Red Bull’s pursuit of championship leader Brawn GP resumes at the European Grand Prix, where Ferrari reserve driver Luca Badoer returns to Formula One’s starting grid for the first time in a decade to fill in for the injured Felipe Massa.
Badoer, who has tested for the Italians since 1998, will navigate the Valencia street race in place of Massa, who continues to recover from skull fractures suffered in a freak accident at the preceding Hungarian GP.
It’s Badoer’s first race for Ferrari and first start since driving for Minardi 10 years ago. The 38-year-old, whose gap between F1 races is the second longest in history, also holds an unwanted record of never having scored a point from 49 races.
“I am very motivated to make the most of this opportunity even if I know I am facing a tough challenge,” said Badoer, the first Italian to race for Ferrari since Nicola Larini in 1994. “It will effectively be a test session for me, but I will be trying my best to secure a good result.”
Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, who retired in 2006, was originally to fill in for Massa but a neck injury sustained in a motorcycle crash earlier this year has kept the 40-year-old German from returning to the starting grid.
Spanish fans are hopeful that Fernando Alonso will be in contention for a podium finish after the sport’s governing body allowed the two-time world champion to race by lifting a ban on his Renault team.
Renault was initially suspended after it allowed Alonso, who started from pole at Hungary, to exit the pit lane with an unsafe wheel that eventually came off and bounced wildly down the track only a day after a car part struck Massa in the head.
“To retire from (Hungary) was disappointing, but I’m looking on the bright side because I think that the car can be just as competitive in Valencia,” said the Spaniard. “I would love to fight for the podium, but the main priority is to score points this weekend.”
Alonso will have a new teammate in 23-year-old Romain Grosjean, who replaces the fired Nelson Piquet Jr. It will be the second straight race featuring a rookie driver after Toro Rosso promoted Jaime Alguersuari at Budapest.
Overall F1 leader Jenson Button is hopeful the three-week summer break has improved a car that had dominated the first half of the season, with the Briton taking six of the first seven races, but which has since been eclipsed by the performances of the Red Bull team.
Red Bull has won two of the last three races to cut Button’s lead nearly in half. He now leads Mark Webber by 18.5 points and Sebastian Vettel by 23.
“It is nice leading the championship, but it won’t be the case in the next three or four races if we have performances like we have had in the last few,” Button said.
McLaren and Ferrari’s improved performances could also affect the championship race as they now are also capable of claiming podium finishes.
After a woeful start to the season in an uncompetitive car, defending world champion Lewis Hamilton won in his McLaren at Budapest, finishing ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and that has recharged the reigning F1 champion.
“I’m still buzzing from the win in Hungary and I’m hopeful of being able to carry that pace into the Valencia weekend,” Hamilton said “particularly with our new upgrades to the car.”
Valencia will also mark the first race since BMW Sauber announced its withdrawal from the sport from next year. “We still have a few developments in the pipeline,” reserve driver Christian Klien said about the German team’s decision to finish the season out. “And BMW really want to leave on a high note.”