McLaren Honda MP4/4, Ayrton Senna – World Champion 1988 – (540881812):
Arguably the greatest Formula One car ever made, driven by arguably the greatest driver ever. Senna was known for his aggressive, relentless driving style, and the MP4/4’s design permitted him to take his existing skills, refine them, and then build on them. Its low nose allowed for high-speed cornering and control, whilst the light bodywork made for nimble turns and overtakes. And then there’s the engine, Honda’s legendary RA168E 1.5-litre V6 turbo, capable of producing 700 horsepower at 13,000 rpm. Sufficient yet controllable. Fast yet rigid. The car was the perfect amalgamation of elegance, speed, power and prowess, and Aryton Senna was already all of those things in any car. Pairing him with the MP4/4 really wasn’t all that fair.
1988 was almost embarrassing in the way McLaren walked all over every other team. Prior to 1988, the most dominant car seen in a single season of Formula One had been the car McLaren used in 1984, their MP4/2, driven by Prost and Lauda. It had won twelve of the sixteen races it competed in. However, the success of the MP4/4 eclipsed its predecessor, and then built a legacy of its own. Not only was it better in terms of sheer winning power, but in qualifying, too. McLaren took fifteen victories out of a possible sixteen, and set ten of the fastest laps.
Perhaps the most emphatic example of the MP4/4’s brilliance would be at San Marino. Both Senna and Prost qualified the 3.131-mile Imola circuit in the 1:27s, whilst no other driver could get anywhere near 1:30, let alone below it. Closest was Nelson Piquet, an enormous 3.352 seconds slower than Senna. Moreover, both McLaren’s had lapped the entire field, including Piquet in third place, by lap 55 out of 60.
Imola is a track with long periods of full-throttle racing, and so is notorious for burning through fuel. The fact that the McLaren’s could lap the entire field proved not only their speed, but also their aerodynamic innovation and efficiency, as well as the lengthy work Honda had done to reduce fuel consumption.
The MP4/4 was voted the greatest Formula One car of all time by a panel of engineers and designers, and it was also voted the greatest race car of the 20th Century by Autosport. It is, without a doubt, one of the best Formula One cars ever made.