The rehabilitation of Nelson Piquet Jnr from F1 ‘cheat’ to one of the most versatile active drivers has been a long one. But that does not diminish the fact the Brazilian can legitimately be considered the most versatile active driver in motor sports.
Piquet is one of the few that gives me hope that the days of championship swapping racers and the legendary ‘triple crown’ are not dead just yet. Whilst Nico Hulkenberg’s commitments in F1 and World Endurance in recent months raised eyebrows before causing a media frenzy with his rookie Le Mans win, Piquet has taken racing diversity several steps further.
Did we miss anything off the list?
Formula E, Global Rally Cross, Indy Lights, multiple tiers of the NASCAR ladder and Brazilian stock cars have all featured in his last 3 seasons. Not simply there to make up the numbers, Piquet is champion-elect in the inaugural Formula E series and was close to sealing the Global Rally Cross title in 2014. He’s kicked-off this season with a podium finish and last weekend he made his Indy Light debut with Carlin Racing, starting on the second row in Toronto. With Carlin expected to graduate to IndyCar full-time in 2016/17, Piquet could add another top-level formulae to his impressive c.v.
Diversity and versatility is something that motor racing is desperately lacking at the highest echelons. Aside from the likes of Hulkenberg, Montoya, Piquet, Sebastian Loeb and perhaps Valentino Rossi, most diversity is the result of hard up drivers trying to make a living or get a full time ride – and in most cases with limited success.
Separating the great from the good
True legend status should only be reserved for those who can race anything fast. Jim Clark is held in higher regard by many for his versatility and success, versus Alain Prost’s achievements in F1. Similarly so Mario Andretti’s success in not only F1 but IndyCar, stock cars and sports cars makes him a bona-fide legend over Sebastien Vettel despite the German being a four-time F1 World Champion. In NASCAR Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon may be considered legends but until they run an IndyCar competitively or shoot for the Le Mans 24 hours they won’t truly achieve that status.
Piquet has missed his chance to show his versatility at the highest level. However success in multiple categories can mark a driver out as a great amongst their peers and few can match the Brazilian currently in combining multiple categories with speed and success.