Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Why are you still here?

Image: GPEuropa.net

Young talent these days is never really hard to come by, especially in racing. Those who initially impress in karting and the lower formulas can find themselves staring an F1 drive in the face. Some get there just on pure talent alone, like Fernando Alonso or Kimi Raikkonen. Some have their talents nurtured and supported, such as Lewis Hamilton. But there are also those who have greatness expected of them, and it's fair to say that greatness is not what Nelson Piquet Jr. has, at any rate.

The kid impressed in GP2 and A1GP, but since he stepped into an F1 race seat last season alongside double world champion Alonso, on his return to Renault after the fallout that occured at McLaren, it's been plain to see he hasn't shown anything significant that proves he is deserving of that drive. Despite a tough start to 2008 for the team, Alonso was still able to score back to back wins in Singapore and Japan and more points than anyone else in the second half of the season. Yet all Piquet really achieved was a lucky 2nd place at Hockenheim, all down to the strategy played by his race engineer. There's that and the reputation that he is utterly useless.

I don't know what it is with some drivers but when they make the jump from F3000/GP2 to the big time, something happens and their skills either get better and go from strength to strength or just disappear. Nelson most certainly falls in the latter. So far in his tenure at the top, he hasn't had one major success. Most of the time he fails to make it out of Q1 while Fernando managed to sail into Q3, and in the race he was usually the one who either suffered reliability problems or trundled round near the back of the field spending the afternoon racing with the Force Indias. 2009 hasn't been an improvement on last season so far, as the Chinese GP just gone has shown. His shenanigans on Sunday are a prime example of why his place in that team isn't deserved. With the wet conditions, similar to those of Fuji 2007 in my opinion, making things tricky enough for everyone out there, Nelson lost the car on the approach to Turn 5, skated across the grass and gravel and into a polystyrene marker board. Funnily enough, the nose of his R29 was broken by it, questioning resilience of such a machine. Anyway, he then almost became stuck in the wet sandtrap, but managed to haul himself out. Then comes the best part - it takes him around 30 seconds to a minute just to get the car going again. The anti-stall kicks in continously until Nelson is finally able to resume racing. Honestly, it made Richard Hammond's escapades in the R25 on Top Gear look good.

As if that wasn't enough, no sooner had the team replaced the nose on his car, that just a couple of laps later he dropped the car again under braking for the last corner, damaging the nose again in the process. Flavio Briatore's body language said it all. He certainly was not impressed. But this is what puzzles all us F1 fans - if Flavio can't tolerate Piquet's antics and misfortunes, why on earth is he still in that team? My guess is that he still maintains a close relationship with his father, 3 times world champion Nelson Piquet Sr. Flav joined Benetton in 1989, the same time that Piquet began his final 3 years of his career with the team. So my guess is that not only did he build and maintain a working relationship with the guy, but also a personal one which has pretty much lead to Jr getting the testing job and then the promotion to race driver.

I don't even think they're keeping him on because of sponsorship. From what I've seen, there's no evidence of any sponsorship links between Piquet and Renault. Nelson did mention in an interview with F1 Racing that he'd known Flavio since a young age. When asked about the first F1 race he attended and what made it special he said:
"My mum was friends with Flavio and Naomi Campbell - it was in July and there was a race in Austria. I was about 14 or 15. Flavio asked me if I wanted to go and I said "Yeah, sure!" You wouldn't believe it - it was just me and him on his plane. I stayed in his room, went with him to the track and he took care of me all weekend, like a father. It was really special, a great weekend. For him to be my boss 10 years later was really strange at first."
But in the same interview, he also mentions briefly that is not all "buddy-buddy" with him either. Talking about how supportive and fair he is, he said:
"Not always. He can be really tough and you need to be able to ignore the right things, absorb the right things and be able to judge everything."
Obviously there's some things which are right that he seems to be ignoring. You see, this is what gets me about talentless namesakes like him. He quite plainly and simply does not deserve to be in F1 any more. If I were Flavio, I would have cut my ties with him at the end of 2008. The 2nd place in Germany last year wasn't earned, it was just luck of the draw. The rest of the year he spent crashing, failing to make Q2 and breaking down all the time. I don't see any logic in keeping him in the team. Everyone predicted his head would be on the F1 chopping block either before or at the end of the season. Yet he's still there. That seat could be put to better use by promoting third driver Romain Grosjean or someone like Lucas di Grassi or Bruno Senna even. It just doesn't make sense at all. Hopefully Flavio will see some soon and do the right thing for both his team and in fact the rest of the grid. Then it'll be a case of "Nelson, you are the weakest link. Goodbye..."


Ollie said...

I too have pondered for the past year why Piquet Jr is still in the team. Last year the Renault executives actually questioned Briatore's judgment on Piquet and demanded the kid either improve or be replaced. Somehow, Flavio convinced the board of the kid's merits and he has remained.

But I'm with you: Put di Grassi or Senna in the car. At least they would be able to give Alonso the occasional run for his money. Or maybe that is the point... Piquet doesn't worry the main man of the team.