F2 Graduates: Nelson Piquet Jr
Brazil has had a rich history of racing families from the generations of Fittipaldi’s who’ve graced the racetracks of Europe to in recent years the Sperifico’s who once upon a time had three brothers Ricardo, Alex, Rodrigo on the grid.
The Piquet’s are part of that rich racing history with three World Championship titles won by the charismatic and outspoken Nelson between 1981,1983 and 1987.
Despite being the son of one of the most successful Formula 1 drivers Nelson Piquet Jr never felt any pressure to follow in his father’s illustrious footsteps and was keen to make his own legacy in motorsport although he would have a small presence in his early development.
“My father never pressured me to race, and he has always let me take my own path in my career. I have got where I am not because of my name, but I am very proud to carry my father’s name. He achieved a lot in this sport, so he will always be respected and remembered for being a three-time F1 World Champion and a role model for many people.”
“He was hands-off. When I was young in karting he spent time with me but he very deliberately let me take my own path when I moved up into single-seaters and beyond. He is always there if I need but didn’t and doesn’t get involved in the day-to-day of my career.”
Eighteen years after his father’s final World Championship Piquet was in the vicinity of making it to Formula 1 as he arrived in GP2 in 2005 fresh off winning the British Formula 3 championship a year before.
In the inaugural season of GP2, Piquet Jr finished eighth in the driver’s standings taking his maiden win in the feature race at Spa however Piquet would also suffer five retirements as the first generation of GP2 car struggled with reliability in the opening rounds.
“It was new for everyone so we were all learning and going through the teething problems together. It was a great series to be involved in.”
“The first part of the season was quite frustrating for a number of reasons. We knew we had the ability to get good results so after we ironed out a few issues mid-season we just got our heads down and worked hard and then we got that turning point at Spa.”
The winter of 2005 and 2006 saw Piquet step into Brazil’s A1 Grand Prix to maintain his sharpness for the following year.
The Brazilian would have a stunning start to the season where he would do the double on the series’s first weekend at Brands Hatch before picking up three more podiums as the season went on.
“The decision to do A1GP wasn’t actually preparation for GP2. We had planned anyway to do GP2 then A1GP came up and I liked the idea of racing for my country in a new series and racing over winter to keep sharp. I stopped doing A1GP to ensure that I could focus all my attention and efforts on GP2.”
Piquet entered the 2006 season as one of the hot favourites alongside Champ Car returnee Timo Glock and the defending Formula 3 Euro Series and Masters of Formula 3 winner Lewis Hamilton.
The Brazilian got a dream start to the season with victory in the opening race in Valencia before scoring in every race up until the Nurburgring.
“It was fantastic. We’d had a strong end to the 2005 season and I was confident we could fight for the championship in 2006, so that start was exactly what we were looking for.”
The pair went wheel to wheel for the championship with both trading race wins and podiums throughout the season.
One of the more legendary battles was during the Silverstone sprint race when the pair fought tooth and nail for an on-track position with Clivio Piccione, unfortunately, Piquet he would come off second best as they arrived into Becketts forcing the Brazilian off the road into the advertising hoardings as Hamilton took a double on home soil.
“Frustrating but this is racing!, Lewis and I took it to the wire! We knew ART Grand Prix were fierce competitors, they had been since the very start of 2005 and we took the fight as hard as we could to them. We had some incredible moments that season and some great wins.”
After a fourth place in the feature race at Magny Cours as well as a second place in the sprint, Piquet took a hat trick of wins including a double at Hungary and the feature race in Turkey putting the championship back into play despite a heroic Hamilton comeback drive after an early spin in the sprint race to finish second.
“It was there for us to fight for, for sure. We had confidence in our package and we knew we had the pace and capability. We just took it one race at a time and those results in Hungary and Turkey were amazing high points in my GP2 career.”
That meant that the title would be decided at Monza with the gap to Hamilton at ten points, Piquet knew he still had a chance of taking the crown.
“We went into the last race behind but with a chance and, as long as you’re a racing driver, you’ll try until that chance doesn’t exist. We absolutely went into the final with the aim of getting it done.”
Piquet got off to a perfect start to the weekend with pole position cutting the gap down to eight points going into the Feature race but he couldn’t convert it into a win as Giorgio Pantano took a home win and fastest lap ahead of Piquet and Hamilton to take the championship to the final race of the season.
However, Pantano’s fastest lap later to have found to be done under yellow flags handing Hamilton the point and the title coming into the sprint race.
Despite missing out Piquet Jr looks back with pride on that season which saw him take the fight to Hamilton.
“Of course, I wanted to win it and we were very close. There were a lot of positives, we had that absolutely dominant weekend in Hungary where we took pole, both race wins and fastest laps and that was never repeated. And there were the other race wins and podiums that consistently showed what we could do.”
Whilst Hamilton moved onto McLaren for a fulltime race seat in 2007 Piquet wanted to do another season of GP2 however this move was vetoed by Renault who Piquet was a test driver for meaning he spent much of the season on the sidelines.
Piquet was then promoted to the race team full time in 2008 however the Crashgate scandal and his dismissal from the team midway through 2009 cast a shadow over his Formula 1 career.
After leaving Formula 1, Piquet found a home in Nascar, Rallycross and Formula E where he would become the series’s inaugural champion beating countryman Lucas Di Grassi.
Today Piquet races in the Stock Car Brasil championship in his homeland and looks back fondly on his time in GP2.
“It was a fantastic series and I have some great memories of wins and podiums as well as generally racing in the series.”
“We were racing in good cars that were a step up in power from F3, the quality of the grid was very high so you were competing every weekend against really strong guys and we were racing on incredible tracks that Formula 1 raced on; it was a great training ground and I learned so much in those two years.”
A huge thank you to Nelson Jr for his time from us here at Inside F2.
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