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HKT Hong Kong E-Prix

by SCMP

2017 FIA Formula E HKT Hong Kong E-Prix

Nelson Piquet Jnr gets down to business at Hong Kong E-Prix as late starters Jaguar play catch up

Jaguar are entering their second season in Formula E and the Brazilian ace, the series’ first champion, knows he has his work cut out against the more experienced teams

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 November, 2017, 6:25pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 December, 2017, 11:42am

It’s clear that Nelson Piquet Jnr can’t wait to get back to the business of winning as the FIA Formula E Championship enters its fourth season with the double-header around the Central Harbourfront this weekend.

That impression comes both from that fact that the Brazilian has thrown the weight of his not inconsiderable experience behind the fledgling Panasonic Jaguar Racing team, and via the figure he cut on Thursday tucked in behind a wide desk at the Mandarin Oriental with an air of quiet confidence and looking for all the world like some business chief executive.

“I am sure we’ll be more competitive than last year,” said the 32-year-old. “We might not be winning races out of the block. There are a lot of smart competitors out there. But our goal is to show a greater level of improvement. The goal is to just keep improving. Every day, every race, you step forward.”

Piquet has arrived ready to lead Jaguar into the HKT Hong Kong E-Prix in the British outfit’s second season of Formula E. Jaguar were a late entry into the season in 2016-17-and they struggled for consistency despite the obvious pace – and promise – shown by the 23-year-old New Zealander Mitch Evans. In signing Piquet on – to replace Englishman Adam Carroll – during the off-season, Jaguar have quite obviously gone for a driver who has seen and done it all across around two decades at the top of the sport.

“Mitch is an extraordinarily fast driver but he hasn’t seen what I’ve seen in the past 10 to 15 years of racing,” said Piquet. “It’s good that they are trusting me and we are doing everything that’s needed to accelerate this learning curve.”

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Son of the three-time Formula One great, Piquet’s own history includes 33 starts for Renault in Formula One, as well as a British Formula Three title (2004), and he won the first-ever driver’s title with Formula E back in 2014-15.

Back then the Brazilian was the star of the show for what is now the NIO Formula E team but across the two seasons since a struggle for consistency has seen his fortunes flounder, with Piquet then finishing 15th and 11th, respectively.

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The time had come for a fresh challenge, he said, and the lure of Jaguar proved irresistible.

“Obviously being frustrated where I was,” said Piquet. “Winning a championship then suddenly you’re at the back of the grid is pretty painful. With things not going that well, the decision was a no-brainer.”

Piquet’s position at Jaguar will – they hope – see him amping up the pressure on the likes of Formula E’s reigning stars Lucas di Grassi (Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler) and Sebastien Buemi (Renault e.dams), who ran 1-2 last season, and 2-1 the season before.

There’s also the matter of sharing his experiences with Evans.

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“We wanted two drivers who could really finish in the points and Nelson’s experience – having been champion in season one – will be really important to us, him having been proven in Formula E,” said James Barclay, Jaguar’s team director. “The blend of experience with the speed that Mitch brings gives us a really exciting driver line-up.”

Piquet is under no illusions about the task ahead, given how closely fought the Formula E series has been since it was founded, and give then fact that Jaguar are entering just the second season of racing in it. The Brazilian warmed quickly to the Hong Kong track last year, grabbing the first pole of his Formula E career, and he was leading until being swept up in trouble on lap 17. In the end Piquet finished 11th – so he knows full well what lies ahead across the weekend.

“I think we have to be down to earth,” he said. “Jaguar joined Formula E a little bit late, so everybody had a head start. There’s been a lot of catching up. I think the reason I joined was it’s such an amazing brand to be part of. It’s not just a question of a quick driver but someone who could bring a little bit of experience, a bit of knowledge of the last three years, someone who could see the weak points and where we need to improve. We’re going to be working very hard.”