Now that Ferrari has confirmed Felipe Massa will not return to the circuit before 2010, Ferrari has to decide whether they will continue with Luca Badoer as Massa's substitute for five more races, or to replace him. Massa has to undergo plastic surgery this week and will not be able to prepare himself for the Brazilian Grand Prix in time, as he was hoping for. There are a lot of rumors about what Ferrari will decide in the next few days, so let's see what all the possibilities are.
I think it is safe to say that the results Luca Badoer produced during the European and Belgium Grand Prix are not worthy of a team like Ferrari. In Valencia Badoer qualified as twentieth and last, two seconds slower than rookie Jaime Alguersauri in his Toro Rosso, a car also equipped with a Ferrari engine. Other rookie driver Romain Grosjean took fourteenth place, one place behind team mate Fernando Alonso. Again, during the race, Badoer ended up as the slowest driver of the field and took seventeenth and last place.
Badoer also got two fines for speeding in the pit lane and an official reprimand from the stewards of the race. During the race he spinned several times, and during a pit stop on lap 28 he allowed Renault rookie Grosjean to overtake him in the pit lane. He might as well have waved Grosjean past. Badoer was also fined for crossing the white line at the pit exit. And to top off his troublesome weekend, after the race he crashed -- in the parc ferm? of all places -- into the back of Adrain Sutil's parked Force India, damaging the diffuser.
After the European Grand Prix many criticized Ferrari for giving Badoer another chance in Belgium, and as it turned out, their criticism proved to be right. It was the same story during qualifying and the race, but Badoer stated that this was "his dream" and the team was "happy" with his "progress" and blamed the press for all of his misfortunes. Stefano Domenicali refused to comment on Badoer's poor performance, he only said Ferrari would evaluate Badoer's position, leaving plenty of room for speculations.
One thing is sure, Ferrari has to replace Badoer, it would just be plain stupid if they would give him another chance. The dream is over for Badoer, insiders and outsiders agree about that. Ferrari has a few options to find a replacement for Badoer. They could go for a driver who has experience with the 2009 cars, sign a driver with enough experience to quickly get use to the 2009 car, or take a huge risk by signing a rookie without any experience at all.
Drivers who have experience with the 2009 cars are in short supply. Currently there are only two drivers without a contract and are free to race for another team this year: Sebastien Bourdais and Nelson Piquet. Bourdais also has experience with the Ferrari engine, but today news emerged that he has signed a contract to race the FC Sevilla car in the Superleague Formula series. If his contract allows him to race in another series, he could be an excellent replacement for Badoer. Nelson Piquet would be the next best option, but Ferrari will be very reluctant to sign a driver who has now gotten into a war with Renault, a war already labelled as the "crash-gate". Ferrari needs a driver they can trust, the last thing they want is a driver who hangs out the dirty laundry if things for whatever reason go pear shaped.
Then we have a few drivers currently active in Formula One, but with a contract until the end of the season. Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica have nothing to lose as their BMW-Sauber team will withdraw from Formula One at the end of the season. But it remains to be seen if either of them wants to drive for the Reds for the remaining five races of the season, Kubica's name has been mentioned often, but perhaps he will take his chances and wait to see if the BMW team can be resurrected before the 2010 season.
Remember, Ferrari cannot offer Kubica or Heidfeld, or any other driver for that matter, a race seat for 2010, so five races and a possible test driver role is the maximum Ferrari has to offer. Ferrari is looking for a replacement for Badoer, someone capable of scoring points, and are not interested in signing a driver for 2010. Ferrari needs to secure their third position in the Constructors Championship, so they want someone who can deliver the goodies.
Giancarlo Fisichella and Fernando Alonso are also two favourites. The rumours about Alonso are that he already has a contract with Ferrari for 2010, but both Alonso and Renault boss Flavio Briatore recently denied that this is the case. Fisichella has sofar failed to secure his seat at Force India for 2010, he "mentioned" he would love to race for Ferrari for the last five races of the season, and it would indeed be a great way to end his career in Formula One. And with his second place in a Force India behind Ferrari in Belgium, he now has the right credentials for the job.
Force India boss Vijay Mallya has one good reason to agree with Fisichella moving to Ferrari, but also has one very good reason not to agree. Mallya still owes Ferrari money for the Ferrari engines Force India used in 2008, and moving Fisichella to Ferrari could be a way to settle the differences. But with the spectacular progress the team has made during the last two races still in the back of his mind, he also has a good reason not to agree with Fisichella's departure. It seems Fisichella now has a winning car, he only lost the race in Belgium to Ferrari because Kimi Raikkonen could use the KERS system to overtake him, and Fisichella is in fact Mallya's only hope to win a race this season.
Then we have the experienced Formula One drivers, experienced enough to get used to the 2009 Formula One cars and willing and able to score points: Marc Gene (already a test driver for Ferrari), Vitantonio Liuzzi (Force India test driver), Alexander Wurz and Jacques Villeneuve. Gene is another long shot for Ferrari, due to the in-season test ban he hasn't driven the 2009 Ferrari and hasn't raced single-seaters for a number of years. Liuzzi and Wurz have somewhat more experience, but none with the 2009 cars. Villeneuve should be capable of doing the job, and another Villeneuve driving for Ferrari will almost certainly guarantee an enormous media hype. Villeneuve is looking for a race seat for 2010 and could indeed increase his chances by scoring some points in a Ferrari. And to be honest, the names Villeneuve and Ferrari sound like magic don't they?
The last option for Ferrari is to sign a new inexperienced driver, Nico Hulkenberg is already waiting in the Formula One wings, but has a contract with Williams. Frank Williams is a good man, and I don't think he would mind if Hulkenberg got the chance of getting some experience at the Ferrari team. There are also a few drivers in GP2 who wouldn't mind driving for Ferrari, but I think their chances are very slim.
As said before, Ferrari needs to score points to secure their third position in the Constructors Championship, signing a young rookie will probably not be their first choice. Luca di Montezemolo will (hopefully) not make the same mistake again by signing an inexperienced driver.
But you never know, this is Formula One, it could well be that I'm completely wrong, and an inexperienced young driver like Nico Hulkenberg will shine like a star and end on the podium, while an experienced Fisichella would be totally lost and qualify last in his "dream" Ferrari. One thing is sure, I'm glad I'm not the one who has to make that decision...