After high hopes for 1981, Ligier had started badly before coming good towards the end of the season. The major disappointment had been the second car, following Jean-Pierre Jabouille’s ultimately failed attempts to come back from injury. Patrick Tambay had not delivered in the second half of the season after taking over and was dropped by the team in favour of recruiting Eddie Cheever, who had brought the dreadful Tyrrell home in the points five times in 1981. Cheever would be the team’s first non-Francophone driver, and the only non-Frenchman besides Belgian Jacky Ickx. Matra were working on a turbo V6 engine, and Michel Beaujon and Jabouille were collaborating on the new JS19 chassis to contain it. In the mean time, the team would continue with the JS17-Matra V12 combination that had won twice in 1981.
Cheever had come as a revelation in 1981, wringing decent performances out of the Tyrrell and consistently outperforming his teammate Michele Alboreto, himself touted as a future prospect. Whether or not he would cope with driving in the fiercely patriotic Ligier team alongside an established team leader such as Laffite would remain to be seen.
Fourth place in the drivers’ championship in 1981 didn’t quite tell the whole story: Laffite won two races and took five other podium places in a brilliant second half to the season and with a bit more luck in Caesar’s Palace could have won the world title. A close relationship with Jean-Pierre Jabouille, Ligier team manager and brother-in-law, the prospect of turbo engines meant that Laffite could look forward to a renewed challenge in 1982.