Heading into his second season in Formula 1 with Renault in 2009, Nelson Piquet Jnr insists he is 'sharper' than he was during his troubled rookie campaign last year – and boldly targeting a top five position in the final drivers' standings.
The Brazilian graduated to the top flight after finishing as runner-up in the feeder GP2 Series to Lewis Hamilton in 2006, and a year spent testing for the Régie
in 2007, but it was far from an easy adjustment, as a lack of circuit knowledge and the pressure of having a double world champion team-mate in the car alongside him saw Piquet struggle to produce results.
No points were forthcoming until the French Grand Prix more than three months into the campaign, and on only one occasion in the first seven races did the son of former triple title-winner Nelson Piquet make it through to Q3 and the top ten shoot-out in qualifying. The daggers were out, and there were rumours he would even be replaced before mid-season, but a markèd improvement in the second half saw the 23-year-old end proceedings with a respectable 19 points to his name.
That was enough to earn a reprieve for 2009, when Piquet knows he must
perform – and he is entirely optimistic of doing so.
“It's been a lot of hard work,” he confessed. “Fernando [Alonso, team-mate] has been in F1 for several years and he's the top of the tops, so I had to learn quickly. I had to try and reach my best at every track, and every track was a new situation, a new thing I was facing.
“I had to adapt myself to it, but generally by the end of the weekend I was nearly on a par with Fernando. Then a new weekend started and everything was back to zero – new track and getting used to things again, having to take it corner-by-corner…
“Comparing the beginning of the season to the end, tracks that I didn't know at the end I learned much quicker than at the start of the season. I was more confident and I knew how to work around the problems much better than at the beginning. I certainly learned a lot and made a lot of progress last year. I will therefore be much sharper this season.”
Be that as it may, the considerable shift in technical and aerodynamic regulations for 2009 in the name of cost-cutting and improving the show have moved the goalposts to such an extent that nobody really knows how the pecking order will shake out come the opening race of the season in Melbourne in March. Piquet admits that – particularly with the new ban on in-season testing – preparations in the run-up to the Australian Grand Prix are now more critical than ever.
“A lot of things are changing,” he acknowledged. “New tyres, new aero package, KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) – everything is going to be new for us, and the start of the season should be very interesting. I think the driver who works hardest and can adapt quickly to the new rules is going to have an advantage.