(RIGHT) After winning
the 1988 F1 drivers’
title, Senna would go
on to take two more
with Ron Dennis and
World Champion Alain Prost suddenly had a
problem. The world’s two greatest drivers –
one the established number one; the other
absolutely determined to prove that
perception wrong, no matter what it took
– were now together in what was set to be
by far the fastest car. The whole project
was almost too powerful a combination of
talent and ambition, and would indeed
come to tax Dennis’s management skills.
In the process of squeezing turbo
engines out of F1, the FIA had announced
progressively tougher limits for 1987 and
’ 88, prior to an outright ban for ’ 89. For
’ 88, boost was limited to 2.5 bar and no
more than 150 liters of fuel could be
carried – a hefty penalty expected to tip
the scales decisively in favor of the
3.5-liter, normally aspirated engines.
Honda, working away on its V10 3.5-liter
motor, looked at what power it might
squeeze from a turbo meeting those tough
limitations. It was exactly the sort of extreme
engineering challenge Honda loved about
F1 and, to its excitement, it realized the
turbo would still be the better bet.
Ferrari reached a similar conclusion –
but simply went about adapting its existing
motor. That was not the Honda mentality:
the perfect solution for ’ 88 required an
all-new engine. Osamu Goto was the project
leader: “The ’ 87 engine was the optimum
compromise of power, efficiency and
drivability available with 4-bar and 195
liters,” he said at the time. “With the ’ 88
regulations, we needed to improve
efficiency by 15 percent. With boost
reduced, we also needed higher revs. This
wasn’t possible with the ’ 87 engine.”
Not content with one new engine, Honda
did two versions: one torquey; one for all-out
power, the choice based on track layout.
Conceptually, the McLaren-Honda MP4/4
was an evolution of Gordon Murray’s
lowline Brabham-BMW BT55 of 1986,
but without the compromises imposed
by the BT55’s design upon the engine
(a reliability-sapping laydown version of
the BMW in-line four) or driver (difficulty
seeing and, due to the toboggan-esque
seating pushing the chin on to the chest,
a certain difficulty breathing, allegedly...).
MP4/4’s low bodywork and reduced
frontal area meant less form drag and
improved air flow to the rear wing.
HOW LOW CAN YOU GO?
WIN PERCEN TAGE
( 8 from 16)
Wins were fairly evenly
split between Ayrton
Senna and Alain Prost...
( 13 from 16)
...but Senna owned the
qualifying stats, with 13
poles in ’ 88, compared
with only two for the
more race-oriented Prost.
If you think the MP4/4’s dominance of 1988
was purely down to its Honda power, check
out the lamentable performance of similarly
equipped Lotus, which managed just three
podiums all season with Nelson Piquet.
Note: In 1988, points were awarded
9-6-4-3-2-1 to first six finishers only.