According to a recent report in the Italian newspaper Gazzetta Sportiva, Ferrari reserve driver Luca Badoer is holding the sports media partly to blame for his ouster as Felipe Massa’s substitute for the reaminder of the year. Said Badoer, “The media played a fundamental role in the decision to replace me.”
Certainly the sporting press in general, and the Italian press in particular, often make Mt. Everests out of speed bumps, and are quick to shine a harsh light of criticism on even their most beloved drivers. In Badoer’s case, however, it would be difficult to argue that the criticism was unjustified. In the past two race weekends, at Valencia and Spa, he managed to come in dead last, both in qualifying and in the race. Certainly, the car wasn’t to blame, as evidenced by the fact that Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen manged to snag a podium at Valencia, and won the race outright at Spa.
While it is understandable that Ferrari, a team known for their “family” spirit, felt motivated to reward Badoer for his many years of loyal service as a test driver, Badoer’s ultimate performance was dismal even by rookie standards. Formula 1 is the deep end of the pool in motorsport, and even a green recruit fresh from GP2 is expected to perform creditably on day one, once he reaches the show. The very fact that Ferrari were ostensibly treating the Valencia meeting as a “test” event for Badoer is indicative of how underprepared he was.
Granted, with the in season testing ban currently enforced, keeping reserve drivers up to speed is probably a challenge. Unless the reserve driver is competing in other series, he will be completely inactive, apart from occasional straight line test, for most of the year. This is analogous to putting a thoroghbred race horse out to pasture for most of the year, and then expecting him to perform well at the Kentucky Derby.
The Massa-Badoer scenario at Ferrari underscores the need to revise the current in-season testing ban. Not only is testing advisable for the sake of keeping reserve drivers fit, but it is essential for evaluating potential rookie drivers. There is also the obvious point that testing is critical for teams who have car developments in the pipeline. Under the current rules, new parts are tried out on Friday, during the first free practice sessions, and if it turns out that the engineers and designers have gone the wrong way, the team is pretty much up a creek for the remainder of the weekend.
Steve Matchett, formerly a Benneton mechanic during the Schumacher-Brawn era at that team, and currently a commentator for Speed TV in the US, recently suggested expanding the race weekends to include Thursdays. Each Thursday would be devoted to open testing, and the teams would be able to use their regular testers, or evaluate potential rookie drivers. Limiting testing to the Thursday of each race weekend would be a huge savings compared to the unlimited testing allowed prior to the test ban. It would also be a moneymaker for track promoters, who could sell tickets for an additional day. It would seem to be an “everybody wins” situation—which is perhaps why the FIA won’t consider it.