It’s been speculated for a while that Renault were not particularly happy with their new rookie signing Nelson Piquet Jr. He came into the sport super confident, having a famous father and plenty of experience in the junior Formulas.
Usually, a rookie is not expected to be the best thing sliced bread, he needs time to learn and adapt to the intricacies of Formula 1. Perhaps Lewis Hamilton has raised the bar somewhat, or perhaps Piquet just assumed that he could be as good as the McLaren protégé, but it was not to be.
We’ve about a third of the way through the season now, and Piquet hasn’t managed anything spectacular, although he hasn’t done anything particularly stupid either. I would suggest this used to be how a rookie’s debut year was expected to go.
Renault are obviously looking for more from their number two driver, maybe even comparing him to their double world champion in the other car, Fernando Alonso. After a disastrous Monaco, it’s possible Piquet will get another chance, but it seems like his career in F1 is slipping further and further out of his grasp.
But part of this blame needs to be apportioned to Renault. Last year, Kovalainen was brand new to the sport with Renault and he had an awful year. When he transferred to McLaren for 2008, Ron Dennis said that Kovalainen’s confidence was completely rock bottom and they were going to have to rebuild him again. The driver denied these claims, but having seen his debut year, and now watching his demeanour in his new team, there’s something behind those claims.
In Monaco, last weekend, Alonso was given dry tyres when the track was still damp. He struggled around the track, just managing to keep the car on the tarmac to complete his laps. Eventually, he managed to start posting fastest lap times. But before the tyres came into their own, Renault made the decision to put the same on Piquet’s car, and inevitably, the rookie wobbled round the track and smashed into the wall. He looked completely miserable after the race, and who could blame him? There comes a point when you have to give your rookie a break. Perhaps the best strategic decision was to change tyres, but it clearly wasn’t the best for the driver. His confidence must be somewhere near rock bottom and Renault are still judging him every step of the way.
There’s no denying that Formula 1 is a tough sport and only the top drivers need apply. But at some point, the teams need to take some responsibility to help the new guys find their feet.