Luca Badoer has insisted that he is ready to step into the seat vacated by both Felipe Massa and Michael Schumacher and keep Ferrari at the front of the field, despite not having raced in the top flight for nearly ten years.
The former F3000 champion has been a long-serving Ferrari test driver, after seeing a 48-race grand prix career close at the 1999 Japanese Grand Prix. Despite being highly-rated throughout his time in the junior formulae, he spent his debut campaign with the newly-formed BMS Scuderia Italia, 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 return to Minardi for 1999, but thereafter concentrated on playing a vital part in the Scuderia's return to title-winning form.
However, the news that Michael Schumacher had declared himself insufficiently fit to take up the slack left by Massa's Hungarian GP injuries has thrust Badoer back into the limelight - ironically, with the most potent weapon his F1 career has ever allowed - ahead of the European Grand Prix in Valencia, after Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo and team principal Stefano Domenicali decided that he was best-placed to partner Kimi Raikkonen.
Despite criticism in certain circles, not least in Spain where national motorsport federation president Carlos Gracia called for compatriot Marc Gene to have been given the drive, Badoer insists that he will be up to the task of helping the Scuderia edge closer still to 2009 frontrunners Brawn GP and Red Bull Racing.
"Although this year's rules foresee a drastically reduced mileage for us test drivers, I have prepared myself to be ready under any circumstances, just as I've been doing the last years too," the 38-year old explained to the Ferrari team's official website, "I've been in this business for quite a while and, after Felipe's accident, I intensified my programme, so I'm sure that I won't have any problems from this point of view.
"Since I've been a child, I always wanted to race for Ferrari, and now I've got the possibility to make this desire come true. I'm really sorry for Michael, because I know how much he wanted to return, and I'm saying that as his friend and his fan. We've been in contact during the last days and we drove karts together at Lonato last week, so I followed him very closely in this attempt [to return]. Last night, however, he called me a couple of minutes after Stefano Domenicali had told me the news and I know that he'll always be ready to give me some advice and he will shout for me."
Whilst fitness may not be a problem for Badoer, the lack of mileage might, although the Italian has at least been able to drive the 2009-spec F60. Schumacher's request for a day behind the wheel of the same car was refused by both Williams and Red Bull on the grounds that it contravened the gentleman's agreement banning in-season testing. The seven-time world champion canned his comeback attempt on Tuesday [11 August], citing a lingering neck injury sustained in a superbike crash in February.
Even though he heads to Valencia with little track time under his belt, however, the veteran is determined to do his best for those who have made the opportunity possible.
"My first thought goes to Felipe," he insisted, "I was shocked about his accident and I'm so glad that the situation is getting better so quickly. I wish him all the best and to get back on the track as soon as possible.
"I also want to thank Luca di Montezemolo and Stefano Domenicali for the faith they put in me, and for the honour that they are handing the car over to me. I will give it my best for them and for all the Ferrari fans, who - and I'm sure about that - will give me their support."