Australian racing driver Jack Brabham founded his own team in 1960 and went on to win the championship in it in 1966 – the only driver to ever have won the championship in a car with his own name on it – and New Zealand teammate Denny Hulme followed suit in 1967. However, results fell away towards the end of the 1960s and when Brabham retired after the 1970 season he sold his share to co-founder Ron Tauranac, who signed Graham Hill. However, Tauranac only managed the team for one season before realising he was an engineer not a businessman and selling the team to Bernie Ecclestone, former owner of the Connaught team and Jochen Rindt’s manager. Ecclestone and Tauranac rapidly fell out and the latter left early in 1972, paving the way for Gordon Murray to take over as designer. Murray’s designs brought the team back to competitiveness combined with Eccelstone’s shrewd eye for commercial deals and innovation. Carlos Reutemann led the team through the early to mid 70s during which they seemed like championship contenders but could never quite deliver, even after signing Niki Lauda away from Ferrari to replace Reutemann in 1978 – not helped by a misjudged engine deal for exclusive use of free Alfa-Romeo engines which turned out to be overweight and underpowered, and were ditched for 1979. Performances were slow to improve and Lauda stormed out at the end of the season leaving young Brazilian Nelson Piquet as team leader, but for 1980 the car was much more competitive and Piquet finished second in the drivers’ standings after winning three races.
Nelson Piquet Souto Maior was born in Rio, the son of a Brazilian politician and raced under his mother’s maiden name Piquet as his father disapproved of his son’s choice of hobby. Piquet made his name in Europe after taking the advice of Emerson Fittipaldi to move there, and won the British F3 season in 1978, breaking Jackie Stewart’s win record. This gave him an F1 debut with Ensign in 1978, followed by a couple of races for the B&S Fabrications team driving customer McLarens. For the very last race of the 1978 season he signed with Brabham and lined up alongside Niki Lauda for 1979. The year was disastrous for the team and Lauda quit before the end of the season, leaving Piquet as team leader, but in 1980 he showed his quality by leading a revived team to a title challenge and finished second behind Jones.
Mexican Hector Rebaque had made his F1 debut a year earlier than Piquet, for the Hesketh factory team in 1977 but James Hunt’s former employers were on their way out and he only qualified for one race. For 1978 Rebaque took the bold step of founding his own team after failing to get a drive elsewhere – buying a Lotus 78 chassis, with mostly bad results, although he managed a point at the German Grand Prix. In 1979, the Rebaque team built their own car, which failed to qualify or finish for the last three races before the team folded. However, during 1980, he had his break when called on to replace the disappointing Ricardo Zuniño at Brabham, who were having a good year. A solo point in Canada was enough to keep him the drive for 1981.