The Brabham team had had a disappointing 1984, with the powerful BMW turbo proving shockingly unreliable, particularly in the first half of the season. The car was fast at least, with Piquet managing 9 pole positions out of 16 races, and when running he was usually there or thereabouts unless there was a problem with the car. In fact, Gordon Murray’s BT53 was the only car that looked in the same class as the McLarens for much of the season, and with reliability and better support in the second car, they could well have given the red and white cars a run for their money. The new BT54 looks good and has been having rigorous shakedowns, but it is still effectively a one-car team and they may lack the strength in depth to challenge for the constructors’ title even if Piquet is back in the hunt for the drivers’ crown again. One interesting think to look for will be the tyres: Brabham went with Pirelli to replace their Michelins, while McLaren went for Goodyear – how much difference would this make?
Piquet begins his seventh season with the team and more than ever Gordon Murray’s car and Bernie Ecclestone’s team are built around his requirements. If the frustrations of another flop of a title defence got to him, he didn’t show it, appearing relaxed and jovial all season, even cracking a smile when he ran out of petrol on the last corner to lose second place at the European GP. However, Piquet was usually the only serious competition to the McLarens, and even when things just weren’t working for him he had the maturity to wait it out, take what he could and hope for better luck next time.
If confirmation were needed that Brabham were essentially a one-car team, the appointment of François Hesnault as Piquet’s number two was it. The young Frenchman had had a better year at Ligier than many expected when he appeared out of the blue, and he often ran the more experienced de Cesaris close (though usually only later on when de Cesaris had lost his motivation). He didn’t do anything wrong exactly, but he didn’t turn heads either, and there were many other drivers struggling at smaller teams who would have leaped at the chance to drive the Brabham. No-one expects much of Hesnault at Brabham – but maybe that lack of pressure will help him.