An Icon: Nelson Piquet

Three times Formula 1 champion belongs to a very exclusive club, since only three have won more. The brazilian native was controversial, talented, a hard worker and above all, constant.
Friday, September 9, 2011

Piquet driving a Brabham at the Austrian GP, 1981


Piquet (Williams) at the British GP, 1987.





(F1plus Team).- Nelson Piquet was born on August 17, 1952 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The son of a Brazilian government official, Nelson Soutomaior (his real name) grew up in a comfortable environment in the city of Brasilia. Initially his parents wanted him to be professional educated tennis player, so he was sent to a high school in San Francisco, California to further his tennis career. It was while he was in the US that he became interested in motor racing and when he returned to Brazil he began racing karts, although he used the name Piquet (his mother's maiden name) to cover what he was doing.

After winning back to back national karting championships in 1971 and 1972, he bought a Formula Vee in 1976 and became a Brazilian champion a year later, and then he knew he had to make a decision.

He came to Europe to compete in Formula Three, and spent a year learning English before moving to Britain and winning the British F3 title in 1978, while also making his Formula One debut in a privately entered Ensign. After three more races in a similarly privateer McLaren, he was signed up by Bernie Ecclestone's Brabham team for the 1979 season, as number two to Niki Lauda. Piquet could only finished four races, but that was twice the number Lauda did, so when the Austrian retired at the end of the season Piquet became team leader.

1980 was somewhat the year that brought Piquet to the headlines. A second place in the starting Argentinian GP helped his case, but then Piquet went on to win three more times; back-to-back wins in Holland and Italy putting him on top of the championship, a point ahead of Alan Jones with two races to go. However, misfortune struck since the Brazilian had to retired in both races so the title went to Jones.

In 1981 his driving craftsmanship kept improving and with three more wins and a succession of high place finishes in the excellent Brabham BT49, he became World Champion. He beat several contenders, five of them, and all separated by only seven points (see standings,) including Carlos Reutemann by just one.

The following year (1982) his Brabham's turbo-charged BMW engines were unreliable and he struggled all year, it was a transitional season for his team since a new engine provider had come to the picture. Only one victory was attained at the Canadian Grand Prix, which he considered to be the best of his career. During the race an oil leak from the radiator subjected his feet to temperatures of 100 degrees, and even then he crossed the line second to no one. This experience says a lot about the Brazilian’s determination.

Piquet won his second World Championship in 1983, and with that he became the first champion using a turbo engine. After a long battle with Alain Prost, Piquet won two of the final three races and cruised home in third at South Africa to beat the French, who had won four races (one more) by two points. Nelson continued to drive for a declining Brabham but after two seasons he left to join Frank Williams at and his team that which was the force of the moment. There he was going to partner with Nigel Mansell.

That year, 1986, the Brit won five races to Piquet’s four, and a rivalry began as Williams would hold off giving orders to anybody. So the expectations were very high for the final and dramatic showdown at Adelaide, Australia. The pair went in to the final race of 1986 with a chance of winning the title, with Mansell leading the championship, but a blown tyre at more than 300kph put Mansell out of the race and forced Piquet to make a precautionary pitstop (for some a questionable decision), handing the title to Alain Prost.

His last championship came 1987 after showing off his driver skills and self-control that characterized him on the track. His teammate won again more races, six to only three, but Piquet was second in seven opportunities, plus a third and a fourth, while Mansell went to the podium juts once more.

Williams its Honda power and the just made three time World Champion, Nelson Piquet when he sign a very lucrative deal for 88-89 with a Lotus that will have now Honda engines. However, Lotus was far to be was it was years ago (Ayrton Senna had left the team after waiting too long), and he spent those two season in oblivion.

Piquet tried a last move by joining Benetton, which proved to be assertive, even though the Brazilian was not fully motivated. He finished the season in third, and went up to the podium in four occasions including two interesting victories at the end of the season and in consecutive manner. Then 1992, he had another teammate with more ambitious plan and maybe better driving skill, Michael Schumacher. The German outshone Piquet who was only able to claim a victory at Canada, after seeing himself with no seat secured, he retired from Formula 1.

As a last attempt 1992, Piquet left for the United States, and in practice to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 he had the his worst careers accident that left him very serious leg injuries. After this episode Nelson Piquet retired to Brazil where he has become a successful businessman and has supported the career of his son Nelson Piquet Jr.

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