If Michael Schumacher's return to the cockpit of a Formula One car after nearly three years of retirement raised a few eyebrows, Ferrari's apparent decision to consider test driver Luca Badoer as the ideal replacement for the German will take surprise off the scale.

That, however, could be the scenario in Valencia next weekend, with Badoer poised to make his own F1 comeback after nearly ten away from competition.

The former F3000 champion has been a long-serving Ferrari test driver since his 48-race grand prix career came to a natural close at the 1999 Japanese Grand Prix. Despite being highly-rated throughout his time in the junior formulae, entering the top flight in 1993 meant that there were few race-winning seats to go around, and the Italian spent his debut campaign with the newly-formed BMS Scuderia Italia - ironically running Ferrari engines - before moving on to Minardi, Forti and back to Minardi in the years afterwards.

He did not even manage to race every season either, with a disappointing Benetton test leaving him on the sidelines in 1994 and the collapse of Forti midway through 1996 harming his chances for 1997. Taking up the role of Ferrari test driver in 1998, he was allowed to combine that role with a return to Minardi for 1999, but thereafter he concentrated on playing a vital part in the Scuderia's return to title-winning form.

Returning him to competition, however, appears to be little more than a reward for his efforts behind the scenes over the years.

"I am very unhappy that a problem means that Michael cannot return to racing," Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo confirmed, "In the past few days, I could appreciate his great efforts and extraordinary motivation, which had spread through the team and fans around the world. No doubt his return would have been good for F1 and I am sure it would have seen him fighting for wins again. In the name of Ferrari and all the fans, I wish to thank him for the strong attachment he displayed for the team in these circumstances.

"In agreement with Stefano Domenicali, we have therefore decided to give Luca Badoer the chance to race for the Scuderia, after he has put in so many years of hard work as a test driver."

Badoer would appear to have jumped what was already a short queue at Maranello, with many expecting Marc Gene to get the nod over his rival when it came to replacing the injured Felipe Massa, let alone Schumacher. The Spaniard has more recent F1 experience, having stood in at Williams in 2004, and won this year's Le Mans 24 Hours for Peugeot, alongside Alex Wurz and David Brabham.