The little Minardi team had looked chaotic and amateurish for much of the 1985 season, and their inexperienced driver Pierluigi Martini looked completely at sea, usually qualifying at or near the back and spinning or crashing into retirement. Even when Martini didn’t crash, he car was unreliable – only classifying three times (and only actually finishing twice), the best result being 8th at the demolition-derby Australian Grand Prix. The team persisted with last year’s M185 chassis and the Motori Moderni engine developed only three-quarters the power of the top engines, leaving the team looking inevitably at a struggle in 1986. Out went Pierluigi Martini and in came Andrea de Cesaris – more experienced but scarcely less of an accident risk – and rookie Alessandro Nannini as the team expanded to a two-car entry.
De Cesaris was becoming known in Formula One as a relatively safe pair of hands, though probably not a champion in the making, to the extent that it was slightly surprising that he was sacked by Ligier part way through the 1985 season – his spectacular crash in Austria was the final straw, but hadn’t really been a colossal error on his part. Nonetheless, his stock had fallen and he would hope that Minardi was the place to showcase his skill at dicing in the midfield.
Sandro Nannini was born in Siena in 1959 to a wealthy family of bakers, and he got his start racing Citroen Dyane and Lancia Stratos cars, before switching to single-seaters and moved into Formula 2 with the Minardi team in 1982. He did well, driving alongside pasta heir Paolo Barilla and came fifth in his first race, followed by a second towards the end of the season. The following years showed his promise rather than spectacular results, combined with a few sportscar drives for Lancia alongside Riccardo Patrese among others. When Minardi stepped up to Formula One in 1985, Nannini was first choice for the seat but was denied a superlicence and had to spend another year in F3000 before securing the licence in time for the 1986 season and displacing his old F2 team-mate Martini.