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Germany Flashback 2008 - Piquet finally kicks off ‘08 campaign 10 Jul 2009

Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault R28 celebrates his second position in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, German Grand Prix, Race, Hockenheim, Germany, Sunday, 20 July 2008. © Sutton Sebastian Vettel (GER) Scuderia Toro Rosso.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, German Grand Prix, Preparations, Hockenheim, Germany, Thursday, 17 July 2008 The grid before the start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, German Grand Prix, Race, Hockenheim, Germany, Sunday, 20 July 2008 Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault celebrates his second position on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, German Grand Prix, Race, Hockenheim, Germany, Sunday, 20 July 2008 Renault celebrate second position for Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, German Grand Prix, Race, Hockenheim, Germany, Sunday, 20 July 2008

While this season Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel heads to his homeland fresh from a dominant victory at Silverstone, last year it was McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton who arrived in Germany hoping to pull off a second consecutive win. As well as different frontrunners, there was also a different venue - Hockenheim rather than the Nurburgring.

For Renault’s Nelson Piquet, however, a victory was not on the agenda - points or even a finish would have been welcome. While this year he’s chalked up two retirements and no points, last season he arrived in Germany with six retirements and two points. For the son of a three-time world champion, the situation was hard to bear and there were mounting rumours that he may not keep his seat beyond the calendar’s European leg. Not surprisingly, he was hoping to make an impression at Hockenheim, where the biggest news in the paddock was Red Bull’s signing of Toro Rosso’s Vettel for 2009.

During Friday’s two practice sessions it was McLaren (and in particular Hamilton) who dominated, just as they had in the pre-race test. Piquet wasn’t looking too shabby though, clocking the tenth-quickest time in the morning and the 15th after lunch. And speaking to the press after the day’s action the Brazilian remarked he’d made ‘good progress.’

During Saturday’s final practice, Heikki Kovalainen took his turn at the top, with his McLaren team mate in third, behind the Ferrari of Felipe Massa. In the Renault Fernando Alonso took fourth, ahead of Vettel, while Piquet finished strongly in sixth in the second R28. With that kind of pace under him he was hoping for much more in qualifying.

McLaren remained on top with Hamilton clinching pole from Massa, Kovalainen and Toyota’s Jarno Trulli. But while Alonso stormed to fifth ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica, Red Bull’s Mark Webber, Vettel and Red Bull’s David Coulthard, Piquet slumped and failed to make it through the first session, putting him a lowly 17th on the grid. Later he couldn’t hide his frustration.

“After a very promising practice session this morning, I am of course disappointed not to have passed through the first stage of qualifying,” he commented. “During my lap, Vettel was in front of me, which unsettled me a little, although the FIA felt that he did not impede me."

But if Piquet thought his race was over before it had started, he hadn’t counted on Formula One racing’s ability to surprise. At the start - and for the next 34 laps - pole sitter Hamilton ran away with the lead, but then Toyota’s Timo Glock hit the pit wall, the safety car emerged and everything changed. As the pit-lane opened, everyone rushed in to refuel for the final stint.

All that is, except Hamilton, BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld, and Piquet, who had pitted just before Glock’s crash and had been running in 14th. The complexion of the race had changed. Although the Briton had the buffer of Piquet and Heidfeld, he needed at least 23 seconds’ advantage over fourth-placed Massa if he was to pit and emerge ahead of the Ferrari driver. But by the time he pitted on Lap 50 he had a lead of just 15.7s and emerged in fifth, behind Heidfeld, Piquet, Massa and Kovalainen.

Hamilton passed his Finnish team mate two laps later, and with Heidfeld pitting soon after, he was quickly up to third. Braking into the hairpin on Lap 57 he took second from Massa and set his sights on his former GP2 rival Piquet. Steadily gaining on the Renault, Hamilton eventually took P1 at the same place where Massa had succumbed.

He retained the lead to the chequered flag to take his fourth victory of the 2008 season and to move four points clear of Massa in the driver standings. Piquet, meanwhile, finished second, ahead of Massa, Heidfeld, Kovalainen, Raikkonen, Kubica and final point scorer Vettel. Having clinched Renault’s first podium of the year, and with Alonso finishing way down in 11th, Piquet was ecstatic.

“I am obviously very happy!” he said. “After qualifying yesterday I was thinking that my weekend was over, but we opted for an aggressive strategy in the race and the team made some great decisions when the safety car came out. Then I had to concentrate to keep my pace up and look after my tyres as much as possible towards the end of the race. I knew that Lewis was much faster than me, so I did not want to take any pointless risks. This second place is a great reward for the whole team.”

With his campaign proving just as unsatisfying so far this year, Piquet will no doubt be hoping that racing on German soil prompts a similar change of fortune this weekend.