Brazilian Nelson Piquet was already a two time Formula 1 World Champion when he arrived at Williams at the end of the 1986 season, replacing the outgoing Keke Rosberg who’d chosen to jump ship to McLaren rather than partner Briton Nigel Mansell having heard about his difficult nature. (prematurely he’d later admit, the two having become firm friends).
By then, Piquet had earned himself a reputation as a playboy and a joker, but with it a rather more unsavoury predilection to offend anyone he didn’t like the look of – either to demonstrate his lack of respect towards them, or in a strategic effort to undermine and weaken them.
Ayrton Senna had fallen foul of it – Piquet called the would-be three-time World Champion ‘gay’, and even the great Enzo Ferrari would be insultingly labelled ‘senile’ by Piquet. Ron Dennis, too, was told by Piquet that he ‘didn’t understand racing’, and Keke Rosberg that he was ‘a turd that has no value’.
And his outbursts weren’t confined to the verbal – Chilean backmarker Eliseo Salazar found himself on the wrong end of a physical assault by Piquet, following a coming together at the 1982 German Grand Prix. (‘And take that!’ Murray Walker would famously comment.)
But Piquet would save his most vitriolic comments for Williams team-mate Nigel Mansell. Piquet told the Brummie he was ‘dumb’ and that his wife Roseanne was ‘ugly’. During a particularly stormy time at Williams together, an angry Piquet felt that since he was the team’s #1 driver the team should be favouring him at the expense of his #2 Mansell (as he saw it), but when Sir Frank refused to comply, Piquet went on the attack in order to unsettle Nige.
According to Piquet, Mansell was ‘argumentative’ and ‘rude’, and laughably said that ‘nobody wanted him to win’.
Piquet left Williams for Lotus to be the undisputed #1 driver he sought, but his career never again hit the heights it had previously, and he won just three more races before retiring at the end of the 1991 F1 season.
Piquet kept his hand in at driving, even in full-time retirement and seemed to be gracefully slipping into his later years, controversy-free, until the crashgate scandal of 2008, when son Nelson Piquet Jnr, who Piquet Snr. had been mentoring on his path to Formula 1, deliberately crashed in the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, allowing his team-mate Fernando Alonso to win the race, and – according to some onlookers – deprive countryman and ex-of-Williams Felipe Massa of that year’s World Championship.
It was a messy business, with Piquets Sr and Jr being accused of blackmail by Renault boss Flavio Briatore, but ultimately it was Briatore and Renault CTO Pat Symonds who would receive heavy punishment from the FIA.
Although Piquet jr would never race in F1 again, Nelson sr was back in the F1 conversation, and people were paying attention to what he was saying.
Not least because Piquet’s children – Nelson jr along with his younger half-brother Pedro (also a racing driver), and sister Kelly – a model, blogger and influencer who was responsib le for FormulaE’s social media coverage in the early days of the series – were by now a regular feature in paddocks across the world. Another of Piquet’s seven children: Julia Piquet, also works for motorsport.com.
Such is the attention on F1 drivers as the undoubted stars of motorsport, that when Kelly Piquet began a relationship with Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat it made headlines. Now, f1 fans are looking for, and news outlets are keen to write, anything juicy that might be connected to Kvyat – a current F1 driver. And questionable things Piquet said in the past are beginning to resurface.
So when KP separated from Kvyat and began dating Max Verstappen – bona fide F1 superstar – this desire for scandal is taken up not just one, but several notches!
And the big problem for Piquet is that the questionable things that he’s on record as saying aren’t just confined to the past – He’s continuing to say them.
Formula 1 in 2023 is a very different place to the F1 of Piquet’s era, and while Liberty media are desperate to leverage the sport’s history and heritage, they want to distance themselves from any of its misogynistic and non-inclusive parts wholly and absolutely. They are also at pains to demonstrate that even if F1 HAD problems with inclusion, that those problems are in the past.
So when one of its 3+ time world champions – of which there are only ten – is fined almost a million dollars by Brazilian authorities for using racist and anti-gay language in comments about Britain’s Lewis Hamilton, then F1 has to take a zero-tolerance policy, rightly banning Piquet from the paddock for good in 2022, despite a grovelling apology.
And that should have been that as far as Piquet’s platform from which to spit bile is concerned. But alas not.
Julia Piquet fired off a Tweet on Thursday – her father’s 71st birthday – expressing her dissatisfaction at F1 failing to wish the former driver a happy birthday:
“Well… I see getting canceled by the court of public opinion means no longer deserving happy birthday tweets or recognition of his incredible feats? Shame on you @F1 for turning your back on one of F1’s greatest champions. A three-time champion to be exact. I won’t forget.”
And so, to use parlance that Piquet might be comfortable with, it would appear that he’s fast becoming the turd that won’t flush.
A character he may have been, and there’s little doubting his talent behind the wheel, but his attitudes and his actions just aren’t aligned with Formula 1 in 2023, and he needs to get used to it.
And that’s before we’ve even mentioned his politics!