Nelson Piquet Jnr is only in the fifth Grand Prix weekend of his career but his performance must be starting to ring alarm bells at Renault. His 20th on the grid at Melbourne and subsequent crash was not taken as cause for alarm within the team.
But add his spin and crash at the Circuit de Catalunya, and today’s woeful qualifying performance of 17th, and the cause for concern is more palpable. As John Beamer exclaimed during today’s live blog:
Briatore needs to get rid of Piquet — he is dragging his dad’s good name through the mud
Are these mere rookie errors, or alarming signs that Piquet is out of his depth?
Renault were in much the same situation last year with Heikki Kovalainen. His ragged performance in the first race moved team boss Flavio Briatore to question out loud whether the person in the car had in fact been Kovalainen, or his brother.
The threat concealed within the joke wasn’t lost on Kovalainen, and he quickly turned his form around. He was in the points at the next race and by the sixth round – when he raced from 22nd on the grid to fourth at the flag in a hectic race – his potential was beginning to shine through.
In the R28 this year Piquet has no more competitive a proposition than Kovalainen had – and a much tougher team mate to be compared to. But even taking that into account he has still failed to get the car beyond the first part of qualifying twice in five races, and crashed out of two from four.
Piquet supporters might point to the lack of criticism from Renault as a sign they are happy with Piquet’s progress. But the Brazilian driver has a wealthy backer and when I say ‘wealthy’ that’s exactly what I mean. Mexican Carlos Slim Helu ranks third in Forbes’ list of the world’s richest billionaires. His net worth of $49 million puts him one zero ahead of Bernie Ecclestone.
Renault, then, are not likely to drop Piquet before giving him ample chance to prove himself. If it seems a slightly preposterous state of affairs that the man he replace dis on the front row of the grid for tomorrow’s race, and many suspect he is no longer at Renault because he was considered too good to be Alonso’s team mate, then that’s just the slightly odd world of Formula 1 for you…