Nelson Piquet

The son of a Brazilian government minister, Nelson Soutomaior (his real name) grew up in luxury in the government city of Brasilia. He was an excellent tennis player - as his father had been - and in 1968 he was sent to high school in San Francisco, California to further his tennis career. It was while he was in the US that he became interested in motor racing and when he returned to Brazil he began racing karts, although he used the name Piquet (his mother's maiden name) to disguise what he was doing.

The problem was that "Nelson Piquet" was quick and he won the Brazilian national championship in his second year of competition. He told his parents that he wanted to race but his father refused to fund him and insisted that he go to university in the United States to study engineering and management. In the early years of his career his racing had to compete with his schooling and it was not until 1976 that he finally had the equipment necessary to win the Brazilian SuperVee Championship. He then took a major decision which would turn his life upside-down. He headed for Europe his aim was to make it in the British Formula 3 Championship. This would lead to his divorce two years later from his first wife Maria Clara. He bought a March F3 car and for the next 18 months lived hand-to-mouth in an old bus, racing in the European Formula 3 series in his privately entered car. Towards the end of the year he bought a Ralt and soon began to win races and as a result he finished third in the European Formula 3 Championship behind Piercarlo Ghinzani and Anders Olofsson.

He then took the decision to race in the British series the following year in the Ralt. His aim was to beat his old Brazilian rival Chico Serra but he was soon taking on the top name of the day Derek Warwick and by the end of the year each had one an F3 title in Britain.

In the middle of the season Mo Nunn asked him to drive a Tissot-sponsored Ensign at the German Grand Prix. He did a good job and landed a drive with the BS Fabrications team which was running an old McLaren M23. He retired in Austria and Holland but in Italy he finished ninth and Bernie Ecclestone decided that he would run a third Brabham-Alfa Romeo for Piquet at the Canadian GP. He qualified 14th and Ecclestone signed him up for 1979 as team mate to Niki Lauda. Nelson started the year as runner-up in the Race of Champions and by the end of the season he had served his apprenticeship and was ready to step into Lauda's shoes as team leader when the Austrian decided to retire.

The following season, Brabham having ditched Alfa Romeo for Cosworth DFVs, Piquet became a force to be reckoned with. He won at Long Beach, Zandvoort and at Imola and was the runner-up to Alan Jones in the World Championship.

The following year he beat Carlos Reutemann to the World title by one point after a dramatic showdown in Las Vegas. Brabham then took a step back and began to develop the BMW turbo engine in the course of 1982. He gave BMW its first win in Canada but was frustrated for much of the time with reliability problems.

In 1983 however the package was mighty and by the end of that year Piquet had blasted aside Alain Prost to win his second world title with a late season burst of victories which the Renault men always said was achieved with rocket fuel.

In 1984 however the Brabham-BMW was no match for the McLaren-TAG although Piquet salvaged a couple of midseason wins. In 1985 things were worse as the team was using Pirelli tyres and Nelson won just one race on a day at Paul Ricard when the conditions suited the tyres. At the end of the year Nelson rejected Ecclestone's offer for 1986 and signed a deal to drive for Williams. It was not an enjoyable season and Nigel Mansell refused to play a supporting role to Piquet and the two men ended up losing the title to Alain Prost in an extraordinary showdown in Adelaide. The following year Piquet made up for it and won his third World title, seeing off Mansell. By the end of the year Honda had decided to switch to McLaren and leave Williams and so Piquet decided to go to Team Lotus with a huge salary from Camel and Honda engines. It looked like a good package but it never gelled. In 1988 and 1989 his career stagnated and it was not until he moved to Benetton in 1990 that he enjoyed a revival of fortune. He ended the year with two unlikely victories and in 1991 added another win in Canada when his old rival Mansell went out on the last lap when he allowed the revs to sink too low while waving to the crowd.

At the Italian Grand Prix Benetton hired Michael Schumacher to be Piquet's team-mate. Nelson struggled and at the end of the year found himself with no sensible offers for 1992.

He headed off to the United States but a huge accident in practice for the Indianapolis 500 left him with very serious leg injuries and Nelson retired to Brazil where he has been developing a string of different business interests. He is involved in promoting racing in Brazil and is now overseeing the career of his son Nelson Jr.