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Nakajima and Piquet - like father, like son? 11 Feb 2008

Nelson Piquet (BRA) and Saturo Nakajima (JPN) Formula One World Championship 1989. World © Sutton Kazuki Nakajima (JPN) Williams. Formula One Testing, Day Two, Barcelona, Spain, 02 February 2008. World © Patching/Sutton Winner Nelson Piquet(c), spray's the champagne with 2nd place Nigel Mansell(L), and 3rd place Alain Prost Australian GP - Adelaide, Australia, 4 November 1990. World © Sutton Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault Formula One Testing, Day Two, Valencia, Spain, Tuesday 22 January 2008. World © Bumstead/Sutton Nelson Piquet (BRA) Lotus 100T Honda RA168-E finshed 3rd passes team mate Satoru Nakajima (JPN) who finished in 6th place Brazilian Grand Prix, Jacarepaqua, 3rd April 1988. World © Sutton

With Kazuki Nakajima and Nelson Piquet Jr taking up permanent race seats on the 2008 grid, the coming season will mark the beginning of a new era for two of motor racing’s most famous dynasties. Along with Nico Rosberg, Piquet and Nakajima join a growing group of second-generation racers keen to emulate the successes of their fathers - fathers who were actually team mates almost 20 years ago.

For newly-signed Renault driver Piquet, it must be quite a daunting prospect. Back in the late eighties, his father - and namesake - was one of the most celebrated drivers in the sport. A three-time world champion by the age of 35, the Brazilian enjoyed 23 race wins during a Formula One career that lasted over 14 years.

Like his father, however, the younger Piquet has already shown he has more than enough talent behind the wheel to warrant his seat. He has won two Formula Three series - one in his native South America and the other in Britain - and in 2006 impressed in GP2, winning four races and finishing runner-up to Lewis Hamilton. During 2007, the 22 year-old proved his ability behind the wheel of a Formula One car, completing over 8,000 kilometres for Renault as test driver.

In broader terms too, Piquet’s first Formula One race drive bears more than a faint resemblance to that of his father. In 1979, the elder Piquet took charge of his first full-time seat next to three-time world champion Niki Lauda, and almost 30 years later his son will be faced with a similar test, as he drives alongside double title winner Fernando Alonso.

Only time will tell if Piquet - or indeed the new Renault - is up to the challenge. His father certainly was and on Lauda’s exit in 1980, he became Brabham’s team leader and gradually set about extracting as much as he could from a promising car. Race by race, win by win, Piquet eventually emerged victorious, clinching his first world crown in 1981.

For new Williams’ driver Nakajima, the goals he hopes to emulate in 2008 are a little more modest. Although his father, Satoru, scored just 16 points from his 74 Grand Prix starts, he is widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of Formula One racing in Japan.

Unlike his son, who made his Formula One race debut at last October’s Brazilian Grand Prix at the age of 22, Satoru was a comparatively late entrant to the sport. In fact he had already gleaned over ten years’ experience in lesser series when he landed a seat alongside Ayrton Senna at Lotus in 1987, aged 34.

That season, however, the undaunted Nakajima recorded some impressive results, including fourth place at the British Grand Prix, and he was retained by Lotus for a second year. With Senna departing, in 1988 the Japanese driver found himself paired with none other than Nelson Piquet, who had just won the third of his titles.

Although the vastly more-experienced Piquet dominated the team, Nakajima very occasionally got the better of him. Neither, however, enjoyed the results they were hoping for and both jumped ship in 1990 - Nakajima to Tyrrell and Piquet to Benetton.

Both would race for a further two seasons, but while Piquet would add three more victories to his tally, for Nakajima it marked the beginning of the end of his Formula One career. The Japanese driver eventually returned home and began to nurture several younger driving talents.

One of those included his son Kazuki, who over the past few years has made steady progress up the ranks, winning the Formula Toyota championship, finishing runner-up in the Japanese Formula Three series and ending GP2’s 2007 season third in the standings. Last season he was also signed as a tester for Williams.

He performed well enough that when Alexander Wurz announced his premature retirement from racing with one round left to run, Nakajima was picked to fill the Austrian’s seat at the Brazilian Grand Prix. Although he made the headlines for running over some of his pit crew, his debut went well enough to secure the seat full-time for 2008.

With the season-opening Australian Grand Prix only a few weeks away, Nakajima’s and Piquet’s first aim will surely be to better their respective fathers’ Formula One debuts. For Nakajima that means he must finish higher than seventh, and hence score points in his first outing. Piquet has the far easier task - he simply has to finish.