The Brazilian, son of three-times world champion Nelson, joined Renault at the start of last season after showing promise to match his heritage in the lower formulae — but since he arrived in Formula One he has consistently struggled to perform at the top level.
His biggest problem is that he has been racing against two-times world champion Fernando Alonso, the man who ended Michael Schumacher's run of domination in 2005, but statistics show the Brazilian has struggled to even come close. So far, he has never beaten Alonso in qualifying or a race and in his first year he averaged 6.5 grid places behind his team-mate and, when the pair both reached the flag, finished a little more than two places lower than the Spaniard.
Last season, though, he was given the benefit of the doubt, he was settling in, learning the ropes — and in most races Renault were not good at all. Even though he was out-performed by Alonso, he had good performances in some races, particularly Hungary (where he took his first podium with an impressive second place) and it was enough to suggest to his team bosses that he had talent to persist with.
This season, it was time to step up.
Renault, of course, have again not delivered the best car by a long shot, but Piquet has continued to struggle against Alonso and in qualifying Alonso has made it into every one of the top-10 shoot-outs while Piquet has failed to make it through Q1 three times and has yet to make it into the final round.
The races have seen him fare little better. In Australia brake failure spun him off the track, Malaysia saw every driver struggle in heavy rain then more rain in China saw him have "a few moments" during the race.
Finally, in Bahrain, the conditions allowed Piquet to have a solid race and he finished just two places behind Alonso, raising praise from team bosses Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds having lapped consistently within Alonso's times in a race where the Spaniard said he was pushing the car to its maximum.
It was a relieving vote of confidence, but in Spain he was lapping much slower than Alonso, possibly due to damage early in the race, and in Monaco he was hit from behind in what was probably his most promising race to date this season. At the last race, in Turkey, bad luck struck when a brake problem forced him into a spin in qualifying, putting him 17th on the grid, and he could do little to improve that in the race.
His statistics versus Alonso so far this year are worse than they were last and Renault have highly-rated test driver Lucas di Grassi waiting in the wings. Although it seems Piquet is keeping his rival on the bench for now, the next race could be one of the most crucial of his career...
DATE PUBLISHED ON: 11 JUNE 2009