Nelsinho Piquet has for the first time hinted that he is unsure about his Formula 1 future post the end of the 2008 campaign at Interlagos this weekend, revealing that Renault 'need' a French driver in the top flight.
The Brazilian's fate has been the subject of considerable speculation for some time, following a distinctly torrid first half to his rookie season in F1 peppered by accidents, poor pace and off-colour performances.
Though he has taken a quantum leap forward in recent races – qualifying a number of times inside the top ten and scoring points five times in the last ten grands prix – the paddock fear is that, given Renault managing director Flavio Briatore's famously irascible and fickle nature, the damage may already have been done.
Countryman Lucas di Grassi and fellow GP2 Series race-winner and Renault Driver Development Programme member Romain Grosjean are both understood to be under consideration for promotion to the race team in 2009. There have also been somewhat wilder rumours that Scuderia Toro Rosso ace Sébastien Bourdais is in the frame too.
“I think Renault are in need [of a French driver],” Piquet is quoted as having confessed to Fox Sports
. “It's been a few years since they had a French driver. There's a driver from Renault's Driver Development Programme, Grosjean, who had a reasonably good year in GP2.
“There is this pressure from the [Renault] president, but at the end it's going to be a decision from the whole team, from Flavio, from everybody. For me, it's only a matter of waiting.”
Insisting, however, that he is 'confident' of remaining on-board at the Régie
next year, the 23-year-old also brushed off rumours suggesting he may also be on Honda's radar should the Enstone-based concern see fit not to retain his services.
“I think I have a good chance,” he underlined. “The team is quite happy. I mean all the boys are on my side, so I don't see any reasons why I would be under threat.
“It has been a tough season obviously, but I am learning a lot and improving a lot and discovering a lot of new things. It has been a tough year, but I am sure we will be okay.