The Benetton fashion brand had been sponsoring teams in Formula One since Tyrrell in 1983, moving on to Alfa Romeo and then Toleman, However, they were keen to make an extra step into becoming a constructor in their own right and, after Toleman’s disappointing 1985 season, dogged by early-season tyre supply problems, they agreed to buy the team outright over the winter period. The new owners retained Teo Fabi and most of the backroom staff, but brought in Gerhard Berger and BMW Turbo engines – and an agreement with the Bavarian firm to give them equal support with Brabham. The team’s eye-catching coloured livery recalled the brand’s “United Colours of Benetton” slogan, and the chassis underneath was the one developed by Toleman as the TG186, now renamed the B186. How the new team would fare was, however, anyone’s guess.
Fabi had endured a torrid season overall with Toleman in 1985 despite taking his and the team’s first pole position at the Nurburgring. The team simply never seemed to get over their late start to the season and the anaemic Hart engine didn’t help matters. Fabi managed just two finishes, but outperformed Piercarlo Ghinzani once he joined the team and clearly did well enough to persuade Benetton to retain him as they wanted an Italian driver.
The lanky Austrian had made a good impression overall at Arrows in 1985, although he still needed to calm his more hotheaded moments. He had nonetheless done well with the underpowered car to score twice and it was easy to forget this was his first full season in Formula One. His speed had turned some heads, and that plus his connections with BMW secured him a potentially career-enhancing move to the new Benetton team, and in celebration he debuted a new helmet design, blue with red, green and yellow flashes to co-ordinate with the team’s multicoloured approach.