McLaren MP4/4 - Well Deserved Place in History of Formula 1

  • McLaren MP4/4 Ayrton Senna Honda cars mp4
  • Senna Prost McLaren MP4/4

British race and sports car manufacturer McLaren is one of the greatest names in the business. This status has been achieved by a long line of successful race cars. Among all those glorious machines, there is one race car which was for one season absolutely dominant in Formula One.

Driven by legends of Formula One

With an almost perfect score and championship title, the McLaren MP4/4 reserved its place in the history of the sport with its perfect combination of technology and power, designed and driven by some of the most famous and most successful names in Formula One history.

McLaren MP4/4 Honda side view

McLaren MP4/4 powered by Honda engine

Fresh approach for Honda V6 engine

The story began in 1987 when the McLaren design team finished work on the new MP4/4. The new chassis for McLaren MP4/4 was designed by an American freelance engineer Steve Nichols, with an assistance from the team’s technical director Gordon Murray who later became famous for designing the McLaren F1 road car. The initial design of McLaren MP4/4 was influenced by Murray’s earlier work but the new set of rules and Honda V6 turbo engine demanded a fresh approach. The latest engine had only 1.5 liters of displacement but over 700 bhp which was more than enough to battle the competition. In 1988, Ayrton Senna joined Alain Prost in the McLaren team and with a new car and Honda engine, the team was confident of success.

McLaren MP 4/4 1988 racing, front view

McLaren MP4/4 dominated 1988 Formula 1 season

Great car in hands of great racing drivers – Prost and Senna

The McLaren MP4/4 had an interesting low profile which was very aerodynamic and helped achieving high speeds. Initially, the drivers’ position was very low, almost ‘lying down’ or in a reclining position rather than the conventional upright seating position of Grand Prix cars of that time. Though initially Prost was not very happy with this position, after a while he got used to it. In fact, the McLaren MP4/4 can be considered a pioneer as the current F1 cars all have the reclining driving position as standard. During the initial testing, it was clear that the new McLaren was something special and Alain Prost reportedly told Team Principle Ron Dennis that he knew the car would win the World Championship.

1988 Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost with McLaren MP4/4

Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost with McLaren MP4/4 in 1988

McLaren team dominates 1988 Formula One season

Prost was proven right. The McLaren MP4/4 won the 1988 Formula One championship with 15 wins out of 16 races. It also won all pole positions that year. This fantastic result literally paralysed their competitors.  The Prost/Senna duo was so dominant that the team finished the season with a massive 134 point lead ahead of the 2nd placed Ferrari team and achieved a record speed for the 1988 season (333 km/h on Hockenheim, German Grand Prix). The MP4/4 lost only one race in Monza and all the other 15 races were completed either in first or second place. In fact, many felt that it was a self-inflicted defeat in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza after Ayrton Senna tripped over backmarker Jean-Louis Schlesser’s Williams-Judd in the first chicane. The Brazilian started on the pole no less than 13 times and won eight races to take the World title despite having been disqualified in the opener in Brazil.

Video – Alonso and Button speaking about McLaren MP4/4

Impressive legacy of McLaren MP4/4

The team produced a total of six MP4/4 chassis for the 1988 season, even though it would be obsolete by the end of the year when the new 3.5 litres normally aspirated engine rules came into force. However, the impressive legacy of MP4/4 and the fantastic driving by Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost will never be forgotten. The legend is very much alive even today as the most successful Formula One car in history and possibly the best McLaren racing car ever produced.

McLaren Honda at Detroit F1 Grand Prix track view

Ayrton Senna drives McLaren Mp4/4 at 1988 Detroit Formula 1 Grand Prix


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