The Williams team had staged a famous comeback in the latter half of 1985, after some years struggling to marry the powerful Honda engine to a chassis that was fast and reliable. After knocking on the door for most of the season – and Keke Rosberg taking a good win in Detroit – the team won the last three races of the year and hoped that the new FW11 chassis would continue the run of form. Rosberg’s departure to McLaren just as the team were coming good raised a few eyebrows, though there were rumours that he had fallen out with Patrick Head. In his place came 1981 and 1983 champion Nelson Piquet, the Brazilian finally fed up with the Brabham team who seemed unable to give him a consistently competitive car.
Mansell had excelled in 1985, the good car and the competition with Rosberg bringing out his best qualities and putting him on the winning step twice in a row at the end of the season. He showed his famous grit and tenacity, but the car seemed to suit his style better, developed as it had been around Rosberg’s muscular driving. Mansell had often driven his more fragile Lotus to destruction but found it much harder to do so with the robust Williams, and was rewarded with a fine season. It was clear that his speed had rattled Rosberg – how would he stack up against Piquet?
When Frank Williams announced the signing of Nelson Piquet, he simply referred to him as “the best driver in the world” and indeed with the departure of Niki Lauda, Piquet was the most-crowned driver on the grid with two championships against one each for Jones, Prost and Rosberg, the other former champions driving. The perennially cheerful Piquet had stayed with the ailing Brabham team and their powerful but unreliable BMW engines for longer than others would have, and would hope to have the same relationship with Patrick Head and Frank Williams that he had with Gordon Murray and Bernie Ecclestone.