He was born in Rio de Janeiro, the son of a Brazilian government minister. He started using his mother's maiden name, Piquet, in his motor racing career to hide his identity.
Nelsons Surname "Piquet" is of French origin and pronounced as "Pee-Kay"
Piquet was a youthful prodigy in British Formula 3 during the late 1970s, and his promotion to Formula One heralded one of the great careers in the sport. Together with the Brabham team, including team boss Bernie Ecclestone and chief designer Gordon Murray, he became a consistent challenger for the world title, despite the transition from Ford V8 to BMW turbo engines.
A shift in 1986 to the Williams team saw Piquet in direct competition with his fiercest rival, Nigel Mansell. Both had highly strung characters and delicate temperaments. Two top drivers with such large egos in the same team was a recipe for fireworks - and sure enough Mansell and Piquet went head to head for the title. Though the two drove the best cars on the grid, their rivalry caused each to deprive the other of points, allowing Alain Prost to steal one of the most fiercely disputed championships in F1 history. Piquet made amends in 1987, using political maneuvering and technical skill to gain the upper hand. Despite winning fewer races than Mansell, in 1987 Piquet emerged as champion. When Piquet followed the dominant Honda engines to a stagnating Lotus team in 1988, his career took a nose dive. He began to lose his reputation when he had no wins in 1988 and even failed to qualify on occasion in 1989. He resorted to using the media to attack his rivals and gained a reputation as an outspoken "loose cannon." However, a payment-by-results deal with Benetton saw Piquet return to top form in 1990, with two wins, followed by the final win of his F1 career at Montreal in 1991 - at the expense of long time rival Mansell.
Known as a practical joker, Piquet lived a stereotypically playboy racing driver lifestyle, earning and losing and earning again a series of small fortunes in his business dealings. One of the great characters of 1980s F1, he tried his hand at the Indy 500 in 1992, but crashed during qualifying and was badly injured. Undaunted, he returned in 1993 with respectable results. He remains an competitve driver in sportscar racing, albeit more for fun than with serious intent.
Since 2000, he has supported the career of his son, Nelson Angelo "Nelsinho" Piquet, who is a leading British F3 driver has been pegged by the F1 media as a future star.