Nelson Piquet Jr has been there, done that when it comes to motorsport. In a career spanning multiple decades and disciplines, the Brazilian has raced all over the world alongside some of the best in the business. It’s a rare position to be in, so we spoke to him about his career highlights, what the future holds, and if he has any regrets.
To say racing is in his blood would be an understatement. Son of a three-time Formula 1 World Champion, ‘Nelsinho’ was a born racer and picked up the winning habit early.
After eight years of triumphs in Brazilian karting, he moved to Formula 3 Sudamericana in 2001, where he raced for the team his father owned, Pique Sports. And in just his second season, he secured the 2002 title in emphatic fashion, capturing 16 poles and 13 wins from 17 races.
British Formula 3 was next and, just as he had done before, the championship was his at the second time of asking. At 19 years old, he became the series’ youngest ever champion in 2004, an achievement that didn’t go unnoticed.
As he began to catch the eye of the Formula 1 world, Piquet took the natural progression into GP2. In his first season, he battled the likes of Nico Rosberg and Heikki Kovalainen, before being narrowly pipped to the 2006 championship by the now seven-time F1 World Champion, Lewis Hamilton.
But having secured a role as the official test and reserve driver for the Renault F1 team for 2007, the Brazilian opted not to race in GP2 again, a decision he now looks back on with regret.
When asked if he would do anything differently, he simply said: “I would have done a third season of the GP2 Series in 2007 alongside my F1 driver test role.”
It’s something he has referred to before. Ultimately, Renault persuaded him to focus on the test role that allowed him only a handful of days in the car instead of another season of fierce competition which, the Brazilian believes, would have meant he was much more prepared for what was to come.
Although Piquet’s time in F1 would only last 28 races, his potential was clear to see as he achieved more than some do in an entire career while driving alongside one of the most complete racers we’ve ever seen on the grid, Fernando Alonso.
Looking back on his F1 highlights, he said: “Getting the podium in Hockenheim in my debut season was a great moment.
“In fact, I had the most successful debut season of any Brazilian in Formula 1. Then a very hard-fought fourth place in Japan later that year was a very good moment.”
There’s more to motorsport than just Formula 1 though, and Piquet hasn’t been shy in taking on other challenges. Among a great many other things, Nelsinho has enjoyed two spells in NASCAR, three iconic 24 hours of Le Mans races, and won the 2014-15 Formula E Championship.
So, how do you choose a favourite moment from such an extensive list of achievements? Simply put, you can’t.
“I have had some career highlights that I am very proud of. In Formula 1, highlights were my first podium in Hockenheim 2008, my fourth-place finish in Japan 2008, and my sixth in Hungary the same year.
“Before I reached F1 I had some amazing career moments that I will always remember. I won every championship I raced in go-karts.
“I was South American F3 champion in 2002, British F3 champion in 2004, and set the record in GP2 for the first driver to have a perfect weekend – scoring the maximum points available in Hungary 2006.
“In NASCAR, the highlight has to be the win at Road America in the Nationwide Series last year in only my third NNS start. That was an amazing moment. And then of course the championship win in Formula E was so special.
“I can’t pick a favourite!”
While he may have been unable to pick a standout career highlight, the 34-year-old didn’t shy away from revealing the series he’s enjoyed competing in the most.
“It might surprise people, but it was NASCAR,” he said.
“It was hugely competitive, you had to work really hard to get results and it was a lot of fun. I would do NASCAR again in a heartbeat.”
Piquet now races in the Brazilian Stock Car Championship and picked up five podium finishes this year – the joint-most of any driver – which included a win at Interlagos in round three and culminated in a seventh-place finish in the final standings.
So, what does the future hold? It’s obvious isn’t it? More racing!
“There’s still so much I want to do,” he said.
“I’m racing in the Brazilian Stock Car Championship this year. I’d love to compete in the Le Mans 24 hours again – every year if I could – and would also like to do more NASCAR.
“I put all my effort into everything that I do. I love racing and I’ve always loved being diverse in my racing career. Of course, as a driver, I want to win races and championships, and so there’s always room for more of that in my career.”
Look out for part two of our chat with Piquet Jr who also spoke of the differences between Formula 1 and Formula E. In the meantime, keep up to date with the latest motorsport news by following us on Twitter.