Nelson Piquet’s demise as a Renault driver has been coming for some time. Today he got the bullet and in reaction issued a strongly worded statement about how unfair his treatment has been at the hands of Flavio Briatore, the team’s principal as well as Piquet’s manager.
On the face of it his F1 career appears to be over, in the sense that it is hard to see another team taking him on. However there are strong rumours here in Italy that he and his family are looking at taking a stake in an existing team, possibly Sauber, if Peter Sauber goes ahead and saves the former BMW Sauber team.
Piquet’s success in motorsport has come in the family environment of his own team, both in F3 and GP2. It’s not a bad time to buy a stake in an F1 team as the costs are set to come down radically, making it quite possible for a team to make a profit if it is able to sell sponsorship.
If the Sauber deal is going to happen it will have to happen by Wednesday as that is the deadline for the team to sign the Concorde Agreement, signed on Friday night by the other teams. Failing that the family may look at taking a stake in another team, possibly one of the new ones.
Piquet has not impressed during his season and a half in F1. He claims it is because he was not given the same conditions as team mate Fernando Alonso. Looking at it from the outside, with information sources from within the team, I think the team gave him plenty of opportunities to prove himself. Many teams would have dropped him after his poor showing last season. He has some good days, even beat Alonso on the odd occasion, but the engineers know the truth and both the Renault guys and the engineers from other teams reckoned that he just isn’t good enough.
That is not how Piquet sees it and here is a flavour of his thoughts on the subject.,
“I believe without doubt in my talent and my performance. I didn’t get this far by getting bad results. Anyone who knows my history knows that the results I am having in F1 do not match my CV and my ability.
“The conditions I have had to deal with during the last two years have been very strange to say the least – there are incidents that I can hardly believe occurred myself. If I now need to give explanations, I am certain it is because of the unfair situation I have been in the past two years.
“I always believed that having a manager was being a part of a team and having a partner. A manager is supposed to encourage you, support you, and provide you with opportunities. In my case it was the opposite. Flavio Briatore was my executioner.
“On numerous occasions, fifteen minutes before qualifying and races, my manager and team boss (Briatore) would threaten me, telling me if I didn’t get a good result, he had another driver ready to put in my place.
Piquet joins a list of disgruntled drivers who have found that being the number two driver in a Briatore team is not easy. That list includes Johnny Herbert, JJ Lehto, Alex Wurz and Jarno Trulli, all of whom had unhappy experiences.
Piquet says that he was not given equal treatment or equipment to Alonso in 2008 and that this continued in 2009 despite promises of equality,
“For the 2009 season Briatore … promised me everything would be different, that I would get the attention I deserved but had never received, and that I would get ‘at least equal treatment’ inside the team,” he added.
“He made me sign a performance-based contract, requiring me to score 40% of Fernando Alonso’s points by mid-way through the season. Despite driving with Fernando, two-time world champion and a really excellent driver, I was confident that, if I had the same conditions, I would easily attain the 40% of points required by the contract.
“Unfortunately, the promises didn’t turn into reality again.”
I can see why a team would give a development part to Alonso if only one was available, but they want to score maximum points in the constructors’ championship and you don’t do that by holding one driver back. Alonso is so vastly superior to Piquet as a driver he doesn’t need any technical advantages.
However I can see how the lack of an arm around the shoulder in Piquet’s case is a problem. My own view on Piquet is that he can be very fast but that he needs too much preparation time and testing to hit the performance peaks, particularly in qualifying, whereas a top F1 driver can just get in and nail it straight away. Compare Piquet with a driver of similar F1 experience, like Sebastian Vettel, and you will see what I mean.
Romain Grosjean is expected to replace Piquet at Valencia, if the team is allowed to race there, or at Spa if they are not.
For 2010 the feeling is that Renault’s number one target is Robert Kubica.