Luca Badoer has reflected that after a decade away from the F1 starting grid and around a circuit at which he has never raced before, his sole target on his return to competition in the European Grand Prix in Valencia this weekend will be to see the chequered flag.
Badoer was parachuted into Felipe Massa's seat after record-breaking seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher found himself unable to go ahead with his much-hyped comeback as a result of an enduring neck injury sustained in a motorcycling fall at Cartagena in Spain in February.
The Italian, though, has not started a race in the top flight since 1999, and his career has been patchy to say the least. Entering F1 with a glittering reputation as the reigning International F3000 (now GP2 Series) champion back in 1993, Badoer's hopes and dreams of grand prix glory – as well as his stock within the paddock – would swiftly be shattered by one uncompetitive car after another.
If the hopeless BMS Scuderia Italia with which he made his debut that year had all the handling prowess and raw pace of a double-decker bus, then there were scarcely any great scoring opportunities either with the Minardi M195 in 1995 or abject Forti Corse a year later still. Indeed, Badoer still retains the unenviable record of being the driver who has made the most starts in the sport's history without troubling the scorers.
The 38-year-old came agonisingly close to breaking that points duck in 1999 – his last season of competition until now. Lying in an unheralded and comfortable fourth place 53 laps into the European Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, his gearbox betrayed him with barely ten laps left to run – and Badoer's pain was famously captured by TV cameras around the world as he sat beside his car and cried his eyes out.
Now, however, the man from Montebelluna close to Venice finally has a belated opportunity to prove his worth and demonstrate what might have been had he only been at the wheel of more competitive machinery earlier in his grand prix career. It is, he acknowledges, the realisation of a lifelong dream, and after nine years of loyalty to the Scuderia
as its test driver – including being controversially overlooked as a replacement for Schumacher when the German broke his legs at Silverstone in 2000 in favour of Mika Salo – an opportunity he does not intend to waste.
“I have a good impression,” revealed Badoer, after completing 200 kilometres of running in Ferrari's F60 at the Maranello-based concern's Fiorano test track as part of a promotional video and photo-shoot. “It's obvious that there's a difficult task waiting for me in Valencia; the first race will help me to get back into the rhythm of a Formula 1 weekend. I haven't set myself any goals, just to end the race.
“The people in my hometown celebrated for two days after Ferrari
announced that I would race instead of Felipe. I was very happy and I also want to thank all the fans for their support.”
Admitting that his negligible mileage in Ferrari's 2009 challenger to-date was 'absolutely insignificant from a technical point-of-view, but allowed me to get to know the car again', Badoer added that he was looking forward to working alongside 2007 F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen
– a man who many believe will be out of the team next year in favour of fellow former title-winner Fernando Alonso
– and that he was grateful for Schumacher's support and presence in Valencia.
“We've got an excellent relationship,” he said of Raikkonen, “and I'm sure that we'll work very well together as team-mates. He's got his character, but that's nothing new; I feel very good when we're together.
“I'm glad that Michael will be with the team [in Valencia] – I'm sure he can give me some important tips. Over the last days we've spoken very often and we even trained together when he was still trying to get ready to race. I was really sad, because I know how much he would have liked it. Although I am now able to make my dream come true, I am his friend, his admirer and his fan.”