Lucas di Grassi poised to take Renault seat off Nelson Piquet Jnr for 2009

Posted on Author Keith Collantine

Lucas di Grassi finished third in GP2 despite missing six races
Lucas di Grassi finished third in GP2 despite missing six races

New rumours on the 2009 F1 driver market suggest Nelson Piquet Jnr will be dropped by Renault at the end of the year.

But Brazilian F1 fans need not despair as Piquet’s countryman Lucas di Grassi is being lined up to replace him.

Renault is offering Piquet to Toro Rosso according to Autosport – might this also indicate a potential switch in engines between Red Bull and its customer team?

Piquet can hardly have been expected to give two-times world champion Fernando Alonso a run for his money this year, but all the same his performance for Renault has been poor. He has been knocked out in Q1 six times out of 14, and his average starting position is 13.93 compared to Alonso’s 7.47. Alonso has scored 38 points to Piquet’s 13.

According to Force India’s Ian Phillips on the Inside Line Podcast, Piquet’s performance at Singapore has doomed him to lose his seat at Renault for 2009. He was out in Q1 again and crashed during the race – his sixth non-mechanical DNF this year.

Di Grassi impresses in GP2

Lucas di Grassi was GP2 runner-up in 2007, but there were question marks over the quality of his performance. He won only one race for ART, the same team that had won the title with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton in previous seasons, and there were occasions when he seemed to lack to will to fight for positions on the track.

Consigned to a testing role for 2008, he returned to GP2 at the seventh race after fellow Renault Development Driver Ben Hanley lost his drive for the Campos team.

Di Grassi acquainted himself quickly with the new GP2 chassis, won three races and lifted himself to third in the championship. Crucially, he overhauled another RDD man, Romain Grosjean, who started the season as title favourite having won the GP2 Asia series for ART.

Di Grassi also impressed Renault when he tested for them at Jerez earlier this year.

Renault appears to be leaning towards pairing di Grassi with Fernando Alonso – though the Singapore Grand Prix winner is believed to be entertaining offers from BMW and Honda.

Read more about Lucas di Grassi

Piquet – and Renault – to Toro Rosso?

Piquet was also on the RDD scheme and apparently the team is looking at moving him to Toro Rosso for 2009 – but the Italian team expects payment for taking Piquet on. It has been evaluating Sebastien Buemi and Takuma Sato for next year.

But could Red Bull have a role to play here? It owns Toro Rosso and would surely like to have the Ferrari engines currently used by Toro Rosso in its other cars.

Could a three-way deal see Piquet in a Toro Rosso-Renault in 2009, while Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel get to driver Red Bull-Ferraris?

If Renault did drop Piquet it would complete an unfortunate symmetry with Heikki Kovalainen: he was also a GP2 runner-up, who became a Renault test driver the following year, joined the race team the
season after that and was dropped at the end of it.

Thanks to Fergus Gallas for the tip

F1 2009 season
F1 2009 drivers and teams

27 comments on “Lucas di Grassi poised to take Renault seat off Nelson Piquet Jnr for 2009”

  1. I really hope di Grassi makes it to F1 next year, for me he was the most promising driver in GP2 by far. Had he been driving from the start of the season I’m absolutely convinced he would have been a serious title contender. More serious than Senna.

    He looks like F1-material, deserves the chance.

  2. I hope Piquet does get a drive next season and Toro Rosso would be a good team to go to after a fairly poor season at Renault.

    He’s one of the nice guys in F1 and in a smaller team he would be able to get a bit more attention, understandably Renault put most of their efforts into Alonso, I hope this would give him a good chance to refocus and get his career back on track.

    We all know how good the former Minardi guys are at getting the best out of a young driver too.

  3. Surely RBR/STR will only take Piquet if it is required in order to rejig the engine deal.

  4. I don’t know Rob, Nelson is a decent driver who’s got loads of potential for the future.

    Obviously if Renault are going to give them the option of changing the contract and maybe a little discount too then it is in Red Bulls interest to take him, although it does kind of go against the whole driver development idea.

  5. Piquet to STR Doesn’t look like happening!!

    A Reliable source already told about recent offer by Briatore give Romain Grosjean to the Faenza based squad , but Franz Tost turned it down –

    One seat is surely confirmed at STR for Buemi and Bourdais talks are in final stage.

  6. I’d prefer Bourdais to get another year in the STR than PK.

  7. You’re welcome Keith.

  8. I got addicted to F1Fanatic.

  9. I also think that Bourdais is a better choice than Piquet. Do u remember a year ago. After Melbourne – Flovio called Heikki drive as rubbish. What do u think he thinks about Piquet’s season? I don’t think he is impressed. I don’t know what’s wrong with Piquet. Either he isn’t good enough to be in F1, either he can’t cope with pressure. I don’t know what’s a source of his poor season, but it actually doesn’t matter, what matter most is a performance, and points scored. And basing on this info IMO he is a joke.

  10. di Grassi to Renault makes total sense, implies that Alonso will stay and that the budget increase Renault have received will go on improving the car rather than bridging funding deficiences.

    As for Scuderia Toro Rosso, they’re spoiled for choice. I think it will be Buemi-Bourdais, Buemi-Sato or possibly Buemi-Sato, but that it will be more dependent on Bourdais’ performances than anything the other two do. I also think that Senna will be the tester, with a view to getting a race seat mid-season if either of the race drivers fails. I can’t see room for Piquet Jr, since Berger is quite capable of resisting a Ferrari-Renault engine swap.

  11. Whatever happens,they just have to get a Ferrari engine behind the up and coming Vettel.

  12. That would be brilliant Wesley.

    A Ferrari powered Red Bull with Vettel at the wheel would be great to see.

    I agree with a few others about Bourdais, he’s not had the best of seasons but he has at times shown some good speed. It’d be good to see what he could do in a second season, it’d be sad if it’s a choice between him and Piquet though, I’d like to see both of them on the grid next season.

  13. Looking at the whole picture, I can’t see STR taking on Piquet for as long as Red Bull still has a share of ownership in the team. Red Bull has more than their share of young drivers- Chandhok, Hartley, Wickens and others- who they would want in the team ahead of someone from Renault’s program. The only way I could see it happening would be the engine deal- if Horner can get Ferrari power in his cars, RBR will jump at the chance, but again this apparently depends on Red Bull sticking with STR.

    In terms of pure talent, I haven’t seen enough of di Grassi to make an accurate statement on his skills, but I do believe any notion to replace Bourdais with Piquet is a crazy idea at best. Sure Bourdais hasen’t exactly shined this season, but why would STR want to get rid of a proven racer in Seb for a raw driver who would have been shipped out of F1 by now if his name weren’t Piquet.

  14. Keith,

    I think it is unfair to say Lucas di Grassi acquainted himself quickly with the new GP2 chassis. He spent the whole winter doing all of the development driving on it. So it is not unnatural that he should be able to put in stellar performances in a car that was built roundabout him. I am sure there were other drivers on the grid who could have shown as well if they had a custom designed chassis in a spec chassis formula.

    Personally I think Senna is a far better bet long term.

  15. I’ve thought di Grassi would get a Renault seat next year for a while. Good for him; he deserves it.

  16. Renault needs a french driver, it is way past time. Swap Piquet for Bourdais and allow the customer team to swap engines. Main issue fir renault and Toro Rosso and Ferrari would be the logistics of the engine swap due location gaps.

  17. I think the whole thing depends on Alonso here. If Fernando stays then Renault will need a South American driver so either di Grassi or Piquet get the seat UNLESS Renault decide to pay Fernando’s salary. With the win who knows what might happen.

    If Fernando leaves then three things could happen, either they take di Grassi and draft in Grosjean. Secondly they could do what motion is suggesting so they have an experienced driver in the lineup. Or thirdly if the Carlos Slim removes his funding if Alonso moves Renault may tell Flav to go for an all French lineup with Bourdais and Grosjean.

    The engine contract of RBR and STR is a secondary issue, primary issue is where is Fernando going.

  18. Rabi,

    I agree that Alonso’s decision dose have a great deal to do with the moves, but my only question is why dose Renault need a driver of South American nationality in a race seat? Sure there are many talented guys from Brazil, but there’s also many others from countries around the world who would be just as quick and do just as well.

  19. La Canta: Senna stated that he wants to be in a race seat for 2009. This means its either racing F1 or GP2. I don’t think he will be satisfied with a testing role. It would be ironic if he turns down a test seat to remain in a feeder series like his uncle did with Ron Dennis. Ron actually swore he would never have anything to do with Ayrton Senna after that slap in the face, but we all know how that turned out.

  20. Di Grasi was by far the best driver in this year’s GP2 season imo. To miss 6 races and finish just behind the runner-up is great feat and has shown such maturity after a dodgy first year.

    Di Grassi will be going to Renault, but I can’t see Piquet going to Toro Rosso, not even as a test driver. Buemi-Boudrais is likely to be the line-up for 2009, and Buemi-Sato is also a slight possiblity. And I don’t think the Renault engines will go over to Toro Rosso either, I see Berger being strong enough to resist such a swap.

  21. I doubt Berger is interested in getting a Piquet + Renault combo pack.

    He probably wants a Takuma Sato + Honda engines + lot os Japanese sponsors combo pack. Otherwise, Takuma Sato wouldn’t be testing for STR.

    Piquet might become a test driver again, Di Grassi partnering Alonso.
    Alonso, I think is almost confirmed at Renault, esp. after the win.

  22. thats gonna be bad….
    if renault doesnt improve their car… :(
    de grassi is a gud driver, deserves a better car…
    i wonder where wud alonso go :)

  23. @Gman. It’s a well known fact that the only reason why Alonso is at Renault is because of Carlos Slim’s sponsorship of Briatore’s team after Renault refused to pay Alonso’s high wages. Don’t forget he’s the highest paid driver on the grid ($61 million a year over his two-year contract at Renault source:

    But Carlos Slim placed a condition which was that the second driver must be of South American nationality. So basically Kovaleinen had to go based on this fact alone and it also meant that Grosjean could not be brought in who I’m sure would have been Renault’s preferred choice.

    However that was then and this is now, with Renault winning and ING getting good exposure on ITV (which was hilarious the way that happened) Flavio may find Renault more accepting in taking on Alonso’s salary next year.

    Otherwise why do you think Piquet hasn’t been shown the door yet?

  24. Sumedh –

    He probably wants a Takuma Sato + Honda engines + lot of Japanese sponsors combo pack.

    That didn’t work out so well for Super Aguri.

  25. schumi the greatest
    1st October 2008, 13:43

    I dont undersatnd why renault keep giving rookies drives every year, if they did it with di grassi next year it would be the 3rd season in a row that renault have gone into the season with at least 1 driver never raced in f1.

    Surley if the di grassi deal goes ahead its because alonso is staying. I t all depends on what he’s doing, the renault has been getting better over the season and despite the lucky victory he would have been very competitive anyway.

    Piquet to be honest hasnt been very good, hes had a few races but his pace in qualifying has been poor. He makes alot of mistakes but he hasnt exactly got the raw pace to compensate for that either, so other than for sponsorship reasons i dont see why they would keep him for next year, or why torro rosso would want him, bourdais has done a better job imo.

    Another intresting factor is that alonso has apparently signed a letter of intent to join ferrari in 2010, now i know raikkonen has been signed with massa until then but, with raikkonens awful performance this year, it might have been a ploy to get him to support massa’s tittle bid and whether he stays for 2010 could depoend upon next years performance.

    just a hunch but like last year everything depends on what alonso does, i cant see him going to honda because that would be hit miss, he could end up further down the field than this year! bmw im not so sure about because i dont think after last years episode with hamilton that alonso would want to go head to head with a driver who might be able to match him.

    be intresting to see what happens anyway

  26. Renault will be making a big mistake dropping Piquet for Di Grassi . Provided they keep Alonso , Piquet will be much better next year , but still no threat to Alonso , which is ideal in a way. They have the budget , the know-how and the double world champion , all they need is the car to be winning again , and I don’t think they are so far back anymore. They need to maximise development of the car this winter to adapt to the new rules , while Piquet has to maximise on his fitness , which I think is really his biggest problem. Di Grassi needs to prove himself further in one more year of GP2.

  27. Rabi, I did not previously know of that condition in the contracts- good bit of information on your part. I knew their was some major cash assosiated with Piquet but wasen’t sure how that worked out, so thanks for the details.

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