|1978||Ensign, McLaren, Brabham||5||5||0||0||2||9||0||0||14||0||0||0||-|
|First race||German Grand Prix||Hockenheim||July 30, 1978||Race results|
|Last race||Australian Grand Prix||Adelaide||November 3, 1991||Race results|
Nelson Piquet's initial path to a career in Formula One was a strange one, despite his obvious talent his father did not approve of him karting, and sent him to a tennis academy in California. He returned to race karts in Brazil, but had to conceal it from his parents so raced under his mother's maiden name of Piquet (and misspelled it Piket) rather than his actual surname of Souto Maior. Having won back to back national karting championships in 1971 and 1972, he bought a Formula Vee in 1976 on Emerson Fittipaldi's advice, becoming champion a year later.
He came to Europe to compete in Formula Three, and spent a year learning English before moving to Britain and winning the British F3 title in 1978, while also making his Formula One debut in a privately entered Ensign. After three more races in a similarly privateer McLaren, he was signed up by Bernie Ecclestone's Brabham team for the 1979 season, seemingly as number two to Niki Lauda. Despite only managing to finish four races, it was double the number Lauda could muster and he proved more than a match for his team-mate, so when the Austrian retired at the end of the season Piquet became team leader.
1980 was somewhat of a breakthrough year. Encouraged by an opening race second place in Argentina, Piquet went on to win three more times; back-to-back wins in Holland and Italy putting him on top of the championship, a point ahead of Alan Jones with two races to go. Having only retired twice all season, and finished the other ten races no lower than fifth, misfortune struck after he took pole in Canada only to have his engine fail. Jones took full advantage by winning the race, and the season-ending grand prix at Watkins Glen where Piquet retired again, leaving the Brazilian to have to settle for second in the championship.
The following year he took his first world title at the last race of the season - pipping Carlos Reutteman by one point after finishing fifth in Las Vegas, despite suffering from heat exhaustion in the latter stages of the race. In 1982 his Brabham's turbo-charged BMW engines were unreliable and he struggled throughout, but Piquet bounced back a year later by winning two of the final three races and cruising home third in South Africa to become a double world champion.
Two poor years followed as Brabham were less consistently quick, and after three wins in two years Piquet left for Williams where he expected to be the de facto number one driver. He hadn't banked on the pace of Nigel Mansell though, who won five races to Piquets four, and a rivalry began as Williams would not give Mansell any team orders. The pair went in to the final race of 1986 with a chance of winning the title, with Mansell leading the championship, but a blown tyre put Mansell out of the race and forced Piquet to make a precautionary pitstop, handing the title to Alain Prost.
In 1987 a heavy practice crash put him out of the second race of the season at Imola, but after retiring from the following Belgian Grand Prix, Piquet went on a remarkable run of nine consecutive podiums including three wins and only one third place. When Mansell crashed heavily in practice for the penultimate race of the season, a third world title was his. Piquet followed the dominant Honda engine to Lotus, but had a poor two seasons before returning to form with Benetton in 1990, winning the final two races of the year to take third in the driver's championship. 1991 was less successful, with only one win and two podiums, and the emergence of a certain Michael Schumacher late in the season meant there was no seat for Piquet the following year, so he retired.
Strengths and weaknesses
Never one to dominate - he never won more than four races in a season - it was his consistency that helped him to become a triple world champion. However, once he won a world title he felt a team should be built around him, which arguably cost him another world championship during his first year at Williams.
Beating his team-mate and arch rival Mansell to the driver's championship in 1987, despite having had won only three races to Mansell's six.
Missing out on the 1980 world title due to consecutive retirements, having led with two races to go.
"I don't want to make friends with anybody. I don't give a shit for fame. I just want to win."
"Piquet is just a vile man." Nigel Mansell.
Piquet enjoyed the playboy lifestyle, investing in a private jet and had a yacht moored in the harbour in Monaco with a permanent crew. He fathered seven children with several different women.