Flashback: Piquet's problematic shoe

For two decades Maurice Hamilton reported from the F1 paddock with pen, notebook and Canon Sure Shot camera. This month we are in the pits at the 1986 Detroit Grand Prix, with Nelson Piquet needing attention with a problematic driving boot

Nelson-Piquet-shoe

Maurice Hamilton

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At each race this season, Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton and the rest will have ‘quiet rooms’ in which to gather their thoughts and get dressed, ready for action. Driving boots and overalls – probably brand new for each race weekend – will be laid out. It’s unlikely you’ll see an impromptu scene such as this from 1986.

The open pits in Detroit precluded rooms of any description, each team having used pick-up trucks and vans to haul their kit back and forth from Cobo Hall, which housed the paddock. Nelson Piquet had come straight from his hotel room and discovered a problem with his driving boots which, in all likelihood, he had been wearing at the previous six races. We see Nelson leaning on Patrick Head for support while chief mechanic Alan Challis goes to work, fixing whatever is wrong with the heel.

Piquet was not averse to adjusting his kit by the most convenient means. In order to reduce weight and combat the heat and g-forces that came with the unimaginative zigzags of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nelson had removed part of the lining from his crash helmet. These were different days – as would be demonstrated during the Grand Prix in Detroit.

The angular, bumpy streets of ‘Motown’ would extract their dues, the lead changing four times before Piquet found himself in front at half-distance. He stayed there for six laps before making a stop, rejoined in second place, setting the fastest lap – and crashing. Nelson clipped the apex of a left-hander, the Williams being thrown across the road and ripping off its right-front wheel against the wall.

This was in days before safety cars. The marshals waved their arms, blew whistles, generally dithered and took four laps before deciding to leave the Williams where it lay. Compounding an already hazardous situation at the exit of a blind corner, they then withdrew the warning flags on the basis that the drivers knew the car was there.

Ayrton Senna, assuming the road was clear, powered his leading Lotus through the corner – and miraculously managed to miss the stricken car. The reactions of René Arnoux in second place were not so swift. The Ligier driver didn’t hit the Williams but ended up centimetres away after damaging his front suspension against the wall. René being René, he tried to back out and continue, collecting the Arrows of the hapless Thierry Boutsen in the process.

All three drivers walked back to the pits. It must be assumed, at the very least, that Piquet’s discomfort didn’t emanate from his footwear.