While the critics were busy writing him off and out of Formula One Renault chief Pat Symonds remained steadfast: one good result and Nelson Piquet’s confidence would sky-rocket, along with his career.
And so it was that the Brazilian came of age this afternoon at Hockenheim. In a bizarre German Grand Prix that was blown wide open by the deployment of the safety car mid-race, Piquet found himself leading a grand prix for the first time in his career, with only a handful of laps to go.
The Renault driver was gifted the position after fuelling heavy for a long first stint, and pitting just before the safety car, leap-frogging the field as they peeled into the pit-lane.
No one is under any allusions that luck played its part, but the manner in which the rookie rose to the occasion – particularly the way he matched Felipe Massa lap for lap and held off his fellow countryman to the chequered flag – reminded the world why he had made it into Formula One in the first place.
Piquet inevitably succumbed to a charging Lewis Hamilton, the man who pipped him to the GP2 crown in 2007, but his first podium of his career, coupled with some decent results in the last few races, should give him the confidence to continue his run of form into the rest of the season.
“I am obviously very happy!” enthused Piquet afterwards. “After qualifying yesterday I was thinking that my weekend was over, but we opted for an aggressive strategy in the race and the team made some great decisions when the safety car came out.”
“Then I had to concentrate to keep my pace up and look after my tyres as much as possible towards the end of the race. I knew that Lewis was much faster than me, so I did not want to take any pointless risks. This second place today is a great reward for the whole team.”
The result comes on the back of a trying first year in Formula One as Piquet has struggled to get to grips with the handling of his R28, prompting speculation that he could be replaced before the end of the season.
But one man who has never lost faith in his driver is Renault’s Executive Director of Engineering Pat Symonds who believed it would only be a matter of time before Piquet found his way in F1. The Englishman hopes that his podium in Hockenheim is only the beginning.
“Today we were lucky,” confessed Symonds, “but I still believe we made our own luck and our decision to go long with Nelson paid off as the safety car came out at the ideal moment!”
“Nelson’s driving after that was impeccable. He was under pressure and did everything we asked of him. I’d like to congratulate him and hope this is the start of a better time for him.”
Flavio Briatore, who reportedly gave his rookie driver a deadline to sharpen up his act, was similarly full of praise for the Brazilian.
“Nelson had an amazing race. He proved to be very fast towards the end of the race and was able to remain strong under enormous pressure. He was not able to hold off Hamilton who was much faster, but he was able to defend his second place strongly. I am delighted for him and for the team who really deserve this result.”