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Memories of Nelson Piquet



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Nelson Piquet


Brabham-Alfa Romeo BT46




1978 Canadian GP


Nelson's fine Brabham debut at the season-closing race at Montreal: the young Brazilian qualified 14th at his first attempt, on a track he had never seen before. But then again, no one had, as this was Montreal's first time on the F1 calendar... Still, Piquet was a mere six tenths off the pace team mate and reigning champion Niki Lauda had set. In the race Nelson would ultimately finish 11th, one lap down. To add another factoid: with surprise pole sitter Jean-Pierre Jarier he shared the honour of having been dealt unusually high starting numbers. Although Jarier acted as Peterson's replacement Jean-Pierre didn't drive the No.6 Ronnie tragically vacated at Monza, instead being given No.55 for the two North American races, while Piquet's third-car entry got No.66.

Nelson Piquet Souto Maior was born on August 17, 1952 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Nelson, son of Clotilde Piquet and the late Estácio Souto Maior, Health Minister during the João Goulart regime, lived much of his life in Brasília following the city's founding in 1960.

Nelson was hesitant about his future when he was young. He thought of engineering, tennis and motorsport. However, from the age of 14 he was participating in kart races and desired to be a part of racing in the future. It was following a tennis victory over his father that he decided to compete in kart. The younger Piquet is shown here with his friend Roberto Moreno.

In the beginning, Nelson worked for Camber, an Alex Dias Ribeiro (the former Grand Prix driver) enterprise. During that time Piquet rebuilt a prototype for Ribeiro to compete in Division 3, Class A. This was a Volkswagen in which Nelson won 7 out of 8 races in the Brazilian prototype championship.

Piquet was crowned Brazilian kart champion in 1971 and 1972. His racing debut was kept secret from his family. Because of that, he put the name Piket instead of Piquet on his car, so as to not be recognized by the family.

In 1976 Piquet was crowned Brazilian Champion of Formula Super Vee. The year following, he tried his luck in Europe thanks to the Prado family. In 1978, he raced in British F3, where he became BP champion and Vandervell runner-up (to Derek Warwick) having established a record of seven consecutive victories in the category. In the same year, he established his first contact with an F1 car in Silverstone, testing for McLaren. He made his F1 debut in an Ensign-Cosworth in the German Grand Prix. Then he raced three more GPs with BS McLaren before finally joining Brabham in Canada.

Bernie Ecclestone, owner of the Brabham team, immediately signed Nelson. And he had four good reasons: his speed, his mistake-free driving, his revolutionary ideas in British F3 and a three-year deal with a low salary even for that time. At Brabham Piquet learned a lot from Niki Lauda, his team mate. When the Austrian retired near the end of the 1979 season Piquet became the team's number one driver.

In 1980, he lost the championship to Alan Jones (Williams-Ford) after a long and tough battle. It was in 1980, in the US West Grand Prix (Long Beach) that Piquet scored his first F1 victory. In 1981, still with Brabham, he earned his first World Championship crown, beating Carlos Reutemann by a single point.

Piquet likes to remember a chapter involving Carlos Reutemann in 1974. When Piquet was working as an odd-job man for Brabham he cleaned Carlos Reutemann's helmet. After Nelson had finished his job, the Argentinian said: "Kid, you don't know even how to clean a helmet!" When Piquet obtained his first world championship at the expense of Reutemann, Nelson had these words for Carlos: "I wasn't worthy to clean your helmet but maybe you can clean mine now that I am World Champion!"

The 1982 season was a development season for Brabham and BMW, preparing to clinch the 1983 title. However, there was time for a slapstick moment at Hockenheim when Nelson was leading the GP and about to lap Salazar at one of the chicanes, when suddenly the Chilean shut the door and put Nelson out of the race. Then this happened... Clearly Piquet was remembering Didier Pironi's accident in the qualifying session in which the Frenchman was lifted to hospital with several injuries. Besides that, he had seen his friend Gilles Villeneuve die at Zolder, in a time when Nelson criticized the Ferrari for being a "coffin on wheels". After the accident Nelson was walking back to the pits when suddenly a van arrived to pick him up. However, when he found out that one of the van's passengers was the hapless Salazar, Nelson refused to share the ride. Immediately, the argument between the two flared up again. To solve their differences the van driver got out. But before he was able to talk to both of them, Piquet jumped behind the wheel and left both Salazar and the driver behind...

Ten years later a BMW engineer unveiled to Nelson that his engine would have called it a day within two laps of the collision. Nelson's reaction was remarkable: he said the accident was the best thing that could have happened to BMW because it had avoided the shame of a blown engine at their home Grand Prix. Immediately Piquet tried to get Salazar on the phone to tell him the story and get him off the hook...

When he won his second World Championship in 1983, Piquet became the first champion using a turbo engine. It's a curious fact that in 1981 as well in 1983, Piquet had to cover lost ground on his rivals before reversing the situation at the final race of the season. Again, the Championship wasn't gifted to him as his main opponent Prost put Nelson out of the Dutch GP.

In 1984, Piquet was clearly the fastest driver around but recurring reliability problems with the BMW engine put him out of title contention despite claiming nine pole positions. The 1985 season was a disappointment, Nelson scoring a single win in the French GP when at least his Pirelli tyres were the ones to have, the Italian rubber enduring the heat to last the distance.

During the season, Piquet signed a contract with Williams-Honda to drive for them in the 1986 season. However, after the tragic road accident of Frank Williams, the team lost direction and leadership. Ultimately, the 1986 title went to Alain Prost in his McLaren-TAG Porsche, the Williams drivers stealing away too many points from each other to see off Prost's dark horse challenge. The following year things ultimately went according to plan: Piquet won his third World Championship by a big margin over team mate Nigel Mansell, who was his favourite joke target, a practice that generated several conflicts between the two, on and off track. One time Nelson stole all the toilet paper from the bathroom just before Mansell had to go. Nigel must have felt pretty uncomfortable...

Piquet's other target of practical jokes was FIA president Jean-Marie Balestre. During a briefing at Paul Ricard, while Balestre was busy making a speech, Nelson sneakily approached the president and carefully dropped a bottle of mineral water down Balestre's left pocket. Even Balestre couldn't suppress a smirky laugh while the other F1 drivers were rolling on the floor for some time after that.

Despite the funny moments, Piquet had to fight Mansell hard during 1987, and even found enemies within his own team, Nelson suspecting they wanted a British champion. Nelson's accident in practice for the San Marino GP didn't help him either. However, with all his talent and courage he put everything behind him and won the title in great style.

Another funny chapter occurred after he had that accident at Imola. On Saturday Piquet left the hospital on his own and went to talk with professor Sid Watkins in the pits, with the request to allow him to race. The following conversation then ensued:
Prof. Sid Watkins: "Nelson, you can't drive because you have a brain injury."
Piquet: "How do you know?"
Prof. Sid Watkins: "Nelson, you have put on only one shoe and you forgot the other."
Piquet: "I didn't, I can't put it on because my foot is bloated."

Piquet made a big mistake signing for Lotus for 1988 and '89 despite a multi-million dollar deal. It was the first season since 1980 that he did not win a single race. He tasted victory again in 1990 driving a Benetton-Ford in the Japanese Grand Prix. This was a historical win because it was the first time that Benetton scored a double, with Roberto Moreno in second place. At the next Grand Prix, in Australia, he won again, and it was another historical victory: Piquet became the 500th F1 Grand Prix winner. In 1991, again with Benetton-Ford, he completed his final season in F1, scoring a single win in Canada.

Nelson Piquet's role in F1 was twofold: winning, and developing winning cars, in addition to all the records he set in his 204 GPs. He invented the famous tyre warming covers, the regulation of brakes and bars inside the cockpit, and he was FIA F1 World Champion three times, each one with different engines: Ford, BMW, Honda.

After he departed from F1, Piquet set his sights on a new challenge: the Indianapolis 500 in 1992. But in a training session a mecanical failure put the Team Menard Lola-Buick into the wall. Nelson suffered a concussion and several injuries to his lower legs. It seemed to be the end of a brilliant career, but one year later, after a slow and painful recovery, he came back to the same track to try again. That time the Buick engine blew during the race. In 1993 he launched an F3000 campaign for his protégé, Monegasque driver Olivier Beretta. Here is Nelson testing the car at the Spanish track of Albacete.

Since 1993, Nelson Piquet only races for fun in events like the Spa and Le Mans 24 Hours and some Brazilian touring car races. The BMW connection is almost always there. He also took part in 'Temporada' GT racing in a McLaren-BMW F1-GTR and had some fun in the SudAm F3 championship, driving at 'his' circuit in Brasília. His main job now is to develop the Brazilian motorsport scene and transmit all his knowledge to young drivers. Another one of Nelson's current activities is managing the Autotrac, a satellite system for trucks. Recently he created the Espron Formula in Brazil, with the main goal being to promote races with low costs. He also manages an autodrome in Brasília named Nelson Piquet, of which there is another one in Rio Janeiro. Now which way will Nelson follow?

The Piquet dynasty in motorsport has not run its course. Nelson's talented son Nelson Ângelo Piquet is already a double Brazilian kart Champion in the Junior Class and is rapidly following in his dad's footsteps. The proud father and three-times World Champion plans to compete in the 2002 British F3 Championship with his son alongside him!

Named as one of the best F1 drivers of all time, Nelson Piquet showed his talent, speed and knowledge in tracks all over the world for decades, leaving millions of spectators delighted. His magic moments will never be forgotten...

Nelson Piquet's F1 record

Ricardo Pereira's Piquet website