Nelsinho Piquet has boldly asserted that he will be aiming to finish 'regularly on the podium' and inside the top six in the final championship standings in Formula 1 in 2009, after Renault kept faith in him despite a torrid debut season in the top flight this year.
The knives were out for the Brazilian rookie only a handful of races into the 2008 campaign, after he suffered significantly by comparison with double F1 World Champion team-mate Fernando Alonso, failing to show any great turn of pace and making rather too many mistakes for the liking of the Régie's
famously demanding and irascible managing director Flavio Briatore.
The 23-year-old did, however, display a considerable improvement as the season progressed, finishing four times inside the points over the second half – with a best result of a somewhat fortuitous but no less-deserved second place to former GP2 Series title rival Lewis Hamilton in the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim in July, Renault's first rostrum of the year – and qualifying five times in the top ten over the balance of the campaign.
There were, though, nine retirements along the way too as he wound up twelfth in the final drivers' rankings, with less than a third of the points total of fifth-placed Alonso. Piquet admitted that, especially to begin with when the R28 had been far from the most competitive machine on the grid, life had not exactly been a bed of roses.
“It wasn't the season I had dreamed of,” he confessed in an interview with international news agency Reuters
. “I had a lot of ups and downs and problems, but learnt a lot.
“It was a tough year. He (Alonso) is very tough, very quick. I found myself on a different limit of what I had.
“I was very green at the beginning of the championship. The car [had] changed a lot from 2007. That is why in the beginning it was a big shift and we were still developing a lot.
“Next year there is going to be another big shift, but mechanically, suspension-wise, [it] is not going to change that much. I think we are going to continue in a good phase.”
Following weeks of uncertainty over whether the son of triple world champion Nelson Piquet Snr would get a second chance to prove himself next year – with GP2 Series front-runners and Renault Driver Development Members Lucas di Grassi and Romain Grosjean just two of the names linked to usurping him at the French concern – the announcement last week that Piquet was to be granted a stay of execution at the Enstone-based outfit in 2009 was, he admits, quite some relief.
Now able to look forwards with confidence rather than with doubt, the former GP2 Vice-Champion insists he is 'optimistic' given the superb form in which Renault finished the 2008 season – and setting his aims considerably higher than was the case this year.
“I was really happy when we reached the agreement,” he acknowledged. “We have to be a bit optimistic, [and] I think we have a good chance of being regularly on the podium.
“This year I wanted to be in the top ten, [and] I finished twelfth. [Next year] I'd like to be top six in the championship.”