Fernando Alonso has leapt to the defence of his former team-mate Nelsinho Piquet, arguing that the young Brazilian is more talented than he was made to look and deserves a future in Formula 1 - but by the same token the Oviedo native is adamant that the two were never treated anything less than equally at Renault.

Piquet was sacked by his employers earlier this month - the catalyst for a very public and acrimonious war of words as Renault F1 managing director Flavio Briatore suggested the 24-year-old was constantly making excuses for his lacklustre form and ultimately not of a good enough standard to compete in the top flight, countered by claims from his driver that he had never been given a fair crack of the whip at the team and labelling the famously fickle Italian as his 'executioner'.

Upon pre-empting his departure from the Enstone-based outfit, Piquet revealed that his 2009 contract had a clause in it stipulating that he needed to register 40 per cent of the points total tallied by Alonso during the first half of the season - but whilst the Spaniard had 13 points on the board at the midway stage, his team-mate had none.

Worse still, Piquet succeeded in out-qualifying the double F1 World Champion only once in ten attempts - at the N?rburgring last month - and even then he was given a helping hand as the weather conspired to turn the session into chaos. The son of triple world champion Nelson Piquet, however, maintains that he was rarely afforded the same advantages or updates as Alonso enjoyed - an accusation the latter sternly refutes, pinpointing the blame rather upon Piquet's poor relationship with the team's senior management.

"I always had a good relationship with Nelson," he underlined. "I consider him a very good driver and a very nice person, and I'm sure he will have more opportunities in Formula 1 because I believe he has the talent.

"Technically-speaking, I think we always had the same car - this has to be clear, because there was a lot of information [to the contrary] this summer - but on the human side he was maybe never very happy with the team. Obviously something went wrong with him, with the team or whatever.

"It was difficult. I remember my time with the team in 2003 and 2004, and it's not so easy when you arrive in Formula 1 to be 100 per cent confident and happy with the team. I think this was one of the problems with Nelsinho unfortunately."

For his second home race in Valencia this weekend, Alonso will have a different driver alongside him in the other half of the Renault garage in the shape of erstwhile GP2 Series front-runner and title-challenger Romain Grosjean - and the 21-time grand prix-winner wished the Swiss-born Frenchman well in his new challenge.

"I think it's a good opportunity for him," he acknowledged. "He's arriving in Formula 1 without too much pressure. All the races that he does this year can be a good opportunity to consolidate his Formula 1 career. I hope for the best for Nelsinho, and I also hope the best for Romain to do well in these races and help us to score more points in the constructors' championship, because now we are a little bit behind."

Indeed, that Renault are even taking part in the European Grand Prix at all is thanks to the French concern's successful appeal against its one-race suspension, imposed following the incident that saw Alonso shed a wheel 13 laps into the Hungarian Grand Prix four weeks ago.

Insisting that he had nonetheless always been '99 per cent' convinced of being on the starting grid in front of his adoring partisan supporters because in his opinion the punishment did not fit the crime, the 28-year-old added that he was now hoping for better fortunes than in last year's edition, when he was unceremoniously removed from the action by Williams' Kazuki Nakajima on only the opening lap.

"I think the penalty was too hard on us," he contended. "I was confident that at the end everything was clear for us and we were ready to race in Valencia. I think the team was quite optimistic on that, and they sent the trucks and everything one week before the appeal, so I think in our heads it was 100 per cent racing in Valencia.

"Obviously it is going to be a tough weekend. The times are very close and it is so competitive now; from second to twelfth it is only two or three tenths, so we will try to be in the front part of that pack. At the N?rburgring we set the fastest lap in the race and in Hungary we were on pole, and we [will] try to have some good races and a good performance here in front of the home crowd.

"Looking at the last two races, we have to be optimistic because the car has improved a lot and we look more competitive now, but I think the competition is also quite difficult at the moment. It's not only the Red Bulls, it's the McLarens, the Brawns, the Williams', Ferraris, so there are a lot of cars in a very close gap.

"If we have a perfect weekend, why not? We can fight in the top five maybe, and hopefully, possibly for the podium but if we make any little mistake, we can easily be eleventh or twelfth. That's the good thing about the championship at the moment - everything is so close, so competitive. You have to be really perfect all weekend and we will try to be so.

"I think it will be more difficult than in Budapest, which was maybe a circuit that was a little bit better for our car. I think here in Valencia we might have a few more problems with all the braking and things like that, but we will try our best anyway. Last year it was a bit difficult as we only did one corner before Nakajima hit me, so hopefully this year I can finish the race. In front of your own people, the worst thing that can happen is if you have to retire..."


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