Renault should be in a position to take the fight to Formula 1's early 2009 pace-setters Brawn GP and Red Bull Racing in this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix, contends Nelsinho Piquet – but the under-fire Brazilian acknowledges that he needs to improve his own qualifying performance if he is to be up there challenging too.
Piquet has failed to make the Q2 grade on any of the three occasions to-date thus far this season, and he readily admits that it has been 'a crazy start to the year'. Much as this time twelve months ago, the knives are already out for the son of former three-time F1 World Champion Nelson Piquet, with the pressure to perform and produce results increasing by the race.
What's more, invariably taking the start with a heavy fuel load on-board his R29, the 23-year-old has found it difficult to make much progress, taking the chequered flag 13th in Malaysia and 16th last time out in China – although he was running up in a far more encouraging seventh place in the curtain-raiser in Melbourne until his brakes let him down and pitched him off the track and into the gravel trap 25 laps in...
“Two races in the wet and in Australia, unfortunately, we were going to finish quite well until I had a little brake failure,” he reflected. “Qualifying is not very good and I am struggling a little bit to get the performance out of the first lap. [Starting heavy is] always a risk you have to take to try to get lucky with a safety car or because of the weather, or [because] the cars around you are going to be lighter and [you can] overtake them when they go into the pits.
“I think obviously we have had a tough car, and fighting between tenth and 15th has been very tight – but the important thing is to qualify closer to the front, and then you can have a better strategy for the race. I've had four weekends of races and one weekend of roadshow, so I've had five busy weeks but obviously if I could test it would be good.”
Unlike double world champion team-mate Fernando Alonso – very much Renault's blue-eyed boy – Piquet did not benefit from the new 'double-decker' split-level diffuser in Shanghai, a device that to some extent helped to contribute to the Spaniard's stunning qualifying performance to line up on the front row of the starting grid. He will have it this weekend in Sakhir, however, and hopes are undeniably high indeed.
“Now with the new diffuser it should be much easier to be running closer to the top ten,” asserted the man who finished as GP2 Series runner-up to Lewis Hamilton in 2006. “It is a different story when you are running there; you get into less problems, and this track should suit us quite well.
“I think this weekend should be a big weekend for both of us (him and Alonso) and the team, because we have the new diffuser and obviously it is going to be a dry weekend, so we are not going to have any problems. We are really going to be able to show the new pace of our car. I think both cars can score points and we can start from zero again.
“Hopefully with the new aero package that we have here we can fight [Brawn and Red Bull]. Maybe this track is a bit different compared to China, but I think we're going to be much closer than we were – we should be with them. Hopefully they (Red Bull) won't be too quick when they get their new parts. Otherwise that is going to make our life a lot more difficult...”