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Exclusive interview - Renault's Nelson Piquet Jr 04 Feb 2008

Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault Formula One Testing, Day Two, Valencia, Spain, Tuesday 22 January 2008. World © Bumstead/Sutton Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault R28 Formula One Testing, Day Three, Barcelona, Spain, 03 February 2008.  World © Bumstead/Sutton Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault R28 Formula One Testing, Day Three, Barcelona, Spain, 03 February 2008. World © Patching/Sutton 
Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault R28. Formula One Testing, Day Four, Valencia, Spain, Thursday 24 January 2008. World © Hartley/Sutton Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault R28 Formula One Testing, Day One, Barcelona, Spain, 01 February 2008. World © Patching/Sutton

Nepotism or not, being the son of a former world champion should certainly help a Formula One hopeful realise his ambitions. When it comes to opening doors, racing pedigree is an enviable attribute but without the talent to back it up, a driver might quickly find those same doors slammed shut.

Luckily for Renault’s Nelson Piquet Jr, he has already shown he has more than enough skill behind the wheel to help him live up to his famous name. Certainly, his latest tests in the Renault R28 have been very promising - no wonder he is brimming with confidence for the coming season…

Q: Now you have a race seat you really are following in your father’s footsteps. Do you believe the name Piquet smoothed your way into Formula One racing?
Nelson Piquet Jr:
It’s difficult to really tell and it wouldn’t be fair to say it’s only thanks to my father’s name that I got my seat in F1, as lots of people have helped me and have had faith in me through the different steps of my career. Some people believe it was easier for me because of my family name, others consider that it was maybe more difficult as I had to show even more why I deserved it. All I know is that I am finally in F1 thanks to what I have achieved in the previous categories and that I am now ready to show that I deserve my seat and to be part of the F1 field. Starting my career with the Renault team, a team I have been with for almost one year and half now, a team that I know is capable of winning, is probably the best way for me to start and I am looking forward to the first race!

Q: At just 22 years-old you’ve already raced in the British Formula Three championship, GP2, A1GP and acted as Renault’s test and reserve driver. Which of these stages has had the biggest impact on your career?
NP:
I think all of them has had an impact on my career and helped me to be where I am now. Coming to Europe to pursue my career was not an easy choice because I was pretty young and it meant I had to leave my family and friends but it was probably the best thing to do and I am sure it was the smartest move for my career at that point. Racing in F1 means I will have to confirm the potential people saw in me and that I will have to work very hard this season but this is what I have been working for since I was a child, so I am pretty excited as you can imagine!

Q: Were the negotiations to get the Renault cockpit for 2008 difficult? How much did your father advise you?
NP:
It was only difficult because the announcement came very late but everything went pretty smoothly and I have been very pleased to see that Flavio (Briatore), Renault and ING have faith in me to bounce back in 2008!

Q: Do you believe you would have got a Renault cockpit if Fernando Alonso hadn’t returned to the French squad?
NP:
Yes, I think so.

Q: Fernando endured quite a troubled time with a rookie last season at McLaren. He obviously won’t want to run into similar problems again. Was that subject addressed in your negotiations with the team?
NP:
It’s never easy to know exactly what happened in another team in between two drivers and to be honest that is not my concern. I have a lot to learn this year and being Fernando’s team mate will be the best way for me to make some good progress throughout the year. He has a great deal of experience with the team and in F1 and I am sure we can both do a great job this year to help the team to get back on top. I think this is the only thing we should be focused on.

Q: During the winter, you have carried out a great deal of testing in last season’s R27 and enjoyed quite competitive times. How would you sum up your test performance so far?
NP:
I think I did what the team expected me to do. I have learnt a lot since I joined the team and I tried to make the most of each test session to improve my understanding of the car and the quality of my technical feedback. We started with a very difficult car but we made some progress through the year. We have only just started to run the R28 and we haven’t really started to work on its performance. It will be our priority for the coming sessions but our results are encouraging so far.

Q: And how was your first experience with the R28? Did you feel that this car could return the team to its winning ways?
NP:
I first tried out the R28 in Valencia prior to its launch in Paris. This recent session in Barcelona was the first time I actually had the opportunity to run several days in the new car to get used to it. The target was to make me feel comfortable in the car and to put some mileage on different new parts we were testing. From now on, we will be working on the performance of our package and I am sure we will be able to make some progress before Australia. There are still a lot of things to do to be able to fight for the top but the team is pushing very hard and I will also try my best to be ready for the season’s start.

Q: When your predecessor Heikki Kovalainen made his Formula One debut, he enjoyed good results in test sessions but endured a troubled start to his season. How will you avoid that?
NP:
I think every experience is different. Heikki had to cope with a very difficult car to drive and that did not make his race debut any easier! I will be focused on mine and try to avoid doing any mistakes. I have been working very hard from the very beginning of the winter tests to understand the car as quickly as possible and to arrive in Melbourne in a good shape, physically but also mentally.

Q: There are 38 days to go until the season opener in Melbourne. What are your priorities over the coming weeks?
NP:
There is a long way to go before I’m on the grid in Melbourne and I think I have to take each step at a time. Firstly we have to be efficient this winter to make good progress on the car and I have to be fit and feel comfortable at the wheel. At the moment testing is my main priority but little by little I will prepare for the first race which will start with good practice sessions, then a good qualifying and a good race. There are 18 races to go and this year will be long and challenging - but pretty exciting too!