In much the same way as his predecessor Heikki Kovalainen did this time twelve months ago, Nelsinho Piquet quite possibly saved his Formula 1 future with a stirring drive up the order in the Japanese Grand Prix at the weekend.

In treacherous conditions at Fuji Speedway last year, Kovalainen artfully rose from eleventh on the starting grid to steal the runner-up spot from compatriot and eventual world champion Kimi Raikkonen on the very final lap, and after beginning the 2008 edition just twelfth, Piquet produced a similarly impressive performance to take the chequered flag fourth, almost within sight of the podium.

Indeed, after playing himself into contention with a superb start to gain four positions on the opening lap, the under-fire Brazilian - who has endured a troubled debut campaign in the top flight this year - displayed excellent pace, practically on a par with double world champion team-mate Fernando Alonso, to move up to sixth following the first round of pit-stops.

Continued strong lap times and flawless pit work from his Renault crew would see the 23-year-old leapfrog both S?bastien Bourdais in the Scuderia Toro Rosso and Toyota's Jarno Trulli by the time the second pit visits had shaken out, and he even fancied a late look at the rostrum by closing right onto the back of the second-placed duel between Robert Kubica and Raikkonen in the race's closing stages, before a late error saw him slip back and settle for a nonetheless highly encouraging fourth spot in the final reckoning.

"I am very happy with this great result for the team," Piquet enthused. "I had a bit of luck at the start, but after that the car handled really well, I was on the pace and I just had to remain concentrated and keep pushing.

"The team is having a really strong end to the season, and I hope that is going to continue."

The former GP2 Series vice-champion's efforts also drew words of praise from Renault managing director Flavio Briatore, who acknowledged that the F1 rookie had been the architect of a 'great drive'.

The Italian - currently weighing up his driver options for 2009 - only recently vocalised his contention that Piquet 'has not had a good season so far' [see separate story - click here].