Smart Alecs who remarked that Piquet Jr couldn’t even get a job driving the trucks in F1 will be eating their cynical words as our anti-hero limbers up to drive, well, a truck. Powered by a determination to be known as more than F1’s crash test dummy, Nelson Piquet The Smaller is taking on the rootin’ tootin’ world of Nascar Trucks. You may have surmised he would be joining the Brazilian Indycar troupe, I certainly thought he would stick to open-wheelers, but it seems that Nelsinho needs some room in his race car for all the baggage he is carrying.
As we all know, Nascar (I’m not writing NASCAR, I’m simply not) is the premier series in the US, although it’s not what you’d call the ideal setting from which to relaunch an F1 career. It is a radical departure for the young Brazilian, Indycars would be a more obvious way to put all his junior single seater series knowledge to good use.
Before the none too originally titled ‘crashgate’ scandal erupted Piquet Jnr was already under fire from critics, his poor showings against Alonso already condemning him to losing his Renault drive. But finishing second to Lewis Hamilton in GP2 was no mean feat and although Lewis may say otherwise, matching Alonso was never really on the cards, was it? History will judge him as a cheat, but I hope there is a footnote that says Nelson was a reasonably talented fella, he gave Lewis more of a headache than Massa did at Hockenheim last year as Piquet took advantage of a safety car (without the aid of his team-mate this time) to score what may transpire to be his only F1 podium.
Having said that, a more telling snapshot of Nelson’s ability and standing amongst his competitors may have come when Lewis Hamilton made a stunning move on Jr at Silverstone in GP2. This was a stark illustration of the difference between the two budding stars, one was top of the class, the other must try harder. The Piquet Sports team always ran Jnr in GP2 (to their credit they’ve stayed in the series too) and I’ve always been of the opinion that Nelsinho’s family team was as much a hindarence as a help, right from the first time I heard of the lad. You see, we got a glimpse of Piquet’s future back in his earliest days when he and Pops pushed the boundaries of the sport almost as soon as they created their team.
The teenage Nelson was thrust into F3 Sudamericana to make his debut in car racing with live TV covering his every move and a public hungry for the next Brazilian F1 star, Piquet’s career was under the microscope from the start. During his debut year the family team craftily got Nelson some more track time by putting mudguards on his F3 steed and claiming it was a sports car! From the start we saw the pressure of expectation had driven the Piquets to shady tactics and I distinctly remember thinking that such a cheap attempt to get round testing restrictions was the most awful way to kick off a career. As soon as I heard the allegations of Piquet slinging his Renault into the Singapore scenery I had deja-vu of that horrible ‘sports car’ contraption that appeared in Autosport back in 2001.
Prior to F1 Piquet’s only experience of life away from the family was a half season of A1GP where he won the category’s first ever race. The lad barely knows racing without his famous name emblazoned across the team’s trucks.
Speaking of which, Nelson’s Truck test on October 12th at Rockingham Motor Speedway, North Carolina – at the heart of Nascar country – will be one of his few runs away from the Piquet team or F1. It could be a culture shock. If you aren’t familiar with the Nascar ladder, the Camping World Truck Series sits a couple of rungs below the premier Sprint Cup and unlike European racing the top drivers aren’t afraid of dipping into the lower categories, which is to be applauded in my book. Indeed, Kyle ‘Wild Thing’ Busch makes a habit of running three races a weekend over the 36 race season, the Trucks being an essential part of his hectic year. Ask Jacques Villeneuve or Scott Speed, the Truck Series is tough, it will be quite a challenge for any new driver. Having said that, Jarno Trulli is testing a Nascar soon and Vitor Meira is going to be driving with Piquet at the same test, so Nascar is continuing to draw in foreign stars. Trulli says he is unlikely to make the switch, but a 42 car Trulli Train could be fun.
The team that will be introducing Piquet to the boogity-boogity world of stock cars will be Red Horse Racing, which sounds suspiciously like a secret Ferrari Nascar project to me. Prancing Horse seems a little effete for Nascar country, so perhaps they had to adapt the name a little. Remember, Lamborghini made tractors.
Anyway, whether we see prancing Piquet actually racing this monster truck is another matter entirely. Surely Indycars is still his more likely destination? But it won’t just be F1 sponsors who will baulk at his part in the Renault affair, he could get a frosty reception in Tony George’s series too. Maybe F1’s lower profile in Nascar country could be why we are seeing such a bizarre career twist on the cards for Nelson.
Strangely I feel a scrap of sympathy for the youngster, but really I don’t need to – if it all goes wrong he could always drive that old ‘sports car’ of his.