It can never be easy to fill the shoes of a famous parent, but Nelson Angelo Piquet slid into his father's old car as if it had been made for him.
Nelson Piquet snr, three times Formula One world champion, looked on with the naked pride of any doting dad as his 17-year-old son, at the behest of the PR people, coaxed the 1978 British Formula Three Championship-winning car around the circuit here yesterday. Twenty-five years on, Nelsinho has his own British Formula Three car and the word in motor racing circles is that the young Brazilian could be as good as his father. Piquet snr challenges that assertion.
"Nelsinho is better than me,'' he said. "The way he controls the car in the wet is unbelievable. I'm sure he'll be good enough for Formula One and good enough to be world champion.''
Piquet jnr has, so far, been as good as his father's word. Driving for the team Piquet snr set up specifically for him, he dominated last year's South American Formula Three Championship, taking pole position at 16 of the 18 races and winning 13 of them. Piquet snr, intent on stretching his son, brought Nelsinho and the team to England for this season. Piquet jnr became the youngest ever winner of a British Formula Three race on his first visit to Knockhill earlier this month. This track, too, was uncharted territory for him until this Bank Holiday weekend, yet he claimed pole for the two races and won Sunday's event. "The feeling I get seeing what my son is doing is much better than any feeling I had when I was racing," Piquet snr said.
Nelsinho was born in Germany, one of seven children Piquet snr has had with three partners. He was raised in Monaco and moved to Brazil to foster his interest in racing. "My dad put me in a kart when I was eight," he said. "It was fun and I started winning. It went from there.'' Piquet snr expanded: "He won everything. It seemed natural for him. Every time we moved up he won again.''
Piquet snr, whose company manufactures vehicle satellite equipment, returned to Britain with a two-year plan to establish his son's Formula One potential. Now, he admits, he may have to reassess that schedule. "We have just the one car, for Nelsinho, because I'm not interested in running anyone else. When we arrived here the team had no knowledge of the circuits, no data to work from. So I thought it would take us two years. But already he is winning races and if he wins the championship... I don't know. I would still prefer him to do another year but if he is offered a chance in Formula One that would not be a problem. He could do it. I have no worries about him, except that he might get the wrong drive which could cost you three or four years of your career.''
Sir Frank Williams, Piquet snr's employer when he won the last of his championships, in 1987, was in the team's garage yesterday to monitor Nelsinho's progress. Others will doubtless join the queue.
Nelsinho appears to take all the attention in his stride, although he was not always convinced he had such talent. "I was scared I wasn't capable of doing it in the South American championship but that went OK,'' he said. "Then I was scared of coming to England but this, too, is going OK. So now if I get a chance in Formula One I'll give it a try. I didn't really know what Formula One was when I started racing. I didn't see my father race but as I grew older I learned about him. I don't know, but I suppose I must get my ability from him. The first races I can remember were when Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher were fighting.''
Brazil has not had a world champion since Ayrton Senna, in 1991, and Piquet snr contends it is time the void was filled. "We have Rubens Barrichello who is not good enough," he said. "He is with Schumacher at Ferrari, so he has the car, but he cannot beat Schumacher. Schumacher is also better than Senna was. That is not my opinion, it is what the facts say. No one in Formula One now is good enough to beat Schumacher. We have a tradition for motor racing in Brazil and we have a lot of drivers, but they are not at the top level. Maybe Nelsinho will give us what we want. Maybe he will be Brazil's next world champion. We hope.''
The weight of expectation could be Nelsinho's greatest burden, although team members maintain he has the temperament to match his skill.
He fluffed his start in Sunday's race, losing two places, yet recovered to win. He made a worse start to yesterday's race. His Dallara Mugen-Honda crept away from the line and he was swallowed up by the pack. Without second gear he struggled and finished sixth, well down on the winner and championship leader, South Africa's Alan van der Merwe. That, as Nelsinho will discover, is racing.
- More about:
- Formula 1
- Motor Sport
- Public Relations And Publicity
- Racing Drivers
- Styles And Clothes