Nelson Piquet - The Forgotten Champion Whenever lists of the "greatest" drivers are put together one man who never seems to figure is 3 times World Champion Nelson Piquet. I thought it worth giving a little biog of the man and then maybe discussing why someone as successful as Piquet rarely gets the credit he probably deserves as a multiple World Champion. Early Years Piquet was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1952 Nelson Souto Maior. Piquet was his Mother's maiden name and he used this at the start of his racing career to hide his racing life from his family. Like many F1 drivers Piquet started in karts and then progressed onto Formula Super Vee in Brazil. Moving to Europe, in 1978 he was BP Super Visco British Formula 3 Champion, taking 8 wins and breaking Jackie Stewart's record for most wins in a season. At the time the British F3 championship was a major stepping stone to an F1 drive. Amongst Piquet's peer group that season was F1's nearly man Derek Warwick as well as other future F1 drivers such as Chico Serra, Tiff Needell and Elio de Angelis. Also in 1978, Piquet got his first experience of F1 driving for Ensign, a BS Fabrications entered McLaren M23 and eventually finding himself at the team that would make his reputation, Brabham, alongside Niki Lauda & John Watson. At the Canadian Grand Prix Piquet finished 11th with Lauda and Watson both retiring. Grand Prix Career Brabham In 1979 Watson left to join McLaren and Piquet became Brabham's 2nd driver. Piquet's first season wasn't exactly spectacular but the move to the Alfa Romeo V12 engine was very problematic for Brabham. He ended the season with only 3 points, from a 4th at the Dutch Grand Prix but what probably defined his career was his elevation to team leader when Niki Lauda walked away from F1 at the Canadian Grand prix half way through practice. 1980, provided with Gordon Murray's simple but effective BT49 design and with super reliable Cosworth power, Piquet showed his true colours. He opened the season with a 2nd in Argentina, behind Champion to be Alan Jones, and won his first race at Long Beach. Two more wins that season, at the Dutch & Italian races, saw Piquet push Jones for the title until his car broke in Canada whilst leading the race and his title challenge was over. With sliding skirts banned in 1981 the ever inventive Gordon Murray circumnavigated the rules by introducing a pneumatic ride height system which lowered the car down onto the track during the race recovering most of the lost down force the sliding skirts had generated. Piquet won the 3rd race of the season in Argentina and the following race at Imola. The technical advantage Murray's suspension system offered is exemplified by Hector Rebaque's 4th place at this race in the sister car. Piquet won one more race that season, in Germany. With the Williams team drivers fighting each other, and the appalling reliability of the turbo charged Renaults and Ferraris Piquet was able to take the title with only 50 points, beating Carlos Reutemann by a single point. 1982 was a season of transition for Brabham as they moved to BMW turbo power. Put under pressure to use the BMW engine, Piquet suffered the ignominy of failing to qualify the turbo car in Detroit but bounced back in Canada to take his only win of the season. 1983 was Piquet second Championship winning season. The turbo cars were now very much in the ascendency in F1 and Brabham's main rivals were the Ferrari and Renault machines. Rivals such as Williams and Lotus had to wait until the middle & end of the season to get their hands on turbo engines so had to feed on the crumbs left as the unreliable turbo cars expired. Piquet only managed 3 wins to Prost's 4 but took the title by 2 points as the Renault team hit reliability problems (and internal divisions between Prost and team manager Gerard Larousse) toward the end of the season. The end at Brabham the start at Williams The next 2 seasons saw Piquet take only 3 wins as, although the Brabham was very fast, it struggled with huge reliability problems and for 1986 Piquet moved across to Williams to partner Nigel Mansell. Piquet's career at Williams started on a high, winning his home race in Brazil. 3 more wins that season saw Piquet placed 3rd in the drivers Championship behind Prost and Mansell. 1987 was Piquet 3rd Championship success taking 3 wins. The season is probably best remembered for the collapse in the relationship between Piquet and Mansell, & Mansell's epic win at Silverstone after an unplanned tyre stop. Mansell's season, and title challenge, came to an abrupt end with a crash in practice for the Japanese Grand Prix but 12 points behind Piquet at that stage it is unlikely he would have taken the title. The Lotus Years For 1988 Piquet moved to Lotus and took Honda's turbo engines with him leaving Williams to struggle with Judd power. However, the Lotus car was pretty poor compared to the similarly powered McLaren machine whose drivers, Prost and Senna, won all but one of that years races between them. Piquet managed a lowly 22 points and finished 6 in the WDC never finishing higher than 3rd. In 1989 Lotus lost their Honda turbo engines, ironically, having to use Judd engines as Williams had done. Piquet's career looked to be on the slide, he was 8th in the WDC with two 4th place finishes his best result. Benetton Bound Piquet's move to Benetton in 1990 created some surprise in the F1 fraternity and there were rumours he was on a bonus system based on how many points he scored. Whatever the motivation, Piquet surprised everyone with regular top 6 finishes and he won the last two races in Japan and Australia to secure 3rd in the Championship table. Piquet managed 1 more win in 1991 at the Canadian Grand prix before finally calling it a day. He had entered 207 Grand Prix and won 23 of them. He managed 24 pole positions, 23 fastest laps and, during a period of giants in F1 terms (Prost, Senna, Mansell, Rosberg etc.) won 3 World Drivers Championships, one of only 8 drivers to do this, a list which includes Fangio, Brabham, Stewart, Lauda, Prost, Senna and Schumacher – pretty esteemed company. Thank you for sticking with this, I appreciate it is a rather lengthy "summary". Conclusion - well, mine anyway So why isn't Piquet remembered as one of the true "greats". In some respects maybe because wasn't a spectacular driver but he had moments of brilliance. He would play the percentages, take points when they were available and win his titles more by attrition and stealth than with flamboyance. He had a significant car advantage in 1981 which may have made his Championship look easy, but was this advantage any greater than Mansell's in 1992, a Championship win many think well deserved, almost certainly not. Also, he wasn't the most personable character which probably didn't endear him to F1 fans and two incidents at Williams didn't help his cause. Firstly, his move to Lotus with Honda engines left Williams very much "in the lurch" in 1988 and, secondly, in an interview with Playboy magazine he was very outspoken about Nigel Mansell, British F1's golden boy, going so far as to insult his wife. I would like to see Piquet get more credit for his achievements in F1. He wasn't a Senna or a Prost but he beat them both. He wasn't a Schumacher, but then who else is?