himself at the start of the race, as he jumped from 20th to 14th in the first lap. However Romain Grosjean ruined his race half way round the first tour of the circuit, spinning him out and consigning him to the back of the field once again.
He ended up 17th by the finish, avoiding the embarrassment of coming dead last thanks to Kazuki Nakajima suffering a puncture later in the race. He was massively out-performed by team-mate Kimi Raikkonen all weekend, which, looking back at his career, had been a surprisingly rare thing to happen.
It didn’t get any better at Spa either. He qualified last once again, but ruined his final flying lap in Q1 after binning his car backwards into the outside wall of Les Combes. The race itself brought no reward, as he trundled around the back of the field for the whole race and finished in 14th, and unsurprisingly the last car running. Ferrari dropped him after that race, replacing with him with polesitter from that race Giancarlo Fisichella. His performances however didn’t make Badoer look as incompetent as he first seemed as the other Italian couldn’t get to grips with the complex F60.
This really was the end of the road for Badoer’s F1 career. He may stay on as test driver next year but I very much doubt he will be picked over Fisichella in the future.
What I have learned most about Badoer looking back at his career is this: He is a better racing driver than Raikkonen.
No, you are not imagining what I just wrote.
Badoer dominated Alboreto, Martini and Montermini, like Raikkonen had the upper hand on Heidfeld, Coulthard and Montoya. The difference however is Badoer always drew the short straw regardless of his performance. While Raikkonen is rolling around in a pile of money given to him by Ferrari next year for doing absolutely nothing, Badoer always had to fight just to stay in the sport, more often than not paying his way into drives. This is something I like to call The Moreno Effect, named after Roberto Moreno, who you will be aware of from the last F1 Failures article. He was dropped by Benetton in favour of Michael Schumacher. He had no options until Andrea Moda picked him up. And we all know how that went…
Just like Moreno, Luca’s move to Forti was one of simply trying to survive. And that is what makes a proper racing driver. Never give up, no matter how bad the circumstances. Instead of Raikonnen’s ‘win or bust’ attitude, Badoer had to put up with the worst equipment in Formula One in both 1993 and 1996, and the Minardis he drove weren’t exactly brilliant either.
He may not have Raikkonen’s talent, but Raikkonen doesn’t have his racing spirit.