Nelson Piquet has been let go by the Renault F1 Team. The announcement has come not from the team however, but from Piquet himself in a press release of incredible honesty and candour.
It is rare in this day and age for a driver to be so outspoken. I’ve had good friends who could and possibly should have been so forthrite. The manner in which guys like Scott Speed and Tonio Luizzi were treated by Toro Rosso has always demanded more attention in my eyes. And so it is really quite refreshing to see a driver stand up for himself and his reputation after suffering at the hands of politics and a disadvantage not entirely of his making.
Yes, to some, this release will feel whiney and will be seen as a list of excuses for a driver who never quite lived up to expectations. But I’ve known Nelson for a long time. I’ve seen him take Lewis Hamilton to the wire in a spec series. I’ve seen him get inside Hamilton’s head, way more than Alonso ever managed. I’ve seen Nelson at his highest, and over the last few seasons I’ve seen him get beaten down weekend after weekend.
I’ll reprint his release in full for you here so you can make up your own minds on it… but I think there are many in this sport who will be glad that he’s said what he has, and given us a valuable insight into what it has been like to live his life within the Renault F1 team over the past two and a half years.
One hopes Romain Grosjean is given a fairer crack of the whip.
Nelson Piquet Press Release
I have received notice from the Renault F1 team of its intention to stop me from driving for them in the current F1 season. I want to say thanks to the small group who supported me and that I worked together at Renault F1, although it is obviously with great disappointment that I receive such news. But, at the same time, I feel a sense of relief for the end of the worst period of my career, and the possibility that I can now move on and put my career back on the right track and try to recover my reputation of a fast, winning driver. I am a team player and there are dozens of people I have worked with in my career who would vouch for my character and talent, except unfortunately the person that has had the most influence on my career in Formula 1.
I started racing at the age of eight and have broken record after record. I won every championship I raced in go-karts. I was South American F3 champion, winning 14 races and getting 17 pole positions. In 2003 I went to England, with my own team, to compete in the British F3 championship. I was champion there as well, winning 12 races and getting 13 pole positions. In fact I was the youngest ever champion. I raced GP2 in 2005 and 2006, winning five races and scoring six pole positions. I had a great season in my second year, only missing out on the championship to Lewis Hamilton due to technical mistakes of our team, which I take as my own as well, including running out of fuel during a race. I set the record in GP2 for the first driver to have a perfect weekend, scoring the maximum points available, in Hungary 2006. No-one matched that until July 2009 when Nico Hulkenberg did in at Nurburgring.
The path to F1 was always going to be tricky, and my father and I therefore signed a management contract with Flavio Briatore, who we believed was an excellent option with all the necessary contacts and management skills. Unfortunately, that was when the black period of my career started. I spent one year as a test driver, where I only did a handful of tests, and the next year started as a race driver with Renault. After the opening part of the season, some strange situations began to happen. As a beginner in F1, I could only expect from my team a lot of support and preparation to help me in getting up to the task. Instead, I was relegated as “someone who drives the other car” with no attention at all. In addition, 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. I have never needed threats before to get results. In 2008 I scored 19 points, finished once on the podium in second place, having the best debut year of a Brazilian driver in F1.
For the 2009 season Briatore, again acting both as my manager and team boss of Renault F1, 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 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. With the new car I completed 2002km of testing compared to Fernando’s 3839km. Only three days of my testing was in dry weather – only one of Fernando’s was wet. I was only testing with a heavy car, hard tyres, mostly on the first day (when the track is slow and reliability is poor), or when the weather was bad. Fernando was driving a light car with soft tyres in the dry, fine conditions. I never had a chance to be prepared for the qualifying system we use. In Formula 1 today, the difference between 1st and 15th position is sometimes less than a second. It means that 0.2 or 0.3s can make you gain eight positions.
In addition to that, car development is now happening on a race-to-race basis due to the in season testing ban. Of the first nine races that I ran this year, in four of them Fernando had a significant car upgrade that I did not have. I was informed by the engineers at Renault that in those races I had a car that was between 0.5 and 0.8s a lap slower than my teammate. If I look at Germany (where I out-qualified my teammate despite that), if I had that advantage in qualifying I would be fifth and not tenth. If we had that difference in the race, I would have finished ahead of my teammate, which I did in Silverstone, despite him having upgrades that I did not have.
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.
Being under pressure is not new to me. I have had criticism throughout my career, and have also had a lot of expectations put on me due to my name. Up until now I always met those expectations – surpassed them even. I have never before felt the need to defend myself or fight back from rumours and criticism because I knew the truth and I just wanted to concentrate on racing – I didn’t ever let it affect me. Fortunately, I can now say to those people who supported me through my career that I’m back on the good tracks and considering the options for a new start in my F1 career in a fair and positive way.