Luca Badoer's Formula 1 rivals have leapt to the beleaguered Italian's defence in the wake of the barrage of criticism he has received for his performance in Valencia so far this weekend – contending that he has 'done a good job' in what is an 'impossible' situation.
Badoer will begin today's European Grand Prix around the demanding Valencia Street Circuit from 20th and last position, after lapping almost a second-and-a-half slower than his nearest competitor, Scuderia Toro Rosso rookie Jaime Alguersuari, in qualifying.
What's more, he was almost three seconds away from Kimi Raikkonen in the sister scarlet machine in Q1, raising whispers in the paddock that whilst he has been earmarked to drive Felipe Massa's car until the Brazilian is well enough to return, he may find himself being replaced sooner than he anticipates.
However, the facts of the matter are that the 38-year-old has not raced competitively in any series – let alone F1 – in the past decade, had never driven the F60 before and is driving in Valencia for the first time, and any racing driver will tell you that street circuits are amongst the very hardest to get to grips with. He has steadily brought his lap times down and has wisely said that he will be treating the European Grand Prix as purely a test session to get more confidence in the car ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps in a week's time. His fellow competitors believe it is exactly the right approach to be taking.
“I think he's done a good job,” defending F1 World Champion and Valencia pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton told international news agency Reuters
. “He's not put it in the wall; he's kept it on the track. It's an incredibly tall order to jump into the footsteps of Felipe Massa.
“He hasn't even raced for ten years, so I think anyone who has taken that long out of the car is going to struggle, but instead I think he has done a good job just to keep it on the track and bit-by-bit he will catch up.”
“I don't know what else you could have expected,” concurred McLaren-Mercedes team-mate Heikki Kovalainen. “Sometimes the tyres warm up, or they overheat or they don't warm up, and it's much more complicated than a few years ago where they brought out tyres that worked straightaway in different conditions. I think that knocks the driver's confidence very easily – if the tyres are not working 100 per cent you can't push if you don't feel you have the grip.”
Indeed, Badoer did not even know he would be racing until Michael Schumacher – who was Ferrari's first choice to replace the recovering Massa following the São Paulista's qualifying accident in Hungary late last month – had to pull out of his planned comeback at the eleventh hour with recurring neck problems caused by a motorcycling fall earlier this year.
Having dutifully played the role of test and reserve driver for the Scuderia
for the past decade, the opportunity marks the man from Montebelluna's chance to prove that he is more talented that the succession of abjectly uncompetitive cars he had at his disposal in F1 in the 1990s allowed him to demonstrate. Compatriot Jarno Trulli encouraged the former International F3000 (now GP2 Series) champion to simply enjoy the occasion.
“We are in the business and we all know how hard it is,” stated the Toyota star. “People from the outside would probably expect more, but it is impossible honestly. I think he has to enjoy what he is doing and try to do his best step-by-step, because miracles do not happen like this. If miracles happen then we should save them for much more important things.”