There was a sense of a shake-up in Formula One over the winter, with a number of high-profile driver moves and the departure of the Renault and Alfa Romeo teams offset by the Zakspeed and Beatrice Lola teams, who would be running full F1 programmes. Niki Lauda had confirmed his retirement, the negotiations with Brabham having been unsuccessful, and his place at McLaren was taken by Keke Rosberg, who in turn was replaced at Williams by Nelson Piquet. Brabham took on Alfa Romeo refugee Riccardo Patrese, returning to the team with whom he had driven in 1982 and 83, while Renault’s Patrick Tambay went to Carl Haas’s team – their former team-mates Derek Warwick and Eddie Cheever were less fortunate, though, and ended up without a drive as the season approached.
Meanwhile, the Toleman team had been bought out lock, stock and barrel by the Benetton concern and would now be entered as the Benetton team, who retained Teo Fabi alongside new signing Gerhard Berger.
Technical and rules changes
With everyone now using turbo engines, FISA took the step of actually outlawing normally-aspirated engines for 1986, and with no other restrictions on engine size, the result was that 1986’s cars were to be the most powerful yet seen in the sport, with some manufacturers going so far as to produce special qualifying engines with dedicated drive trains that would output massive power but burn out after a couple of laps – nicknamed “grenade engines” for their tendency to explode if pushed too hard.
The boycott of the South African Grand Prix may have been half-hearted in the end, but it was a distraction and a PR nightmare, and an announcement was made that the race would be removed from the calendar until the end of Apartheid; the Dutch Grand Prix was also missing after 33 years; the organising CENAV company having gone out of business. In their place came the Hungarian Grand Prix at a new circuit near Budapest – F1’s first foray behind the Iron Curtain – and a return to Mexico, at the refurbished and newly-renamed Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez near Mexico City, which had last hosted a race in 1970.