With his seat allegedly under threat and the pressure to prove himself mounting by the race, Nelsinho Piquet could have chosen few better moments to post his first top ten qualifying performance of the 2009 F1 campaign than for this weekend's German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring.
Not only that, but the result also represents the first time the under-fire young Brazilian has succeeded in out-qualifying double world champion Renault team-mate Fernando Alonso – and comes almost exactly twelve months on from his finest result in the top flight to-date, when he took the chequered flag as runner-up to erstwhile GP2 Series title rival Lewis Hamilton in the 2008 German Grand Prix, albeit at Hockenheim rather than the Nürburgring.
Indeed, having stormed to second spot on the timesheets in Q2, the son of former triple title-winner Nelson Piquet almost pipped Ferrari pairing Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen in Q3 to-boot, despite carrying more fuel on-board his R29 than both – leaving him with reasons for optimism on race day.
“The conditions were difficult,” the German-born 23-year-old confessed, “but I managed to deal with them well and had the right tyres at the right moments. It's a shame that I couldn't get any more out of Q3, but it's good to be in the top ten and hopefully we will be in a position to score points [in the race].”
Alonso, by contrast, would end the qualifying hour frustrated, having lapped second-quickest in Saturday morning's final free practice session and reprising that feat in Q1, despite finding himself baulked by the wayward Toyota of Timo Glock along the way. However, a spin under braking for the chicane as he visibly grappled for grip in the slippery Q2 saw the Spaniard miss the Q3 cut by just under six tenths of a second.
“At the start of qualifying we were quite optimistic,” related the man from Oviedo. “We were competitive in Q1, but after that Q2 became difficult for everybody as the conditions were constantly changing. Unfortunately we missed the opportunity to be in Q3, but hopefully we can make up some positions and if it does rain that could work to our advantage. I'm quite confident for the race.”
“There is no doubt the updates on the car have improved our position this weekend,” summarised the Régie's
executive director of engineering Pat Symonds. “It was a very exciting qualifying session; Fernando looked extremely competitive, but unfortunately spun at a critical moment and failed to make Q3. Nelson had a steady session, and thoroughly deserves his position on the grid.”