Nelson Piquet Jr. is a complex character. Sat back in his chair ahead of the Formula E season finale in London, the Brazilian is a vision of calm, reflecting back on arguably the worst season of his life with wistfulness and a pinch of salt, despite knowing full well that in a matter of days his title of reigning champion will be taken away.
I say arguably his worst season because who can forget the Formula One Crashgate saga that consumed Piquet in 2008, and his public ousting from Renault during the season that followed. That crash did many things; brought the sport into disrepute, tarnished the Renault brand, and threatened to ruin the career of one of the sport’s most promising young stars.
What that crash also did for Piquet was wonders. Since then, the son of the triple world champion has sampled NASCAR, IndyCar, Global Rallycross and the Le Mans 24 Hours, amongst other top level motorsport series, making him one of the most versatile racers on the planet. Furthermore, his stunning performances for Team China in season one of Formula E earned him the inaugural title, and, whether you like it or not, respect.
Season two, however, didn’t go quite to plan. Despite investment from Chinese EV giants NextEV, Piquet managed just eight points on his way to 15th standings. “It’s been one of the most frustrating seasons I’ve ever had, and I’m really happy that it’s coming to an end,” Piquet quips before quickly looking ahead.
“Everything seems to be going well (for season three). Martin Leach (Team Principal), NextEV and the whole company is putting in a lot of effort into it. There are no savings. We’re doing what we have to do to make it as good as we need it to be. In that regard, I’m very happy for that.”
Piquet’s ability to calmly assess one of the most disastrous title defences in motorsport history only adds to his appeal as a racer. It’s as if he’s taken everything sport can throw at him with a pinch of salt and a wily smirk. Political intervention is another matter, however. Perhaps it stems from the dark arts of the pit wall that encouraged his orchestrated Singapore nightmare, but ask the Brazilian about the FIA’s decision to oust him from racing with Carlin at this year’s Pau F3 race and a different side comes out altogether.
“I was shocked, absolutely shocked. I was on the plane, I arrived and everything was normal. We landed, I turned my phone on…and I just though ‘this can’t be true’. I was so so pissed off. I didn’t even go to the track. I got a car and went straight back to Monaco. I was so upset, and for the team too, because they spent the money, they brought the car all the way down to Pau (from England) and everything. For the FIA to say no two days before the race? I don’t agree with it.
“Everybody was looking forward to it; the fans, the journalists, the media. I wasn’t there for the money. I was there purely because I like that race, I wanted to do it, and we found a solution with Trevor (Carlin). I’m still upset about it, but I won’t give up.”
Settling back down after letting his frustration come to the fore, Piquet takes the time to give his own analysis on other areas of the sport, particularly on the job his former team Renault are doing on their return to F1 this season.
“It’s a similar thing to when NextEV entered Formula E with us; we were a smaller team and they had to restructure everything. That’s where Renault is at – they’ve gone back into a team which is struggling and they have to get the good people back, pay their debts, and get better drivers. It’s going to take time, but if they have the money, then yes, why can’t they be back at the front?”
Spoken like a man brimming with experience. This driver isn’t about to put his feet up and look back at his career just yet, though. Ask Nelson about what else he’s got his sights set on, and his sights are quite literally set on them as his eyes light up.
“I’d like to race in IndyCar. I’ve tested one but would love to have a go on the ovals and road courses properly. I’d do Indy Lights at Indianapolis too, and I would still like to win the Daytona 24 Hours. I still want to win at Macau (F3) as well and race at Pau, if they allow me,” smirks the man with the plans.
DTM? He’ll have a go at that too given the chance apparently, before reminding both himself and yours truly of his Rallycross habits. “There’s still a lot I want to do. If I could do everything in one year, I would!”
Where Brazil’s forgotten racing star will wind up after Formula E is a mystery. After talking to the once condemned driver, however, it’s clear to see that the fire, determination and passion for a sport that threatened to write his career off remains fully intact.
“I want to try everything before I get white hair. It could be in the next two or three years, or it could be 10. As long as I’m young, fit and healthy, I can do it. I’m not in a hurry, I just need to find the right time, and the right moment.”