F1 Legend

Nelson Piquet


  • Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Place of Birth
  • 17 August 1952 Date of Birth
  • 1978 German Grand Prix F1 Debut
  • Benetton Current/Last Team

Born Nelson Sautomaior on August 17, 1952, he adopted his mother’s surname, Piquet, to hide his racing career from his disapproving parents. His father, a prominent Brazilian government minister and former tennis champion, encouraged Nelson to pursue tennis as a sport. By age 12, Nelson was one of Brazil’s top junior prospects. At 16, he was sent to a school in California to further his tennis skills. However, his interest shifted to car racing, inspired by countryman Emerson Fittipaldi‘s success. Piquet began racing in Brazil, winning championships in karts and sports cars. Despite his parents’ efforts to distract him by sending him to university, Piquet dropped out after a year to pursue racing, selling his road car to buy a Formula Vee and becoming the Brazilian champion in 1977.

BornNelson Piquet Souto Maior
17 August 1952
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Following Emerson Fittipaldi’s advice, Piquet moved to Europe in 1977 with £10,000 to start a Formula Three career. In 1978, he won 13 of 26 races, becoming a champion in one British F3 series and runner-up in another. His success caught the attention of Formula One teams, leading to outings with Ensign and a privately entered McLaren. Bernie Ecclestone, the Brabham team boss, hired him as an understudy to Niki Lauda in 1979. When Lauda retired at the end of the season, Piquet became the team’s number-one driver. He excelled, helping develop Gordon Murray’s car and achieving three wins in 1980, finishing second in the championship. In 1981, he won three more races and became World Champion with the brilliant Brabham BT49.

Piquet’s 1982 season was marred by the unreliable BMW turbo engine, but he considered his sole win at the 1982 Canadian Grand Prix his best, enduring 100-degree temperatures on his feet during the race.

In 1983, Piquet won three races with the turbocharged BMW-Brabham BT52, securing his second title after a season-long battle with Alain Prost. Tired of travel, he considered retirement but was persuaded by Niki Lauda to get a private jet. This allowed Piquet to enjoy his lifestyle and race.

Needing more money, Piquet sought a better deal from Bernie Ecclestone. He left Brabham when Frank Williams offered to triple his salary, leading to a turbulent period at Williams-Honda. Despite the car’s success, Piquet’s feud with teammate Nigel Mansell distracted them, allowing Prost to win the 1986 title. Piquet’s criticisms of Mansell led to further tension, but in 1987, Piquet’s consistency earned him his third championship, despite fewer wins than Mansell.

Piquet’s fame waned with fewer wins. He left Williams for Lotus, then Benetton, but his motivation declined. He won twice in 1990 and once in 1991 before leaving Formula 1 at 40. A failed attempt to qualify for the 1992 Indianapolis 500 resulted in a severe crash, yet he continued racing occasionally. Piquet later became a successful businessman, establishing a satellite navigation company and supporting his son, Nelson Piquet Jr.’s racing career.

Nelson Piquet Formula One World Championship career

F1 Career1978–1991
TeamsEnsign, McLaren, Brabham, Williams, Lotus, Benetton
EnginesFord, Alfa Romeo, BMW, Honda, Judd
Entries207 (204 starts)
Championships3 (1981, 1983, 1987)
Career points481.5 (485.5)
Pole positions24
Fastest laps23
First entry1978 German Grand Prix
First win1980 United States Grand Prix West
Last win1991 Canadian Grand Prix
Last entry1991 Australian Grand Prix


Driver Nationality Current/Last Team F1 Debut Status
British McLaren 1973 British Grand Prix Retired
Austrian McLaren 1971 Austrian Grand Prix Died, F1 Legend
Italian Benetton 1977 Monaco Grand Prix Retired
British McLaren 1980 Austrian Grand Prix F1 Legend
German Mercedes 1991 Belgian Grand Prix F1 Legend


Team Nationality Debut Season Status
Ensign British 1973 Historic
McLaren British 1966 Current
Brabham British 1962 Historic
Williams British 1978 Current
Team Lotus British 1958 Historic
Benetton British, Italian 1986 Historic