From a purely historical perspective it seems strange that Nelson Piquet, for all his three world championships, was never recruited by the McLaren team. On the other hand, given that Ayrton Senna drove for the team from 1988 through to 93, you could argue that there was not much time left during his active racing career for him to clinch such a deal. Ayrton and Nelson had a frosty personal relationship and, having got his feet firmly under the McLaren table, it was inconceivable that Senna would agree Nelson being signed. Even assuming the team had suggested it.
Nevertheless, the Brazilian triple champion had some crucial McLaren DNA in his blood. After making his F1 debut at the wheel of an Ensign in the 1978 German GP, Nelson then switched to contest the next three races at the wheel of a McLaren M23 fielded by independents BS Fabrications. So although Piquet never made it to the F1 front line at the wheel of a McLaren some of the key bedrock on which his brilliantly successful career was built had its direct bloodline extending back to the world championships won by Emerson Fittipaldi in 1974 and James Hunt in 1976.
On the strength of those McLaren outings in Austria, Holland and Italy, Nelson earned a drive with the Brabham-Alfa squad by the end of the year and joined Niki Lauda as a full time member of the Brabham team the following year. But when Lauda retired mid-way through 1979, Nelson was elevated to Brabham team leader. The following year he won his first Grand Prix victory through the streets of Long Beach and was only narrowly beaten to the title crown by Williams team leader Alan Jones.
Piquet remained with the Bernie Ecclestone-owned Brabham squad until the end of 1985 when we surprised the entire F1 fraternity by switching to the Williams-Honda team, winning his third world title with Frank’s team in 1987. He then made a strategic wrong-slot to join Lotus, but although he benefitted from the same Honda engines used by Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost at McLaren, the Lotus chassis was not in the same league as the McLaren and he had a fruitless year without a single victory. Between 1990 and 91 he enjoyed something of an Indian summer with Benetton which yielded three race wins and his F1 career eventually petered out at the end of this deal.