Disgraced former Grand Prix driver and NASCAR exile Nelson Piquet Jr turns 27 years old today.
Having shown impressive form in the junior categories, the son of three-time World Champion Nelson Piquet was seemingly destined for a promising Formula 1 career, and was quickly signed up to a long-term deal under Flavio Briatore’s management with a view to putting him into the Renault team in the future.
He joined the team as a full-time race driver in 2008, paired up against none other than two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso, who was himself returning to the team to rebuild after cutting short his adventure with the McLaren team.
While Fernando may have struggled against one former GP2 frontrunner in Lewis Hamilton the year before, the same could not possibly be said how Piquet Jr fared against the Spaniard.
Bar a lucky podium at that year’s German Grand Prix, he was summarily thumped all year long by Alonso, and in the pair’s 28 races together he outquallified the Spaniard just once.
There was some surprise when he was re-signed for a second season with the team, but the gloss quickly wore off when his form failed to improve and he was fired after the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix.
Then came the news that the Renault team was being investigated for its actions that led to Alonso’s win the year before at Singapore, in what became known as the ‘Crashgate’ affair that brought the sport into disrepute.
The story would later emerge that Piquet had made claims – ensuring he had immunity from all prosecution in the process – that he had been instructed to deliberately crash early on in the race to give Alonso’s strategy (which relied on an early safety car interruption) the best chance of working.
The team was investigated and found guilty, leading to the lengthy bans issued to Flavio Briatore (Team Principal) and Pat Symonds (Technical Director) for orchestrating the affair.
Piquet, meanwhile, played a very unconvincing innocent victim card, and it was little surprise that he was never seen again in Formula 1 circles.
If his results were nothing to shout about, then his attitude served him absolutely no favours either.
What made it so much worse, and what many find so offensive about about him was this sneering attitude that he never dropped during his time in F1. There was an arrogance, that was well established before he even graced the top echelon: he never accepted responsibility; he never admitted that he needed to lift his game; he always blamed others for his mistakes; he carried on as if his name and family connections entitled him to some sort of privileged access and right.
He unveiled his own completely unethical role in the ‘Crashgate’ saga, but even that was done purely out of revenge for his own sacking rather than for any moral objection to what he conspired to do with the team. That he was able to get away without any sanctions as part of bringing F1 to its knees was all the more appalling.
Ultimately, Nelsinho slinked off to the world of NASCAR Truck racing, where he earns a healthy income and still tries to convince anyone who’ll listen that he was completely innocent in the entire affair. Formula 1 is better off without characters like him in its midst.
[Images via LAT, The Cahier Archive and XPB]