F1 » Luca Badoer
One of the great undiscovered talents of modern F1, Luca Badoer has made a habit of returning to the sport just when many people had marked him down as a solid test driver.
Like many Italians before him, the young Luca spent many formative years on the national - and, latterly, international - karting scene, finally racking up his first title by taking the Italian championship in 1998.
This was the precursor to a move onto the car racing scene in 1990 and, as is the Italian way, Badoer jumped straight into the national Formula Three series. Running with the respected MDR team, he racked up one win in his first season, but failed to make a championship challenge.
A more concerted effort followed in 1991 when, driving with the successful Supercars outfit, Badoer managed to add four wins to his tally. Again, he missed out on championship honours, however.
Nevertheless, his performances were enough to propel him into the burgeoning International F3000 series, where he found a car and team able to meet his talents. Driving for the recently formed Crypton Engineering team, Luca stormed to five pole positions, four wins and, eventually, the championship title, comfortably beating Andrea Montermini and Rubens Barrichello in the final reckoning.
The success of 1992 was enough to guarantee Badoer passage into F1 for the following season. As had become the norm for the F3000 titleist, however, he was not guaranteed a seat with a top team, and signed with the mid-grid BMS Scuderia Italia outfit. Twelve starts yielded more retirements than finishes, and left Badoer scoreless at the end of the year.
When the Scuderia and Minardi merged for 1994, the under-financed Badoer found himself on the sidelines, with just a testing contract to keep him in touch with the top flight. His performances away from the glare of race day were enough to convince the team to give him another go, however, and the Italian duly contested the 1995 season with the team. Once again, though, it was to be a pointless effort.
If anything, the following season was worse. Moving from Minardi to the fledgling Forti Corse outfit looked promising as the latter appeared better funded, but the drive turned into a nightmare and, after a part-season plagued with problems, Badoer once again took leave of F1.
His testing talents had not gone unnoticed, however, and, after racing GTs for Lotus in 1997, Badoer was snapped up by Ferrari as official test driver for the following season. The Ferrari role continued into 1999, but Badoer was also seconded to Minardi in a show of Italian entente cordiale over the off-season.
The Faenza team was so impressed with his pace that it agreed a deal with its more famous neighbour to borrow Badoer for race days. Thus the Italian returned to one of his former teams for a fourth crack at the big time, but failed to move far from the back of the grid as the year wore on, and was frequently out-performed by rookie partner Marc Gene.
Badoer returned to Ferrari as full-time test driver for 2000, where he played a vital part in bringing the Scuderia
its first drivers' title for 21 years.
The role continued into 2001, and Ferrari were again champions, Badoer's work at the test track again a vital part of the behind the scenes labour.
2002 saw more of the same, and in came Luciano Burti to help with the testing. More wins, more points and more titles followed and Badoer stayed with Ferrari again in 2003, as lead test driver, a role that continued for the fifth year running in 2004.
In 2005 and 2006 Ferrari did not enjoy the same level of success as they did between 2000-2004. Despite that though Badoer remained as committed to Ferrari as ever and he stayed with the Scuderia
in 2007, during which the team bounced back winning the constructors' championship, while Kimi Raikkonen took the drivers' crown.
Luca continued with Ferrari into 2008 and 2009, before that knack of the unexpected comeback struck again, when the man from Montebelluna found himself recalled to active competition almost a decade on from his last appearance on the grand prix grid, deputising for Felipe Massa following the Brazilian’s Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying accident and Michael Schumacher’s inability to fill the void.
He returned to action in the European Grand Prix in Valencia in late August but struggled to adapt to the new breed of F1 car and qualified slowest of all. After a repeat performance at the Belgian Grand Prix, and only bettering his finishing position from 17th to 14th, he was replaced for Monza and beyond by Giancarlo Fisichella and also saw his fellow Italian seconded to the Scuderia
's testing strength for 2010.