F1 is globally considered the pinnacle of motorsports for drivers from Armenia to Zimbabwe. Since their early days as pros, they dream about sitting on the starting grid of a Grand Prix race. But only a very thin minority eventually make it to the top and even fewer manage to be successful.
Being the son of Nelson Piquet Senior, a three-time F1 world champion and a true motorsports hero in the 80s – probably the only person capable of rising to the heights of legends like Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost during their finest hours – is not much of a help for an aspiring young driver who has to do much more than any rival to be seen as fast, competitive and consistent, as any good result tends to be seen as the result of luck, and any road incident will be analyzed with a magnifying glass. Nelsinho Piquet became only too aware of this cruel reality, during the highs and lows of his racing career.
The second of the elder Piquet´s seven children (four of them women), Nelsinho was on a go-kart not long after he started walking, then progressed to F3 at the age of 16, becoming South American and British champion before blowing out 20 candles.
By 2005, he was among the drivers sitting in the pre-chamber of the mother of all racing series, the GP2. After a rookie season in which he clearly made progress, by 2006, he was one of the strongest title contenders. It all came to the last race of the season, which he entered with chances to win the crown, tied with 4 wins with the other championship rival, Lewis Hamilton, who took that last race and the GP2 title by the horns.
His potential was established beyond any reasonable doubt, and Nelsinho moved to Renault proved it. After a year of apprenticeship, he grabbed the second single-seater, in 2008, as an actor in a supporting role to two-time world champion, Fernando Alonso. Any good indications that he left during those times were washed out by the Singapore GP incident in 2009, in which he crashed on purpose, following the team boss' instructions (Flavio Briatore and Pat Symmonds who were banned from motorsports in the wake of the scandal), with whom Piquet Jr. had very tense relations.
All of a sudden, he was back to the drawing board. By 2010, he was a NASCAR driver and had three competitive years, after which he moved, in 2014, to the Global RallyCross championship, where again he applied his exceptional skills, as well as a quite impressive ability to be competitive in very diverse motorsport series. As Formula E was announced, Piquet Jr saw it as an ideal stage to come back to a global series, once more in the public eye, kicking-off in late 2014. It proved to be a good career option, as a little over 6 months later, he would be crowned as the first Formula E world champion, driving for Nextev, which took over the original team set up by Spanish ex-F1 driver, Adrian Campos.
We sat with Nelsinho on the eve of the Buenos Aires ePrix, to hear his thoughts on his career, and on FE in general.
Nelsinho, this year´s FE season is turning out to be different from the inaugural one, with dominance from the teams that have a stronger OEM support (Renault, DS and ABT-Audi), along with the Penske team (Dragon), with its great motorsport know-how. And even the world champion does not have much of a chance...
It is a natural evolution of the series, and it is positive that more automakers are coming in, as this is what will give it visibility and ways to progress. Now, from a personal point of view, it is a tough season, as I don´t have a competitive car and it´s hard even to finish in the points...
You have delivered a first world motorsport title ever for a Chinese team, last year. That should be enough to convince the team to invest a bit more on a competitive car for season two, shouldn´t it?
I guess it should... but it was clear that we were way behind at the start of the season, and that will not change in 2015-16, because we would need a totally new car. The problem I have is that it is difficult to find a team that signs me up...
The 2008 incident with Renault F1 and the team bosses is a burden that I have to carry all my life. Not only that, but also there is undercover pressure for most of the teams not to give me a contract. Before the start of last season, I did two very good test sessions with two competitive teams, at the end of which they each told me we would be teaming up for the inaugural season. And in both cases, I got a call some two weeks later, with very poor excuses not to sign me... I don´t know where the anti-Piquet lobbying comes from (or, at least, I am not 100% sure...) but it has surely slammed some doors in my face...
With Nextev, it was different and you managed to get the contract...
Adrian Campos, the team manager at the time, assured me that his team was more independent and less exposed to external pressures, when he asked me to do the test session. I was reluctant to do it, because I had seen what happened in the previous situations. But I trusted him and it paid off.
How do you see the close proximity of Formula E drivers to the public, and the way this series has found to promote this close contact, much different from what we know in F1?
I think it is great, and this will only bring more people to races and increase the broadcasting interest. I strongly believe in FE´s future, because e-propulsion is the future and there's the presence of many talented drivers (note: Heidfeld, D´Ambrosio, Di Grassi, Sarrazin, Senna, Prost, Buemi, Vergne, etc) that will boost its reach. Also the great interactivity between drivers and TV spectators has great value, and I truly hope that it may be augmented by the planned monitoring of the driver´s heartbeat live during the races.
What does your father think about Formula E and your involvement with it?
My father doesn´t really care much about the series I am competing in... He is ok with it, as long as I am happy.