Not only did Nelsinho Piquet finally break his Formula 1 points duck in his eighth race in the top flight in the French Grand Prix this weekend, but he did so in some style - by finishing ahead of double world champion team-mate Fernando Alonso in the process.

The young Brazilian - who has allegedly been given a three-race ultimatum, concluding with the British Grand Prix in a fortnight's time, to fast raise his game or else risk being replaced at Renault - was on form throughout the Magny-Cours meeting, going a confidence-boosting quickest of all in Saturday morning practice before taking only his second top ten qualifying position with ninth on the grid, following the penalties meted out to McLaren-Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen.

The 22-year-old then made a positive start and spent his entire opening stint impressively fending off the two Silver Arrows, with either one or the other of them seemingly permanently attached to his rear wing. He subsequently went on to reel in the battling Alonso and Red Bull Racing's Mark Webber in the closing stages, and when the Spaniard ran wide, Piquet pounced to steal seventh place.

"It's the first time that everything has gone without any problems for me," the 2006 GP2 Series vice-champion recounted afterwards. "The car and the team's strategy worked well and I was able to score my first couple of points today. I am happy and I hope that we can continue like this for the rest of the season."

Alonso, for his part, was rather less happy, despite helping to contribute to the R?gie's first double points finish of a slowly-improving campaign. After lining up a superb third on the grid, the 26-year-old lost ground at the start and thereafter never truly recovered, switching across from a three-stop strategy to just two during his first pit visit and 'enjoying' a number of close scraps with delayed former team-mate Hamilton en route to eighth spot at the flag, including being aggressively sideswiped by the Briton at one point as the McLaren swept past.

"I have to be disappointed today," the man from Oviedo reflected. "I am sure we could have fought for the podium, but I lost too many positions at the start and after that I was not able to find the pace I had shown yesterday.

"The car was fast in a straight line, but I still couldn't make any progress. I scored a point, but I'm determined to do better for the British Grand Prix."

The Enstone-based outfit's managing director Flavio Briatore expressed similarly mixed emotions at the end of the team's home grand prix, as Renault lost ground to Toyota in the constructors' title chase and now lies a full twelve points adrift in the fierce battle over fourth spot.

"We had other hopes for today," the Italian acknowledged, "but we are happy nonetheless to see our two cars finish in the points. Fernando lost some positions at the start and we were not able to come back from that. Nelson had a remarkable race, very consistent and aggressive, and I am very pleased to see him score his first points today."

"Both cars in the points, but we still feel a little bit disappointed," added executive director of engineering Pat Symonds. "We took a risky strategy with Fernando, but had to alter it after the start and so it was far from ideal. It's clear that we still need to find more speed in the car, but we are pleased with Nelson's first points' finish."

 

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