NELSON Piquet Jr once raced wheel-to-wheel with Lewis Hamilton and later won the first all-electric Formula E series. Surprisingly, given that he is the son of Brazilian three-time Formula One world champion Nelson Piquet, he credits his mother for his motor racing genes.
“Mum was a very confident lady, especially when she was driving,” says Piquet. “She had a Mercedes estate and was very quick. Even behind a supermarket trolley she could manoeuvre her way to the front of a queue. I think I got my racing blood from her.”
Piquet, 33, was born in Germany at the height of his father’s career. His parents separated soon after and he lived with his Dutch mother in Monaco until the age of eight, when he moved to Brazil to live with his father. He was one of five boys in the household and all were given the opportunity to try go-karting. He and his younger half-brother, Pedro, took up the sport. “I loved it from the start. I went to a track every day after school, but the mechanics had to ration my fuel because otherwise I wouldn’t stop when it became dark. I would scream and cry — I was a bit of a rebel.”
Piquet would even race a lawnmower around the family farm, and was later given an off-road buggy with a five-speed gearbox. He made his go-kart debut aged eight, and went on to win three national titles in Brazil.
“My first time driving on the road was in the south of France when I was 12 years old,” he says. “I knew how to operate a gearbox,so Jean Alesi, the F1 driver, let me try his Ferrari.” His father bought him a BMW 323 Compact when he was still only 16, and later, working with BMW in the UK, Piquet was given a string of high-performance models, including the 535d and 550i saloons. “They were great cars. I lived in Oxfordshire and spent a lot of time behind the wheel getting to and from racetracks.”
“I wouldn’t say Lewis and I were ever mates. I don’t think anybody in racing is mates with him, to be honest”
He had moved to England in 2003 to compete in Formula 3, racing with a team funded by his father, Piquet Sports. He went on to race in the newly formed GP2, a feeder series for F1. In 2006, Piquet was neck-and-neck with a young Lewis Hamilton for most of the season, but eventually finished runner-up. “I wouldn’t say Lewis and I were ever mates,” he reflects. “I don’t think anybody in racing is [mates] with him, to be honest.”
He joined the Renault F1 team in 2007. Despite a promising start, however, his career was marred by one of the sport’s biggest scandals: “Crashgate.” In 2008, during the Singapore Grand Prix, Piquet was ordered by team bosses to crash his car in order to help his teammate, Fernando Alonso, win. Renault was found guilty of race-fixing by the sport’s governing body. “That happened a long time ago,” says Piquet.
After Crashgate, Piquet moved to America to become a Nascar stock-car racer. While there, “I bought a VW Touareg and made it look cool with a very expensive body kit. Then bits started falling off and it became a disaster.” He followed that with a “sensible” Chevrolet Suburban, before moving up to a BMW X6 M.
He now races for the Panasonic Jaguar team in Formula E and lives between rented apartments in Monaco, London, Miami and Sao Paulo with his girlfriend, the model Gabriella Borges.
He recently bought a £750,000 McLaren Senna. “Just 500 are being built, so the car is a sound investment. I suppose I am stingy about some things but I really like to spend on others.”
Nelson Piquet Jr: my life in cars
- 2002 BMW 3-Series Compact
- 2004 BMW 5-Series
- 2009 Volkswagen Touareg
- 2011 Chevrolet Suburban
- 2013 BMW X6 M
- 2019 McLaren Senna
- My dream car Jaguar F-Pace SVR