In the mid-’80s, Formula 1 cars were producing absurd amounts of power and trapping some frightening speeds at faster courses like Silverstone. In the case of Nelson Piquet, three-time World Champion, his Williams FW11B was making upwards of 1,100 horsepower in qualifying trim. With high boost, high consumption, and a lifespan of only a few hard laps at the faster circuits, it’s no wonder these finicky motors were often referred to as “grenades”. All that meant for the competitors was that their time to put in a quick one was limited — but, the outrageous pace and sticky qualifying tires made that intense period all the more enjoyable, as Piquet explains here.
He was particularly good at fast, flowing circuits like Silverstone, Spa, Hockenheim, Brands Hatch and so on. Very smooth, mechanically sympathetic, and methodical in his setup, he made sure the 1.5-liter Honda V6 applied most of its power cleanly to guarantee 200-plus miles an hour at the end of the Hangar Straight. Fortunately, with that much power, the Williams team were able to run high downforce and simply push through the drag. With great speed and stability, Piquet nabbed the first of his four poles in 1987 at the British Grand Prix.
Piquet never threw the car into the corner, even the slower ones. Instead, he cajoled the front end of his Williams with great care, and rarely did the rear end shimmy or skitter across the asphalt. Through using clean lines, and the full width of the course (sometimes nibbling the exit curbs), he could get on the power early to keep the Honda howling all the way to its 12,000-rpm redline and deploying all that wonderful turbo power with minimal wheel spin.
That said, with quadruple-digit horsepower something had to give. His smooth touch certainly helped, because the power came in quite violently. With no traction control, it wasn’t hard to lay long, black stripes on the surface of the road. With turbo technology of the day and somewhere around 50 pounds of boost, that mule-kick delivery easily roasted the rear tires, and at 1:02, we see what a frightening timebomb Piquet was riding on his way to pole position. Yet, somehow, he made it look easy: the mark of a true great.
For more on this criminally underrated champion, read his Hotshoe Spotlight piece here.