Nelson Piquet Jnr: the driver debates

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Nelson Piquet Jnr struggled early in the season at Renault
Nelson Piquet Jnr struggled early in the season at Renault

We had a lot to discuss about Nelson Piquet Jnr last week when a lucky safety car call gave him the opportunity to transform what had been a dismal season in a single race.

So how has that second place changed our view of a driver who had been struggling in the first part of the season? Has it changed our view at all?

Nelson Piquet Jnr has perhaps the worst team mate a rookie driver could face in 2008: two times world champion Fernando Alonso is the most successful driver in F1 at present.

And yet despite that Alonso was given a very tough time by a rookie team mate last year ?ǣ so as well as being measured against one of the toughest benchmarks in the sport, there is also something of an expectation that Piquet should do fairly well against Alonso.

So far, he hasn?t. Piquet has often struggled, particularly in qualifying, and has failed to progress beyond Q3 on five occasions so far this year.

That has had an inevitable effect on his race performances where he?s found himself stuck in slower traffic and unable to progress.

In the early part of the season this often culminated in mistakes, such as at Catalunya, where he spun out early on. That now seems to be happening less often.

Lucky though he was at Hockenheim it certainly took a measure of skill to capitalise on the opportunity offered to him. He looked after his soft compound tyres for a long second stint and his lap times were consistently quick enough to stay ahead of Felipe Massa?s Ferrari. I was genuinely impressed by that, and had Alonso been in the same position I think praise would have been heaped on him more readily.

But it?s not enough to shake off the impression that Piquet is not quite F1 material ?ǣ certainly not yet any way. His father?s help at every stage of his junior career and the financial backing of Carlos Slim Helu behind him at Renault does nothing to dispel that appearance.

Has Piquet Jnr done enough this year to justify a second season in Formula 1? And if not, what does he need to do over the remaining races? Getting at least as far as Q2 in every round would be the minimum, I suggest.

Read more about Nelson Piquet Jnr: Nelson Piquet Jnr biography

Nelson Piquet Jnr in his Renault R28 during the Turkish Grand Prix at Istanbul
Nelson Piquet Jnr in his Renault R28 during the Turkish Grand Prix at Istanbul

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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28 comments on “Nelson Piquet Jnr: the driver debates”

  1. I’m still not convinced that he’s going to be good… …but I am starting to feel, from the general improvement in Nelson’s performances, that he will be a reasonable F1 driver. Whether “reasonable” is enough to deserve a place in F1 these days is open to conjecture. However, with Alonso’s salary being dependent on sponsors who have insisted on a Latin American in the other seat and Alonso likely to stay at Renault next year, Nelson only needs to be better than Lucas di Grassi (Bruno Senna is also Latin American, but he looks like getting into F1 through Toro Rosso rather than Renault).

  2. “So how has that second place changed our view of a driver who had been struggling in the first part of the season? Has it changed our view at all?”

    Short answer : No
    Long answer : No.

    He’s not good enough, and he got lucky once.

  3. Actually I think many are being too hard on him. Obviously he was the recipient of some luck with the saftey car, but he still had to drill it home, and he did that. If he was the terrible driver many would have us believe he is the pressure of being first, then second would have told, and he would not have made the result stick. Don’t forget he put in some really solid lap times during the final stint of the race.

    Obviously only time will tell but it seems entirely possible that Piquet will grow after that result. I expect to see the gap between him and his team mate lessen quite bit for the remainder of the season.

  4. Fergus Gallas
    1st August 2008, 18:07

    I hope this site still exists for the next 3 years. Then i’ll check back here to read what you think about Nelson. For the meantime keep the mania, you need it as it seems. But on GP2 even with better gears, Mr. Lewis needed a last minute luck to win the tittle as i recall. I’m sure tha any Brit thinks like this…anyway….”i don’t wanna spoil the party so i go…..” as a Liverpudlian once said.

  5. Fergus, he may end up staying in F1. But staying is one thing; winning titles completely another. And in a league with Raikkonen, Massa, Alonso, and Kubica, I don’t think he cuts the mustard. He’ll need a Schumacher-esque mentor to pull him up, and I don’t see anyone coming.

  6. Here in Brazil we thought that he would need a Fernando-esque as a mentor. It certainly is not working until now…

  7. Fergus Gallas
    1st August 2008, 19:10

    Journeyer, not winning a f1 tittle isn’t synonymous of not qualified for it. We do have a list of great drivers that never did. Start with G.Villeneuve….who can ever assure that Kubica, Massa or even Hamilton will be f1 champs? Who could have ever expected Hamilton to let 2007’s tittle vanish from his hands?
    To take the crown the driver needs:
    – luck – skill – the right team.
    Without this combination of factors there is no chance of winning.

  8. Not every rookie is going to be like Hamilton….

    How does he compare to Kovi last year? Piquet Jr got his podium sooner than Kovi did.

  9. The main expectation, for the brazlian press, was: once in the European season, Nelsinho would start delivering… It took longer than we expected, but in the last three races he did a decent job, scoring a seventh place, ahead of Alonso, in France, running consistently in England until he made his only major mistake, but wasn’t as lucky as the other who had off-course moments, and got stuck in the gravel, than in Hockenheim, after qualifying badly, he was extremely lucky and took the most of it…

    Hamilton may not have a famous surname, but he was “fed with a silver spoon”, as many of you like to say, since his childhood, and that doesn’t diminish him… I think Nelsinho got his F1 seat on merit, and is at least as good as Kovalainen was, or as Glock and Bourdais are at the moment…

    By the way, his second place in free practice 2 was a strong result… let’s hope it turns at least into a TOP 10 qualifying performance.

  10. Hamilton has helped to create unrealistic expectations around rookie drivers. The fact that Kovi is having a hard year this year adds to that as it makes it seem that a driver that starts poorly is not capable of being an all time great. I just don’t believe this though.

    I seem to recall hearing that the Renault is on a knife edge when it comes to setup and the development is surely going to favour Alonso as the team have delivered on the back of his work before.

    I say give him time and he will be a good, maybe even a great, driver.

  11. his second place doesn’t show his skill, it shows the flawed safety car regulation, and the fact that its impossible to police.

    although his blistering pace in practice today either shows;
    1. renewed confidence in himself
    2. an improved renault
    3. he’s another Massa, good at tracks he knows well, and will take several years to get to top flight level.

    he’s got one of the greatest drivers as a father figure so he should have a bottomless pit of tips and tricks that may be used today, which he should fully exploit, if he carries on racing.

    If I was him I’d ask Daddy to teach me Piquet Racing Psycology 101, lets face it, Piquet Snr destroyed his opponents that way.

  12. What exactly is Carlos Slim paying for here? Slim owns a telco in Brazil but not sure what else. I hear a lot about the backing he has from the richest man in the world but have not seen anything on the car that keeps renault interested.. Oh and Renault CEO is also a brazilian. Just a couple of months ago Piquet Jr was hanging out with Carlos Ghosn in a meeting with maybe thats it.Briatore may not have the last word on this one.

  13. michael counsell
    1st August 2008, 20:34

    He, like the season, is still young.

    Winning titles has not always been limited to an exclusive few. Fergus Gallas mentioned Gilles Villeneuve never winning a title, while in his era and just around it, 7 different drivers won drivers championships in 7 consecutive years (1976 – 1982).

  14. “…if I was him I’d ask Daddy to teach me Piquet Racing Psycology 101…”

    Considering how Piquet Father deal in past with a Brit driver in a Brit team, I think even “Fern” would learn one or two tricks with the old man.

    About Junior, is clear, watching GP2 in 2006, (his second year on category), that he has not “the gift” that we clearly can see on Lewis, who achieve the GP2 championship in his first season (Piquet drove for two seasons!). But he could be a fighter in some circumstances, for example, in a wet track in the same Hungary in 2006. Even Lewis wasn´t capable to catch him that day, although Alex Premát don´t help Lewis staying in front of him too many laps.

    I hope he improves because a have some liking for the guy because he drives in the worst environment to a rookie in Formula 1 today, but a feel that he is not a potential F1 champion. He is just another driver as a bunch of ones we see at each three or four seasons, been extra to the real champions…

  15. I think its just one race, lets see what happens in the next two races. If he can at least finish in the points that would be great.

  16. We started out very hostile to the sense of entitlement that seemed to be attached to him – the idea that a promising driver like Kovalainen should be slung out on a whim to get this pushy kid and his pushier father onto the grid.

    But we’ve started to feel a bit sorry for him as the season’s gone on and everyone lined up to jump up and down on his head. Still not sure he’s got what it takes, but I’d like to see him get enough time to settle the question.

    Did think this anecdote told by Ana Beatriz in her IndyCar interview a couple of weeks ago was very telling though: “I used to drive with Nelson Piquet, Jr., in go‑karting when we were eight years old. And one day Nelson Piquet couldn’t pass me, and then the session was over, and Nelson Piquet’s father was fighting with him because he couldn’t pass me. What’s that, you know? What’s the problem?”

  17. michael counsell
    2nd August 2008, 3:02

    Should have read that interview, I rememember scrolling past it to get to the Justin Wilson interview.

  18. I’m waiting for Robert Kubica driver debates :)

  19. If your going to throw the “Hamilton was born with a silver spoon in his mouth” argument then the same applies to Piquet’s junior career.

    A F3 team totally built around him, plus heaps of additional testing.Two seasons of GP2 in a team built for him, & wait for it, side stepping the testing rules by using a WSbR Dallara chassis, set up as close to GP2, at the tracks he was to race at.

    All this & no title in his second season of GP2. IMHO, Premat, team mate to Rosberg/Hamilton at ART, was the better prospect.

    His results vs his preparation, indicate that he is the product of a considerable budget & a mid-fielder at best.

  20. Personally I’m in no doubt that Grosjean would have been in his seat had Renault picked up Alonso’s salary. Piquet is only there because of Slim’s money.

    If Alonso leaves Renault then Nelson will only be there for as long as the money from Carlos Slim is there.

  21. I agree with the idea that Piquet Jnr got lucky at Hockenheim, and that he performed extremely well when under pressure, but I still believe he has to deliver atleast two or three simular results in order to save his race seat.
    With so many other ‘young guns’ waiting in the wings for the chance to race in F1, any driver, no matter how experienced, can expect to keep their seat with a season like Piquet Jnr is having.
    I really, really hope that I am wrong, but time is not on his side at the moment.
    Yes, his team mate is a double world champion. Yes, the 2008 Renault is a ‘dog’ of a car. But, you can just sense when something is missing, and with Piquet Jnr, it is missing.

  22. any predictions for next year? Will he be in or out?…just wondering….

  23. Actually Alonso hasn’t exactly shown him up in recent races… he’s had as many, if not more problems than Junior….

    Whilst before France I had him for the push I am now not so sure…

    He’s doing a bit of a Heikki… a lot later and not as clear, but still looking likely to stay on, especially given that there is no clear alternative coming out of GP2…. and anyway Flav likes his drivers to test for a season doesn’t he….

  24. Fergus Gallas
    3rd August 2008, 11:49

    Grosjean showed us his quality as a driver yesterday at GP2. From pole to 6th and then back down the line with wides and spins that has defamed Massa’s career on this very blog.
    The only driver deserving F1 seat in GP2 is Lucas di Grassi. He is 6 races short and 3rd on the charts. Just passing by “the so great Grosjean” waving goodbye.

    As for Piquet Jnr., poor boy has just 10 points while Mr.Wonderful 2xWDC the great driver that defeated Shumi, has the incredible and almost countless sum of …13 points.

  25. Trying to rate a driver on the basis of one race – whether it’s Grosjean, Piquet Jnr or whoever – is a total waste of time.

  26. But it’s not one race, as the comeback for Nelson started in France didn’t it?….

  27. Fergus Gallas
    3rd August 2008, 12:56

    “Trying to rate a driver on the basis of one race – whether it’s Grosjean, Piquet Jnr or whoever – is a total waste of time.”.
    Agreed in full.
    In my point of view a couple of years is needed to analise someone’s skills. I’ve stated this very often here. But that doesn’t seem to be the arguments in the comments on this site.
    Some might say that F1 is changed and there is no time for a driver to get mature.
    The matter is:
    The express Midia of today shouts – the fans eat it – the sponsors are extremely sensible to midia/fans – the teams discard potencial champs by the dozens affraid of losing money.
    Calm down everyone.
    Junior categories are as elementary school for the rest of us, F1 first years are the university. And as in normal life, graduation comes with the time. Sometimes honored with first class award, thats the F1 tittle.
    The professional first year in anyone’s life is tough. You make mistakes, some huge. Does it means you’re not good enough for the career you applied for?

  28. I think he has proved himself, I quite like the guy and over the past 4 races (excluding silverstone) he has scored points. His effort out in hungary showed that the podium has boosted his confidence and he can be consistent. It is not really fair to compare Nelson to Fernando as he is a double world champion with excellent abilities but Nelson has proved himself for me and I think he deserves his drive for next year.

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