Renault Test Driver (2007)
Nelson Piquet made his break-through into Formula 1 when he became the official test driver for the ING Renault team in 2007.
With both Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen leaving the Renault team at the end of 2007, the chance of a race seat became available to Nelson and he quickly took it, partnering returning double World Champion Fernando Alonso. To say that Piquet Junior had a shaky start to the 2008 season would be an understatement.
A lack of performance from the R28, coupled with being greatly out paced by Alonso and some outright terrible drives saw Piquet retire 6 times out of the first 9 races. Incident prone and seen as some one who constantly damaged his car on route to mediocre finishes became a stigma attached to young Piquet that he found hard to shake. Rumours midway through the season believed that Piquet would be sacked and replaced at Renault, if he could not improve.
This warning seemed to work as Piquet scored his first world championship points at the French Grand Prix, overtaking his much more illustrious team mate Alonso in the process. Further success came at the German Grand Prix, where a one stop strategy coupled together with a safety car incident after Timo Glock crashed heavily, allowed Piquet to score his maiden podium finish for second place. A fine 4th place finish at the Japanese Grand Prix is the only other highlight of what can only be described as a poor opening season.
Rumors suggested that a direct swap with Toro Rosso could see Piquet move to drive for the Red Bull B-Team, while Sebastien Bourdais would take the Brazilian’s seat at Renault. However that did not come to pass and the Brazilian was re-confirmed to drive for Renault in 2009.
Almost immediately the pressure was on young Piquet to perform in 2009, his relationship with the management had clearly gone sour and the Brazilian clearly felt uncomfortable at Renault. He was being out performed by his more illustrious team mate Alonso, but an uncompetitive Renault did not help matters. His best result came at the Bahrain GP with a 10th place.
After the Hungarian GP and with no points scored Piquet was unceremoniously dropped by Renault. But was this the last of him? No.
Crashgate Saga – Piquet Vs Briatore
After he was dropped Piquet soon brought up allegations that his crash at the 2008 Singapore GP was a deliberate act that he had been ordered to do so by the team’s management in order to benefit Alonso in his race result. Piquet gave evidence on this to the FIA Council in return for immunity from prosecution.
As a result of these allegations Renault and Flavio Briatore announced their intensions to file a criminal case against the Piquet’s for making false allegations and for blackmail. However the team soon dropped their case and it resulted in the dismissal of team boss Flavio Briatore & Chief Engineer Pat Symonds from Renault. At the hearing the allegations of race fixing were confirmed and it left Renault’s and more particularly Piquet’s reputation in ruins.
It remains to be seen if Piquet will ever be able to secure another drive in F1.
Nelson tweets at http://twitter.com/nelsonpiquet.