Nelson Piquet was born on August 17, 1952 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The son of a government official he spent much of his childhood in the Brazilian capital, Brasília. At the age of 14 he was participating in kart races and was crowned Brazilian kart champion in 1971 and 1972. In order to keep his racing activities a secret from his family he initially raced under the name of Piket but his continued success meant that he could not keep the secret for much longer.
In 1976 Piquet was crowned Brazilian Formula Super Vee Champion. For 1978, he graduated to British F3, where he became BP champion and was offered a test session with Mclaren. McLaren declined to hire the young Brazilian but Bernie Ecclestone, owner of the Brabham team, did not hesitate. Partner to two-time World Champion Niki Lauda he inherited the team leadership upon the Austrians retirement. In 1980, he scored his first victory at the United States GP West on the streets of Long Beach, California. Losing a hard fought battle with Alan Jones for the title he reached that goal the following year.
The 1982 season was a development season for Brabham and new turbo-engine supplier BMW, but when the car came right Nelson was the man to bring it home claiming his second World Championship in 1983. Piquet has often been criticized for only winning when his car was the best on the grid. But the fact remains that much of it was due to countless miles of testing and the bottom line is that he won when he was expected to. He was not overly concerned with gaining poles but rather chose to concentrate on the race itself.
When he won his second World Championship in 1983, Piquet became the first champion using a turbo engine. Nelson continued to drive for Brabham but after two seasons he left to join Frank Williams at the team of the same name. Williams other driver, Nigel Mansell greeted his new teammate with some suspicion feeling that he deserved to be number one on the team; something that Williams was unwilling to do. The battles between the two protagonists have gone down in racing lore yet 1987 saw him win the title for the third time.
Williams lost twice before the next season even started, their Honda power and their Brazilian World Champion. Piquet signed with Lotus for the 88 and 89 seasons but for once Piquet made a wrong decision, as Lotus was a shell of its former self. His last stop was at Benneton but by then the fire had gone out of the proud Brazilian. Attempts at other forms of racing met with mixed results and an accident at Indianapolis left him with severely injured feet.