A smart comment and a cackle. That was Nelson Piquet’s way from the start. The cleverest man in the room and the most cutting and pleased to be so.
On Tuesday that characteristic caught up with Brazil’s triple world champion after an interview discussing Lewis Hamilton’s crash at Silverstone last year with Max Verstappen, recorded in November in Portuguese, got a wider audience.
In it, he referred to the Briton as a ‘Neguinho’, which translates as ‘little n*****’.
The Formula One community was called. And if there is any consolation for Hamilton as he feels gratuitously abused, it is that there was not a word of support for Piquet from the motor racing world, just condemnation.
Nor was there surprise at this representative of a Piquet trait, his naughty boy ‘quips’ having long descended into something far more unpleasant.
John Watson, who briefly drove alongside the 69-year-old son of a Rio doctor and politician at the Brabham team in the early 1980s, told Sportsmail: ‘Why would I be surprised by what that a***hole says?’
Nelson Piquet has been blasted by Formula One bosses after his comments on a Brazilian podcast (pictured)
Piquet (right) used a racist slur to describe Hamilton (left) in an interview, sparking outrage
Piquet’s form on the personal insult is well-developed. He sneered at Ayrton Senna, calling him ‘the Sao Paulo taxi driver’. If it had stopped there, we might conceivably have forced a guilty laugh, but even then only just.
He went further, of course, making widely contradicted insinuations about Senna’s sexuality, saying his (Piquet’s) then girlfriend, one of his many, would vouch for his verdict that Senna was not into women.
Picket did not stop there. In an interview with the Brazilian edition of Playboy, he dismissed Nigel Mansell as ‘an uneducated fool with a stupid and ugly wife’.
The seven-time world champion has hit back at Piquet’s racist comments, calling for ‘action’ against the ‘archaic mindsets’
‘Why Nigel didn’t punch his lights out when he said what he did about Roseanne I don’t know,’ said Watson. The Mansells have been happily married for 47 years.
‘It was typical Piquet,’ Watson continued. ‘Some people around him thought he was very funny. Niki Lauda was one of his great pals but I never understood what Niki saw in him other than Nelson was a serial s***** and Niki wasn’t far behind in that respect.
‘I remember some years ago I got on an airplane and Nelson saw me and said, ‘I didn’t know you were still alive’. He and Flavio Briatore laughed at that. It’s what you expect from him. He is clever but arrogant. He once had a row with Alan Jones (Williams’s 1980 world champion from Australia) and Alan said to him, ‘If you start, I’ll knock you into the next world’ and he would have done.
‘Yet Nelson had this swagger. Many of the people who worked with him liked him.
‘But any apology from Nelson over these latest comments is a laugh. He never apologized for anything in his life.
F1 bosses said that Piquet’s vile language has ‘no place in society’, calling Lewis an ‘incredible ambassador’
‘He will have thought his remarks, describing Lewis in this derogatory way, amusing. That’s how he is. I would rescind his Grand Prix pass for life, or five years, or whatever it takes.’
There were other scraps and scrapes, including a fight with Chilean Eliseo Salazar in Germany in 1982.
A stellar career that saw him drive at Brabham, Williams, Lotus and Benetton was pushed towards its close at the 1992 Indianapolis 500, where, after disparaging comments about the circuit, he crashed and badly damaged his ankle and leg, causing him to sit out the race.
An aged playboy, Piquet, who made an additional fortune in pioneering GPS technology in South America, is rarely seen at Formula One these days.
He has suffered ill-health that required heart surgery in New York. His daughter Kelly dates Red Bull’s world champion Max Verstappen. Piquet was around a bit more when his son, Nelson Jnr, was writing his own chapter of infamy.
Now 36 and racing stock cars in Brazil, he was driving for Briatore’s Renault when he deliberately crashed at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix to bring out a safety car that gave team-mate Fernando Alonso victory.
Piquet had been discussing an incident between Red Bull’s Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, pictured, at the British Grand Prix last year
Piquet Jnr, fearing for his future at the team a year later, spilled the beans. The accomplishment had turned grass.
So is F1 racist or is Piquet an outlier? Two things. Firstly the sport is predominantly white and male. That is not, I believe, because of any bias, but a result of the demographic that floods the engineering degree courses of Britain and, to an extent, Italy.
Secondly, I have not heard any language used or views expressed that would chime with the Piquet view in the last 10 years.
That said, Red Bull terminated the contract of Juri Vips, their 21-year-old Estonian reserve driver, who uttered the n-word while streaming a video game.
As Hamilton says, there is still work to be done.