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