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Nelson Piquet Q&A: second season will be easier - and harder 20 Jan 2009

Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault at the launch Formula One Testing, Day Two, Autodromo Algarve, Portimao, Portugal, Monday 19 January 2009. Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault R29 Formula One Testing, Day Two, Autodromo Algarve, Portimao, Portugal, Monday 19 January 2009. Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault R29 Formula One Testing, Day Two, Autodromo Algarve, Portimao, Portugal, Monday 19 January 2009. Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault with Flavio Briatore (ITA) Renault F1 Managing Director and Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault launch the new car Formula One Testing, Day Two, Autodromo Algarve, Portimao, Portugal, Monday 19 January 2009. Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault R28.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 18, Brazilian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, 1 November 2008

While team mate Fernando Alonso is eyeing a third drivers’ championship, Nelson Piquet is setting his sights on proving he deserves equal treatment at Renault. And after some pretty good results in the second half of 2008, this may not be a flight of fancy. However, while a year of experience will make many things easier for the young Brazilian, heightened expectations could make living with Alonso harder…

Q: You were first to test the new and untouched R29 on Monday. Did you try to change the set-up?
Nelson Piquet:
No. The first day was really to get the car out of the garage, to see if the engine was getting cooled enough by the radiators and see that the suspension was not touching the bodywork. All these little bits and pieces are usually the first things that we do, then after that, we'll get to use the KERS, the front wing and then slowly we will put the car to work.

Q: Does it feel great to be the first to drive the new car?
NP:
Well, obviously with the new regulations there are a few more functionalities. But when I switched from a GP2 car to an F1 car, it was like I had three PlayStation controls put together, and now it's like I have five. But I will get used to it somehow.

Q: How much more confident are you going into your second season?
NP:
The second to the first season makes a huge difference. Both by knowing the tracks and also being more relaxed. Having done 18 starts already, I simply know the procedures. I remember the first race in Australia - I had a problem in qualifying and I started from the back, but I was still quite nervous. Now that I have done all these starts throughout the year, I am sure it will be much more relaxed. I will be able to think about other things and not be worried about things that should not bother me with the car. It's going to be a much easier season.

Q: You only did basic work today. Was the lack of downforce the first thing you noticed?
NP:
No. It was raining and the track is new - and there is a lot of oil right now as well because the asphalt is new. It is very difficult to feel anything and when it is raining, it is never the same. If the car is two seconds quicker tomorrow it could just mean that there is less rain around. The rain is never constant - not like in the dry. It is almost impossible to feel anything in the rain.

Q: Could you tell the difference between the 2009-spec car and the ’08 cars?
NP:
Again, it was so very slippery that we would leave the garage, go around and do five laps and come back into the garage. That's all they wanted me to do. We did not focus on times, as we just wanted to get the miles on the car and see that it was working perfectly. Set-up wise we will start working later when it is dry and when we are at the second test. This first test is all about seeing if all the new parts and the new radiator are all working altogether.

Q: What are the benefits and drawbacks of being Fernando Alonso’s team mate?
NP:
In the first year it was only good for me. Obviously, I had a team mate who was very strong and I had to push myself very much, but I could really see the point to which I had to push myself. And when I was quicker I knew that I was in a good position. I think in the second year it will be tougher because now is the point where the team will have to give the same chance to both drivers. And with all this new testing system in place, where we are only allowed one car and have limited days, that will be a bit tricky. How are you going to judge which days for which drivers? Hopefully it will be possible to balance both drivers having the same amount of testing. And again there is strategy and all these kind of things. Last year was my first year and I was learning, and obviously once in a while the team would give priority to Fernando, because he had a better chance of winning a race or being more in front. Now I think the team will have to play on both sides and try to give both cars the same conditions. My guess is that the second year is going to be tougher.

Q: How much do you know about KERS?
NP:
It is not as dangerous as everybody is saying. We had one accident, but all the teams have connected well together and they are all helping each other and sharing their problems to make sure everybody is safe. We have had one lesson, and 85 per cent of that was about how to use KERS on the track, about the power and how to use it - not so much about the danger side of it.

Q: Fernando has set the bar quite high by saying he is aiming for the title. What is your ambition for 2009?
NP:
It is always to achieve what the car is capable of. If the car is able to win the championship then I am going to want to be there as well. Obviously we have to be optimistic, but we don't know how the car will be. Maybe we will arrive in Australia with one of the quickest cars - and that would be excellent - but realistically we will arrive in the top six. If the car is winning then that will be great!

Q: How big a challenge do you expect using KERS during the race to be?
NP:
The engineers will play a big role. They will have to calculate and use the simulators inside the truck and tell the driver where the best place to use it is. Obviously there is also going to be a bit of strategy. Unfortunately, we don't have a simulator to play with this all the time and get used to it. Maybe over the first few races everybody is going to be a bit mixed up, but very quickly everybody will pick it up and move in the same direction.

Q: Do you think the new rules will make for a more open season in 2009?
NP:
That is really hard to say. The idea behind the regulations was to give teams who have won races before, like Renault, the chance to come back and win races again. Teams like Toyota have big budgets but they lost out a bit by carrying out the wrong projects. But they can come back and be able to fight for races. With this crisis, a lot of teams have to make cuts in different areas so maybe that will affect things. The big teams like Ferrari and McLaren are going to continue as strong as always. I think the idea was good. I think it is going to be the same as last year - some teams are going to get it right straight away, and some teams are going to start badly. It all depends on whether the car was born a good car!

Q: For the moment, it doesn't look as if Rubens Barrichello will get a ride this season, which makes you and Felipe Massa the only Brazilian drivers on the grid…
NP:
David Coulthard planned his retirement. He knew he was going to stop and everybody gave him a present. Unfortunately, Rubens had the idea that he was going to continue and then there was the bad news with Honda - and he is not stopping in the best way. I feel bad for him but he had a long career and achieved a lot of things, and a lot of wins. And yes, we might be the only Brazilian drivers for the moment but there are talented drivers like Bruno Senna waiting for their chance - so it’s only temporary.