Schumi’s loss, Luca’s gain | india | Hindustan Times
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Schumi’s loss, Luca’s gain

It hardly seems as if they have been away, yet for the past two weeks or more Formula One has been in a state of enforced shut-down, taking a compulsory summer break to fit in with the FIA's cost-cutting rules.

india Updated: Aug 21, 2009 00:52 IST
Steve Slater

It hardly seems as if they have been away, yet for the past two weeks or more Formula One has been in a state of enforced shut-down, taking a compulsory summer break to fit in with the FIA's cost-cutting rules.

Between August 3 and 16, all F1 team headquarters were closed and all production and design stopped. The cars, which had been rebuilt and checked after the Hungarian Grand Prix, had to be loaded into their trucks by August 2 to comply with the strict guidelines of the shutdown. Only the factories' PR personnel were allowed access to email, in case of emergencies.

Despite that, there were plenty of rumours and stories to speculate on. Some ended in disappointment, such as Michael Schumacher's plans to return to the sport as a substitute at Ferrari for the recovering Felipe Massa.

Schumacher's inability to reach his required fitness level is now well documented. But one man's loss is another man's gain — in this case a huge opportunity for one of the unsung heroes of the sport, long-time Ferrari test driver Luca Badoer.

Luca is one of the good guys. His work behind the scenes has played a key part in Ferrari's success over the past decade, pounding around countless laps of the Ferrari test track at Fiorano, to help develop the cars which gave Schumacher, Barrichello, Raikkonen and Massa their success.

However, I see his nomination to race the second Ferrari in Valencia and, almost certainly at Spa a week later, as being very much a caretaker position. Much as I respect Luca, I don't think he'll prove up to the pressures or pace of the race weekend.

Luca hasn't raced an F1 car since he stood down from the Minardi team at the end of 1999. And thanks to this year's ban on track testing cars during the racing season, he hasn't done many laps in the Ferrari F60. Most of the test mileage was given to Raikkonen and Massa to allow them to adapt to the new car's quirks.

In fact it could be argued that Ferrari would have been no worse off putting a 'rookie' such as Bruno Senna in the car. Or a current-but-unemployed-driver like Sebastian Bourdais, or Nelson Piquet junior.

The last time that Ferrari put a substitute driver in their race car was when Michael Schumacher broke his leg in 1999. They chose Mika Salo to Luca, and he was 10 years younger and had recent race experience back then.

I suspect Ferrari still hopes that Schumacher might regain fitness in time to make a popular appearance at Monza and Singapore, before Massa may be makes a dramatic return at his home Grand Prix in Brazil.

Steve Slater is a race commentator on STAR Sports' coverage of the Formula One.