Perhaps one of, if not the most successful and brilliant Formula One cars ever produced. It was powered by Honda’s RA168E 1.5 litre V6 turbo, and competed during the 1988 Formula One season. Most people associate the car with the fantastic Ayrton Senna, who won the 1988 Championship with the MP4/4. The project was primarily carried out by American engineer Steve Nichols, as was the entire design of the chassis. Its engine was capable of producing 700 horsepower, and 13,000 rpm.
The concept for the MP4/4 originated in 1987. That year, it was becoming seemingly impossible to compete with major manufacturer-backed teams, who used a private engine financed in-house and subsequently built by Porsche.
So, in 1988, McLaren had secured the 1.5 litre V6 Honda turbo engines, which, since the end of the 1985 season, had been the best engine in Formula One. With the engines arriving at McLaren at the expense of Williams, the McLaren team were confident of a hugely successful 1988 season.
Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, McLaren’s two drivers that season, went on to dominate throughout 1988, and the lowest finish they got between the two of them was sixth, with fifteen first-place finishes across the board, out of a possible sixteen. Senna secured eight individual victories, whilst Prost got seven.
Six MP4/4 cars were moulded from carbon fibre, with aid from Hercules Aerospace. They also had a honeycomb composite for lighter weight and subsequent improvements to top speed, cornering and handling.
The story of the MP4/4 is telling. In the Constructors’ Championship, McLaren got 199 points, just two less than the entire field. In second-place was Ferrari, and they had 65 points. Less than a third of McLaren’s tally. The MP4/4 speaks for itself.