Nelsinho loses his shirt to Flavio

By Nasir Hameed

Nelsinho Piquet, son of a three time world champion, has been blown out at Renault by Briatore. The 24-year old Brazilian survived a tumultuous rookie season at Renault last year, and this season has again failed to even close to matching the performance of his two-time world champion teammate, Fernando Alonso.

Piquet Junior was born in Heidelberg, Germany, on July 25, 1985, to Nelson Piquet and a Dutch model. The senior Piquet won two Formula 1 world championships with Bernie Ecclestone owned Brabham team. First in 1981, and then two years later he became the first turbo-powered world champion in a BMW-powered Brabham. His third and final championship came on board a Honda-powered Williams in 1987.

Nelsinho, like his father in 1978, won the British Formula 3 Championship in 2004. In 2005, he won both the opening races of the new A1GP series in September at Brands Hatch. Same year he made his debut in GP2, the official feeder series to Formula 1, and scored a win at Spa-Francorchamps.

Flashing signs of brilliance and shades of dad’s talents, Nelsinho won 4 races and 6 pole positions and finished on the podium in eight races in the 2006 GP2 Championship. Scoring 102 points compared to current Grand Prix driver Timo Glock’s 60 points, Piquet Junior was ahead of all competitors except a rookie from England-Lewis Hamilton.

The world of Formula 1 was not kind to Nelsinho. And, if his latest tirade is to be believed, nor was his manager, Flavio Briatore, who also happens to be Renault’s F1 boss. Nelsinho had two difficult challenges to overcome, both in his rookie season last year and again this year.

First, the lack of a competitive package from the Enstone-based team. Long gone are the halcyon days of back to back championships which, in the hands of current teammate Fernando Alonso, brought to an end the Schumacher dynasty.

That teammate was Nelsinho’s biggest nightmare. Alonso was to Nelsinho what Senna was to Michael Andretti. The kid had no chance. Last year Alonso managed to grab two wins while Nelsinho failed to even out qualify the Spaniard once.

Nelsinho was losing the battle on another front also. The rise of Romain Grosjean in GP2 competition. The Swiss driver is, in the words of a former French Formula 1 driver, being promoted as French by Bruno Michel, Flavio’s right hand man who runs the GP2 series. But quick he is. After winning the F3 Euro series in 2007, Romain was a race winning driver last year in his rookie GP2 campaign.

The Blue Danube

Flavio Briatore departed the Hungarian Grand Prix before the checkered flag and after his star driver and client dropped out when the Renault became a tri-cycle following a pit stop. Message was clear, who cares about Nelsinho?

Then came war of words.

Flavio accused his young charge of coming up with driver’s excuses. "When a driver lacks results, he opens the book of excuses and begins, ‘the fault is the weather, a spectator’s sunglasses, a spin on the straight, this and that’," Briatore said. "It’s not true that there’s a technical difference of seven tenths between Alonso’s and Piquet’s car”.

Nelsinho, after confirming he has been released by Renault, is hitting back at Briatore with his own Brazilian carnauba wax. In a statement released today he accuses Briatore by saying: “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.”

Fall of the Apple

Damon Hill remains the only son of a world champion to also take the title in motor racing’s top category. Jacques Villeneuve was able to achieve the title which his late father so richly deserved. Most off springs of great racing champions have not experienced comfortable ride in their pursuit of fatherly achievements.

The Mansell brothers, Greg and Leo, Mathias Lauda, Christian Jones and Nicholas Prost are all carrying on the family name in a cut throat world but lacking the drive, desire and determination that made their fathers household names and world champions.

Nelsinho Piquet, described by Peter Windsor as “grumpy in the best of times”, now belongs to this club.

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