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Humble F1 debut for Piquet


Brazilian driver Nelson Angelo Piquet, 22, dons a humility cloak to face his debut in Formula 1, a category where his father won three world championships and where he is set to drive for Renault alongside twice world champion Fernando Alonso.

"I want to learn with Alonso," Nelsinho Piquet repeats over and over, in a shy tone.

He says he is "happy" and "grateful" to Renault and to team boss Flavio Briatore for this "fantastic opportunity," and he acknowledges the importance of his famous father in his meteoric rise in motorsport.

"My father was one of the greatest of all time. That is a cause for pride for me and for Brazilians. I hope to give reasons for people to be proud of me," the young driver said, trying to brush off comparisons with his father.

Piquet's close relationship with the Renault boss and the potential which the Brazilian has shown in lower categories of motorsport and as a test driver for the French team have, however, generated some fear among Alonso's Spanish fans. Memory is still fresh of last season, when Alonso often complained of the alleged privileges which McLaren-Mercedes granted to his young team mate, the Brit Lewis Hamilton, the protégé of team boss Ron Dennis.

In his first comments since being confirmed as a driver with Renault for 2008, Piquet stressed that he is still not aiming to be a rival for the 2005 and 2006 world champion.

"This is a fantastic opportunity for me to make my debut in Formula 1 with one of the main teams in the paddock and at the side of one of the best drivers in the sport. I want to build a team with Fernando and learn with him. For a rookie, there is no better way to start a career than having a twice world champion as a reference," the Brazilian said.

For Piquet, 2008 will be the start of the realisation of a dream that he has had since he was 10, when - under his father's auspices - he drove a few laps around a circuit on a kart. He won three Brazilian titles in that category (1997, 1999 and 2000) and in 2002 he started to make his way to the top level by winning the South American Formula 3 championship. Two years later, at 19, he became the youngest driver to carry the British Formula 3 championship, and he was awarded a prestigious award by Racing magazine.

In 2006 he ended the GP2 championship in second place, behind Lewis Hamilton, and in 2007 he became a test driver for Renault, which has now given him a spot in Formula 1 for 2008.

The presence of Nelson Piquet on the track feeds the hope of Brazilians to revive the country's golden age in the top flight of motorsport, with titles by Emerson Fittipaldi (1972 and 1974), Nelson Piquet Snr (1981, 1983 and 1987) and Ayrton Senna (1988, 1990 and 1991).

Following Senna's death in 1994, Brazilian Formula 1 fans have seen their hopes disappointed as Luciano Burti, Rubens Barrichello and Felipe Massa failed to consolidate as the idol's 'heir.' With a famous surname and probably one of the best cars in the paddock, Nelson Piquet Jnr is set to make his Formula 1 debut as the absolute focus of Brazilian attention - an additional pressure for a young pilot seeking to excel on a scene where his father was once a top player.


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