Nelsinho Piquet in focus

by Rafael Ligeiro*
São Paulo (BR), 17 Dec 2007

Sport d'élite. That is the definition I hear the most when people refer to car racing. I have never totally agreed with that sentence but partially.

Partially? Why? Although it seems little ambiguous of me, let me explain it further. The motorsport activity is by far less accessible than football, volleyball, or even tennis. You just can realise that - right after a nine-year-old go-kart driver speeds up for the first time - thousands of money must be invested in the kid in order to enter the professional championships. Those expenses increase gradually until the driver reach a top Formula/Tourism series in United States or in Europe. Then, it will be around time for the driver to be paid back. However, when the matter is 'fans', at least in Brazil, financial is not a problem at all.

It is easy to find car-racing fans from the most diverse social classes. That is because of people like Emerson Fittipaldi, José Carlos Pace, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna, Rubens Barrichello, Gil de Ferran, Cristiano da Matta, Hélio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Felipe Massa - all of them important parts in this 'popularisation' of motorsports around Brazil. Indeed, auto racing attracts attention of Brazilians - same as football - because the country is home to winners and champions.

Speaking on 'contrasts', I see an outstanding feature in motorsports: the integration between countries. This process has been developed in several European football clubs to good effect. Now we can see several teams in car series (e.g. Formula 1) with more than one 'nationality' - although with only one flag. Ferrari is from Maranello, Italy, led by a Frenchman (Jean Todt) with a Finnish (Kimi Räikkönen) and a Brazilian (Felipe Massa) at the wheel of its cars.

Even in the most 'patriotic' teams, there is a variety of nationalities. BMW is German in almost everything. One of its HQ is in Munich, team principal (Mario Theissen) and first driver (Nick Heidfeld) are also German. However, the flags of Poland and Switzerland are represented by talented driver Robert Kubica and the luxurious headquarters in Hinwill as well. A similar example is that of Britain's McLaren - the team is mostly Briton except for driver Heikki Kovalainen, Mercedes-Benz engines and the 40% of McLaren's ownership by Daimler-Chrysler.

However, when the title at stake is the 'Salad-of-nations' Championship, Renaults rush through the opponents with ease - as did during the Launch-Control Era.

One of the team headquarters is in Enstone, England. Furthermore, the team is headed by an Italian (Flavio Briatore) and has drivers from Spain (Fernando Alonso) and Brazil (Nelsinho Piquet). However, 'The Marseillaise' is the soundtrack when one of the team drivers win a race. After all, the team is owned by France's Renault, giant of the automobile industry. And it also has a HQ in Viry-Châtillon, whose name is eloquent to know where is located.

The example of Renault's Nelsinho Piquet is the most accurate to describe such a Tower of Babel in Formula One. Happily for us, the vice-champion of the 2006 GP2 Championship is Brazilian. But he could be German as well... He was born in Heidelberg, German city with 130,000 inhabitants and one of the main universities of the Old Continent. It was on July 25, 1985, when his father Nelson was preparing himself for the German Grand Prix in Nürburgring. Nelsinho is the son of a Dutchwoman, a fact that gives him Dutch citizenship.

Brazilian, Dutch, born in Germany... You are wrong if you think this is the end of story. Piquet Jr. is Argentinean too.

It was in 2000. After eight successful go-kart seasons (with three Brazilian titles overall), Nelsinho was preparing to start his career in single-seaters. By that time, the rules of the Brazilian Car Racing Confederation (CBA) set forth that go-kart graduates had to compete in Formula Júnior prior to race in other series. Since that category was not of the tastes of Nelson Piquet, the three-time champion signed up Nelsinho as an Argentine driver for the South American Formula 3 Championship! We know the rest of story very well: a string of victories and records in that Championship, which culminated with the 2002 title. How wrong we are when saying that Néstor Gabriel Furlán was the last Argentine champion in the series (1998)!

* translated by Maximiliano Catania/FUNO

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