Spanish motorsport federation president Carlos Gracia has criticised Ferrari's decision-makers for their decision to replace Michael Schumacher with Luca Badoer for next weekend's European Grand Prix in Valencia.
While the Italian's appointment [see story HERE
] - which gives him the chance to resurrect his F1 race career after nearly ten years of testing - has raised more than a few eyebrows, Gracia has branded the choice 'absurd', claiming that Spaniard Marc Gene was much better placed to fill in for the unfit German.
Schumacher had usurped both Ferrari testers when it came to looking for a replacement for Felipe Massa, who suffered head injuries in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand prix two weeks ago, but was forced to declare himself unable to compete when a niggling neck injury - suffered in a superbike accident in February - meant that he was unable to withstand the G-forces generated by an F1 car.
While a period of contemplation was expected at Maranello, the Scuderia caught observers by surprise by almost immediately naming Badoer - like Schumacher, now 40 years of age - as its second replacement for Massa. While an active member of Ferrari's development team, the Italian has not raced an F1 car since the 1999 season, and has never had his hands on a competitive machine, despite being a former F3000 champion.
Perhaps aware that Schumacher's absence could stall the increase in ticket sales that his confirmation had brought, and clearly hoping to see a second Spaniard on the grid in the potential absence of Fernando Alonso due to Renault's suspension for pit-lane irregularities in Hungary, Gracia has made his thoughts on the selection public.
“It is one of the most absurd things that the people in charge of Ferrari have ever decided," he fumed in an interview with Spanish newspaper Marca
, "I consider Gené to be better prepared [to return to F1 at short notice], and would have though that winning the Le Mans 24 Hours in June - the first time that a Spanish driver has shown himself capable of racing for victory in the race - would have been an important factor for Ferrari. Badoer has not driven for three years, and Gene is in much better form than he is."
Between now and the European Grand Prix, Gracia is to attend the FIA appeal hearing to support Renault's claim that it should be allowed to take part in the Valencia race.
Accompanied by the Real Federación Española de Automovilismo's legal adviser - and member of the FIA World Motor Sport Council - Joaquin Verdegay, Gracia is expected to speak on behalf of the team and, more importantly for the European GP organisers, Alonso, in an effort to overturn the one-race ban imposed for allowing the Spaniard to leave the Hungaroring pit-lane with an improperly-fastened front wheel. The wheel subsequently parted company with Alonso's car and, just a week after British racer Henry Surtees was killed by an errant wheel - and 24 hours after Massa maimed by a spring from Rubens Barrichello's Brawn - the governing body felt compelled to act.
"It is a good sign that we will be allowed to attend, but we must be very prudent and respect the work of the Court of Appeal," Gracia told As.com
, "The fact that we are present does not guarantee that we will be able to play a part but, if they grant the opportunity to us, we will set out the same arguments and try to defend [the rights of] Alonso, the organisation of Valencia and the fans."