Nelsinho already eyeing F1 in the near future

Updated: April 21, 2005, 4:10 PM ET
Associated Press

SAO PAULO, Brazil -- He's got the name. He's got the genes. But does Nelson Piquet Jr. have his father's talent?

The 19-year-old son of former Formula One racing champion Nelson Piquet wants to prove that he does.

He has posted some of the fastest preseason times in the new GP2 category and is expected to compete for the title when the season starts April 23.

But Nelsinho, as he is known, already is looking past GP2. He wants to shine in F1, the premier racing class that his father won three times.

"I want to reach F1 within two years, no longer than that,'' Nelsinho said. "And once I get there, hopefully I'll be able to be as successful as my father was. Maybe even better, who knows.''

The elder Piquet, hailed by many as one of the best drivers ever, dominated F1 in the 1980s, winning the world championship in 1981, 1983 and 1987.

Nelsinho, who last year became the youngest Formula Three Champion, already has tested with two F1 teams, Williams and BAR-Honda.

Williams team director Frank Williams called his showing "impressive.''

"Nelsinho is the most talented young driver out of Brazil at this moment. He has talent and a will to win,'' said TV announcer Reginaldo Leme, a longtime F1 commentator. "He still lacks patience to advance one step at a time, but that's natural for his youth.''

The elder Piquet thinks his son has all the tools to excel in racing's top category.

"Nelsinho is much more aggressive than I was in my days,'' Piquet said. "There is no holding back in his style -- he drives near the limit from lap one. And he races very well in the rain, while I was a bit more scared.''

The elder Piquet also was known for his temper. In a 1982 race in Hockenheim, Germany, he punched Chilean driver Eliseo Salazar after a collision on the track. But he says his son's personality is different.

"Nelsinho is nothing like that, he's much more well-behaved, I can guarantee you that,'' Piquet said.

Piquet, who owns a Brazilian company that tracks trucks by satellite, is no longer closely involved in his son's racing career, but frequently gives him advice.

"Nelsinho still has a lot to learn, and he knows that,'' Piquet said. "I always try to keep him from making the same mistakes I did early in my career. Fortunately, he is very dedicated to what he does, much more than I ever was.''

Nelsinho began racing competitively in karting at the age of 8, winning three Brazilian championships. At 17, he won the South American F3 title in his first season in the series.

"He has won in every category he has raced in,'' Piquet said. "That's a sign that he's on the right track toward the F1.''

Piquet even sent a good-natured warning to seven-time F1 world champion Michael Schumacher.

"Schumacher better watch out, Nelsinho is coming,'' a grinning Piquet said in a recent interview with Brazil's SporTV.

Piquet added that his son is not near Schumacher's level now, but could become a contender in F1 if he performs as well as expected.

The GP2, officially launched April 6 at the Paul Ricard track in France, replaces the International Formula 3000 as the steppingstone category to F1.

All 12 teams will use Dallara chassis, 600-horsepower Renault Mecachrome engines and Bridgestone tires. The GP2 series' 11 races will take place before F1 events throughout Europe.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press