F1 returnee Luca Badoer has shrugged off suggestions that he will be swiftly ejected from the cockpit of Felipe Massa's Ferrari should he fail to perform – arguing that the drive is his for as long as the Brazilian remains out of action.
Following his terrifying high-speed accident in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix at the end of last month – when he was struck on the helmet by a spring from the rear suspension of the Brawn GP of compatriot Rubens Barrichello ahead of him on the track, necessitating a spell in hospital and emergency surgery to a fractured skull and eye injuries – Massa has vowed to rejoin the grid before the 2009 season is out.
Until then, however, Badoer insists the seat is his, and though the Italian has not raced at the very highest level in almost a decade – his last competitive appearance came in the 1999 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, where he qualified on the back row and dropped out of contention 43 laps in with engine failure – he is determined to make the very most of the opportunity that has been presented to him, one he has described as akin to winning the lottery.
“I am very excited as this is my dream,” he enthused. “To drive for Ferrari in Formula 1 was for all my life simply a dream. Now I can have it and I am the happiest driver in the world, but I have no objective for this weekend. As I said before, it's a sort of test for me, so it would be nice to finish the race. My last race was ten years ago more-or-less, but I drove in these ten years close to 150,000 kilometres in Formula 1. I am used to doing two races in one day because of the tests – sometimes we did two races in a day – so it is not that really I am worried for this aspect of the situation.
“I am used to racing as before I've done a lot of races in my life. I did F3000, F3, go-karts, so this was just a pause. If you think about somebody who had never raced maybe it is a problem, but I know what it was in the past, so I have an idea. I am in a better position than somebody who hadn't raced, so at the moment I am very calm.
“I have worked very hard in a physical way because after Felipe's accident and Michael tried to drive the car it was very clear for us that, if Michael was not able, then it was my turn. I kept really concentrating and thinking about everything I could do to be in the best position for the race. I did really a lot of training. I drove a go-kart because I think it is very good for general training. Obviously I did special training for the neck with my special machine to improve all the muscles and the resistance of the heart, so I was pushing really hard.
“I've raced in the past, I can race again in the future, so honestly, for me Valencia will be a race in which I have to learn everything. I have to get used to being back in the car because it's a long time since I drove – it's not so long but it's enough. I have to get used to this kind of qualifying and I have to get used to being at a race again, so if I had only Valencia, only one chance, I would be very worried – I would try to do everything, and maybe with a lot of pressure and maybe with a lot of mistakes, but that's not the case because until Felipe is in a position to come back, the car is mine and nobody else's, so I have some time in which to improve, to develop the situation.”
Adamant that he was not upset not to have been the Scuderia's
first choice to replace Massa, Badoer also dismissed stinging criticism from triple F1 World Champion Niki Lauda that Ferrari might as well have asked him to come out of retirement to race, contending 'that doesn't bother me...Lauda speaks like that about everyone'.
The 38-year-old went on to explain that there were no hard feelings about being initially overlooked – not for the first time in his career at Maranello – in favour of someone else to replace an injured driver, especially as he is a 'big fan' of Schumacher, a man he considers to be a 'very good friend'.