Giancarlo Fisichella will live every Italians’ dream later this week when he turns up to race a Ferrari at Monza. The 36 year old has been drafted into the team to replace Felipe Massa and will now get the fairytale finish to his Grand Prix career.
Fisichella was a wise choice for Ferrari. Not only has the team created a feel-good story for their loyal home fans, but Giancarlo is pretty handy behind the wheel. He is quick, experienced, and familiar with 2009 spec F1 machinery. He has also worked with Felipe Massa’s engineer before so should slot in very well at Maranello.
Ferrari had to put someone in their second car that could deliver results comparative to Raikkonen. The team have now claimed a win in an effort to restore some pride to their season, and are aiming to round it off by finishing third in the constructors championship ahead of arch rivals McLaren.
They had little chance of achieving that goal with Luca Badoer.
It’s hard not to feel sorry for Luca Badoer. With more testing and better preparation he could have done a decent job at Valencia and Spa, but his Ferrari dream was nothing but a horrid nightmare.
Badoer broke the pitlane speed limit four times during practice for the European Grand Prix, and apparently there was also a fifth infringement that went unpunished by the stewards. He then qualified last, becoming the only driver in Ferrari’s 60 year history to do so on speed alone (as opposed to a mistake or penalty). During the race he spun on the first lap and again on lap 34, he crossed the white line exiting the pitlane, earned a stop go penalty, and eventually finished dead last. At the end of the race he proceeded to crash into Adrian Sutil’s Force India in Parc Ferme.
The Belgian Grand Prix was no better. In addition to having issues with his paddock pass and an uncooperative microphone during a press conference, Luca made regular mistakes in practice, crashed heavily during qualifying, and ended up back of the grid once again. On Sunday afternoon he finished in last place 48 seconds behind the car in front, Nakajima, who was just 54 seconds behind the winner.
It was a disappointing showing by anyone’s standards, especially when you consider that Badoer was actually more competitive during his days with Minardi.
The Ferrari test driver is not entirely to blame for his poor run of results. The testing ban has made it hard for unfamiliar drivers to adapt to the cars, especially in 2009 with KERS and adjustable wings to deal with. It can takes weeks of practice just to learn what all of the buttons on the steering wheel actually do, so Badoer was always up against it.
Although his appointment was justified after 12 years of loyal service to the team, there was no question of Ferrari replacing him with someone else for Monza.
Rubbing salt into Luca’s wounds is the news that Fisichella will replace him as senior Ferrari test driver next year as well.
Luca Badoer is not the only Ferrari driver with an uncertain future.
Kimi Raikkonen is supposedly leaving the Scuderia next year to make way for Fernando Alonso. Whilst rumours have been going around for years, the speculation has increased lately with other teams suggesting the deal is done, and Raikkonen himself talking for the first time about driving somewhere else.
When Raikkonen won the Belgian Grand Prix, his body language behind the podium towards Stefano Domenicali was not that of a man who is happy in the team. It was a little awkward and although Kimi has never been emotional, he was especially distant towards his exuberant team boss.
If Raikkonen does leave Ferrari there is no firm clue where he will end up. McLaren would be high on the list of candidates since many of the Woking staff still rate Kimi very highly. A robotic driver like Raikkonen actually fits into the McLaren mould very well, and placing his supreme raw speed against Lewis Hamilton’s all-round ability would create the strongest driving line up in F1.
There is also talk that Martin Whitmarsh would like to prove a point that he can get the most out of Raikkonen at McLaren.
Brawn is another possibility for Kimi, although less likely. The current championship leaders have secured their funding for the next three years but would still struggle to pay the millions written into any Raikkonen contract.
Raikkonen is possibly the fastest driver in Formula One, but is a long way from being consistent. Putting him with a regular strong performer like Jenson or Lewis would likely get the best out of both drivers.
However, Formula One might not be the final answer for Kimi, who has openly expressed an interest in joining the World Rally Championship. Next year FIAT is launching a factory WRC team, so Ferrari’s parent company might be able to transfer Kimi’s contract so that it applies elsewhere within the business.
If Kimi does leave as expected, it will be to make way for the Alonso Massa Ferrari team of the future.
Fernando Alonso is arguably the best overall driver in F1 and will be remembered in years to come as the man who toppled Michael Schumacher. He is a real superstar of the sport, and although his mental attitude can rightly be questioned, he is a great driving asset for any team. Ferrari would love to have another superstar to lead them in the same way that Schumacher did, and although Raikkonen is incredibly talented, his long term commitment is not what Ferrari desires.
Alonso’s heart has been set on a Ferrari contract for a long time, so it could be the perfect marriage that Fernando missed at McLaren.
Partnering Alonso with Massa is great for the Scuderia. Felipe is one of the best drivers in F1 and proved in 2008 that he can fight for the title when the opportunity presents itself. Although he may find himself playing number two to Alonso, he will push the Spaniard very hard and will capitalise on any weaknesses or mistakes. Massa knows all the right buttons to push at Ferrari and will probably be stronger against Fernando than Lewis was at McLaren, especially whilst Alonso settles in.
The two drivers fit in nicely together at Ferrari – the multiple world champion superstar alongside the team’s own home grown talent. They seem to get on well so could develop into one of the sport’s strongest pairings.
The Scuderia might need a superteam if McLaren start 2010 with Hamilton and Raikkonen.
However, even that might not be enough for Ferrari.
Luca Di Montezemolo has openly said that he would like to introduce a third car next year so he can run Michael Schumacher at selected races. Whilst the Ferrari boss is deadly serious, he seems to be trying whatever he can to cash in on the recent Schumania that gripped F1 fans.
There is very little chance of Ferrari’s three car fantasy becoming a reality.
A change in the regulations to accommodate larger teams would require unanimous support from all of Di Montezemolo’s peers, and that is never going to happen. Frank Williams has already said that he will veto the suggestion when it is formally raised and most of the other teams are likely to react the same way. It’s an extra expense in an age of cost cutting, and there is no guarantee that it would actually be good for the sport.
Apparently there is a stipulation in the Concorde Agreement that says teams must be prepared to run a third car if the total number of entrants in the field drops below 18. In that instance, the third car is not eligible for points, but can still take points off other cars by finishing in front of them. Also, should a team come first, second and third, the driver who finished fourth will actually get to go up onto the podium.
It could be a mess the sport really doesn’t need.
Schumacher’s proposed comeback this year was perfect for a number of reasons. He was standing in his good friend during his old teams’ time of need, he was squaring up against the driver who replaced him, and could drive at full intensity as he was not returning full time.
Having Schumacher complete a few gimmicky appearances in a third car that can’t score points is rather pale in comparison, and is even a little ridiculous. There’s every reason to suggest that Schumacher would not go along with it anyway.
Still, anything is possible, and Ferrari has the chance of running Raikkonen, Massa, Badoer, Fisichella, Alonso and Schumacher in their cars all within six months.
Ferrari sure knows how to inject some excitement into Formula One.