Nelson Piquet Jnr was born in 1985, two years before his father’s third and final srivers’ championship success. By 1993 the eight-year-old Piquet Jnr had started racing karts.
After eight years of karting in Brazil he stepped up to racing cars in 2001. He started at the fifth round of the 2001 South American Formula 3 championship, and despite only doing seven of the 11 rounds he placed fifth in the championship with one win and 77 points. He returned in 2002 and clinched the title in style, with 13 wins from 18 races and 296 points to second-placed Danilo Dirani’s 189.
The time had come for him to pursue his career in Europe and, like his father, he moved to the British Formula Three championship. In the Piquet Sports team backed by his father he finished his first year in the championship third with six wins, behind Alan van der Merwe and Jamie Green. Nonetheless he impressed the Williams team, who gave him his first F1 test.
He returned the following year hot favourite to claim the title and duly delivered it with another six wins, making him the series’ youngest ever champion. But success in the major F3 races against European competition eluded him. He was tenth and Macau and eighth in the F3 Masters, having been second in the latter in 2003. Piquet Jnr had another F1 test – this time for Honda – before the start of the 2005 season.
He was clearly ready for the next step and entered the inaugural GP2 championship still with Piquet Sports (which had now merged with Hitech) in 2005. He ended the year eighth with a single win at Spa-Francorchamps. Ater the GP2 season he became the first ever winner in A1 Grand Prix, claiming back-to-back wins for the Brazilian team at Brands Hatch. But after that impressive start the team slipped down the order. Piquet never won another race, and left the squad after the South African round.
GP2 was the focus of his efforts in 2006 and he got his title bid off to a strong start with victory in the Valencia round. But rookie driver Lewis Hamilton driving for 2005 champions ART chased him down and took the lead in the title race at Monte-Carlo. The pair went wheel-to-wheel at Silverstone, Piquet Jnr flying off the track as Hamilton swept past him and Clivio Piccione in an impressive move.
But Piquet Jnr fought back in style with back-to-back wins at the Hungaroring. Hamilton out-ran him to the title by 12 points, but Piquet’s four wins marked him out as one of the year’s top drivers.
Renault appointed him as their F1 test driver for 2007. He reportedly turned down the chance to drive for Spyker halfway through 2007 when the Dutch team replaced Christijan Albers.
As it turned out a better offer was around the corner – Renault chose to replace Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen for 2007, and installed Piquet alongside returning twice-champion Fernando Alonso for 2008.
Piquet’s F1 debut was a mixed affair at best. There were a lot of errors – he had more race-ending non-mechanical failures than anyone else. But when the opportunity presented itself Piquet proved he could be cool-headed and quick – he took second at Hockenheim largely thanks to the timing of the safety car’s arrival, but he didn’t throw the car off the track on a day when his illustrious team mate did.
Despite the mistakes and the occasional lack of qualifying pace Renault kept him on board for 2009, provoking debates about whether Piquet was being kept because they saw potential in him, or because he was too slow to unsettle Alonso.
Whatever their reasoning was, halfway through 2009 Renault chose to drop Piquet, setting in motion a chain of events which would bring the team before the sport’s governing body accused of a grave act of cheating.
Piquet told the FIA he had colluded with Pay Symonds and Flavio Briatore to crash his car on lap 14 of the Singapore Grand Prix. That brought out the safety car which played into Alonso’s hands perfectly: he had started the race with a light fuel load and pitted shortly before Piquet’s planned crash. The ensuing safety car period gave Alonso the lead and won him the race.
A storm blew up over the allegations and when Renault discovered they were true Briatore and Symonds were shown the door. The FIA banned Briatore from motorsport for life, and Symonds for five years.
Piquet was granted immunity from punishment by the FIA for blowing the whistle on the conspiracy, but he has not returned to Formula 1.