Formula E Driver Nelson Piquet Jr On What It Takes To Be A World Champion

Leadership

December 1, 2017 | BY Lee Williamson

Ahead of the Formula E race in Hong Kong, the former champion talks what you need to succeed in a high-pressure environment

Central Harbourfront is set to turn into a racetrack once again this weekend as globe-trotting electric-powered motorsport Formula E screeches into town for the second time. 

One of the most recognisable names on the grid will be Nelson Piquet Jr, the son of three-time Formula One world champion Nelson Piquet and a former F1 driver himself. 

Piquet Jr left motorsport’s top tier at the age of 24 under a cloud of controversy, but has been tenaciously rebuilding his career in various motorsports—including rallycross, Nascar and Formula E—reminding fans of the raw talent they first saw when a young Piquet Jr went toe-to-toe with current Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton for the GP2 championship in 2006, before either had graduated to Formula One.

That same talent and determination led the driver to win the inaugural Formula E championship in 2015, despite driving for a makeshift independent racing team that had no reputation, no budget, and—most thought—no hope.

After two less successful seasons, Piquet Jr is tipped by pundits to be competitive again this year having signed for Jaguar Racing in the off-season, meaning there will be plenty at stake for the Brazilian at this weekend’s 2017-18 season opener.

We catch up with Piquet Jr at the Mandarin Oriental ahead of the Hong Kong Formula E race to learn three things that are crucial for success regardless of industry, and what it takes to make a Formula E champion.

Nelson Piquet Jr preparing for the Hong Kong Formula E race. (Photo: Courtesy of Panasonic Jaguar Racing)

Never give up hope

"At the beginning of the first season, I wasn’t confident of winning. I didn’t even know if I was going to finish the season. I didn’t even have a ride at first, and then something came up last-minute in a very underdog team, a private Chinese team that wasn’t linked to any manufacturer. They didn’t really have any budget, but I said 'Well, it’s this or nothing so let’s give it a try.' It started off terribly. In the first race, we had no idea what we were doing."

"I still managed to score a point [in the first race] by luck because two cars had an accident on the last lap, but to be honest I was lost; the team was lost. But as the races went by, we started to get better results and all of a sudden, when the team was really struggling for the money to get to the next race, we got a title sponsor to finish the season. It was a really tough season for us, but the way it ended was very important to me."

Nelson Piquet Jr and teammate Mitch Evans study tai chi in Hong Kong to prepare for race day. (Photo: Courtesy of Panasonic Jaguar Racing)

The most important battle is with yourself

"It’s all about the mind. Being confident, knowing what you are doing and being prepared for everything is 70 per cent of what you need to be ready in a car. All the high-pressure moments in racing, they’re not easy. You have to try to be as calm as you can, but you know you’re always on the edge of making a mistake or doing something wrong. It’s tough."

"I’ve seen a lot of documentaries, read a lot and listened to a lot of podcasts about the relationship between positivity and results. I think my most epic moment was [the final race of the inaugural Formula E season] in London, because it was close to impossible for me to win the championship. I was starting from the back of the grid while the two other contenders were in the top five. For whatever reason, I was so decisive that I was going to do it, and everything just happened the right way."

Nelson Piquet Jr on the test track. (Photo: Courtesy of Panasonic Jaguar Racing)

"Not only did the start have to go well, we had to be aggressive in the strategy, I had to be able to overtake cars. All of these pieces of the puzzle had to match up for me to win the championship—and it happened. Sometimes it doesn’t. When I was fighting for the championship against Lewis [Hamilton] in GP2 a lot of things didn’t work out, but I think the important thing is to always stay positive and convince yourself you’re going to do it."

Nelson Piquet Jr's Jaguar Racing pit crew hard at work. (Photo: Courtesy of Panasonic Jaguar Racing)

There’s no substitute for a hardworking team

"I’ve worked with so many people in my career that I can tell who’s there for the passion, because they want to give their best, and who’s in motorsport because of the money or because they like the travelling—there’s a lot of people in the paddock like that." 

"In motorsport, if you want to be a successful team you need to work harder than anyone else—not only the driver but the whole team together. You need to be united and you need to have the smartest people. It takes a lot to form a winning team—it’s not easy at all. All [racing teams] are trying to achieve the same goal and there’s a lot of smart people around, so it’s a lot of hard work. When I finish here in Hong Kong I fly back home for a day and I’m back in the simulator. The work never stops."