The weather forecast for this weekend s Malaysian Grand Prix may be dark and gloomy, but for Renault rookie Nelson Piquet, the outlook is looking distinctly rosier following an impressive showing in today s warm-up.
Piquet faced something of a baptism by fire in Melbourne a week ago. A spin in qualifying which caused structural damage to his chassis and rendered his R28 useless for most of practice led to a lowly grid position with the Brazilian s illustrious surname embarrassingly relegated to the rear end of the classification system.
The race wasn t much better for the 22-year-old rookie after he received an unwelcome punt from the rear on the first lap and retired shortly afterwards.
But Piquet, who knows the Sepang Circuit well from his days in A1-GP, arrived at the sweltering melting pot that is Kuala Lumpur confident of being able to put Melbourne behind him.
The Renault driver did just that, and some, in Friday practice. He blitzed the 5.54km Sepang circuit in the morning session en-route to sixth place, a mere twelve-hundredths of a second shy of his vastly more experienced double world champion team-mate Fernando Alonso.
“I did a lot of laps today and I was able to complete the planned programme which has really made a big difference,â€ asserted an up-beat Piquet.
“The fact that I know the circuit also helps and I have learned a lot and feel comfortable. I hope that things continue like this until Sunday as I was happy with the behaviour of the car.
“There is still a lot to do, but overall the result of this first day is most encouraging.â€
It is true, of course, that Friday practice times are notoriously difficult to read into but Piquet fans should take heart in the fact that he was able to get so close to Alonso. The Brazilian seems to be displaying a similar level of determination to overcome his inexperience that Kovalainen showed when he was at Renault last year.
Learning was the order of the day on Friday and the fact that Piquet s times were set within this context only adds to his performance. Indeed, Renault s Executive Director of Engineering Pat Symonds, who was forced to admit last week that the team had not given their protÃ©gÃ© a strong enough induction to F1, hinted at a Friday programme that actually weighted against raw lap pace.
“Nelson had a solid day learning the circuit, and his early performance was very good,â€ enthused Symonds.
“The emphasis today was to develop both him (Piquet) and the car, and so we chose to use the tyres in a way that would give us optimum learning, as opposed to optimum lap times,â€ he divulged.
The afternoon practice sessions proved slightly more troublesome for Renault a gearbox problem hampered Alonso s efforts in the latter half of the session while Nelson Piquet wound up fifteenth. Again though, the Brazilian was only a smidgen off the pace of his Spanish counter-part.
Alonso of course is wise enough to know that practice is not the time to show your true hand.