Luca Badoer
by Simon Vigar

Minardi fans have a particularly soft spot for the Italian as he personifies so much of the team's story. Sadly, his luck is appalling and who can forget his tears at the Nurburgring when points were so close before his mechanical and emotional breakdowns? As a result he retains the dubious honour of being the driver with the most F1 starts without a single point to his name (50 starts, nil points). In 1987 16-year-old Badoer won the Italian karting title and three years later he was beating the likes of Alessandro Zanardi in domestic Formula 3 races. In 1991 his sudden winning streak attracted suspicion from other teams and after failing one scrutineering session he finished the championship fourth.

The following year, 1992, he graduated to the international F3000 championship and blew away the likes of Rubens Barrichello, Olivier Panis and David Coulthard. You have to be pretty handy to win in F3000 and in '93 with a spring in his step Badoer got his big break in Formula One. Unfortunately it was with Lola Scuderia Italia. The car stank, he failed to qualify twice and they packed up before the end of the season. It says something about his subsequent luck that seventh place at Imola (trailing Barbazza's Minardi) is the high-water mark of his F1 racing career. The silver lining was his success in frequently outpacing his vastly experienced teammate and compatriot Michele Alboreto.

At season's end Badoer and Michele landed tests with Benetton but neither went well. JJ Lehto was chosen to partner Michael Schumacher in 1994 and, as the Lola outfit had merged with Minardi, both its drivers signed up at Faenza. Badoer was test driver although, going by the '93 results, he should have been racing with Michele testing. Badoer got his chance the following year and was equal to teammate Pierluigi Martini. Unfortunately Ligier had just snatched the Mugen-Honda engines from Minardi so the M195 was not allowed to shine with its underpowered Ford. When the money started to run out Minardi had to take on pay driver Pedro Lamy and, based on form, Martini got the elbow. In the final race of the season Badoer was unable to start because of electrics and Pedro went on to score a point.

Lamy kept the seat for '96 and Badoer was sent into the clutches of Forti. The Forti car was one of the least competitive in the mid-90s often leaving Badoer watching the race from the sidelines as he failed to qualify. The team folded midseason. 1997 was another lost year racing uncompetitive sportscars but in '98 Badoer jumped at the chance to replace Nicola Larini as Ferrari's test driver, a role he retained until 2010. He played a huge role in the renaissance of Maranello in the Michael Schumacher years, as Schumacher often acknowledged. In 1999, Badoer rejoined Minardi, a year which can't be explained wihtout the tragic GP at the Nurburgring. Starting 19th Badoer made all the right calls as others lost their heads and grip. Near the end he found himself fourth only for the gearbox to seize. Badoer got out, crumpled beside the car and cried. It was heartbreaking to watch and it still is just thinking about it. Impressive teammate Marc Gene brought Spanish sponsorship but Minardi also needed more cash, so Badoer was dropped in favour of Argentinean Gaston Mazzacane for the 2000 season. It was the end of Badoer's Minardi career and he was assured by Jean Todt he was Ferrari's first reserve driver, having missed out on replacing an injured Schumacher in 1999, when Mika Salo was chosen instead. Badoer had to wait for another 10 (!!) years for this to happen as he replaced and injured Felipe Massa in 2009. F1 had changed, however, and limits on testing meant Badoer had no opportunity to set up his car, qualifying at the back of the pack twice. He retired as a Ferrari test driver a year later.