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The Most Successful F1 Car Ever.

The 1988 season was set to be the last for the turbocharged cars that had dominated Formula 1 for the last 5 years. The McLaren MP4/3 of the previous year, powered by the Porsche TAG engine was fast, but it was down on power and reliability compared to the Honda RA168E that would soon be in the back of the the 1988 McLaren contender.

The key to McLaren’s success in the 1988 season was developing the MP4/4 around the Honda turbocharged engine, which had powered Williams to the past 2 constructors championships. While other teams were focussing on the new 3.5 litre naturally aspirated rules, McLaren did not.

The result was a stunningly simple car that received only 3 minor updates throughout the season. McLaren had the reliability, the speed and arguably the two best drivers on the grid. Records were about to be broken.

The 1988 Formula 1 Season

The Steve Nichols designed MP4/4 started the season in Brazil with very little testing. Senna put the MP4/4 on pole with Prost putting the sister chassis on the second row. Prost came away with the win, Senna was disqualified.

The San Marino Grand Prix was the second race on the calendar. It was the first 1-2 of the season for both qualifying and race finishes. Unbelievably the duo would finish 1-2 a further 7 times in the next 9 races.

By the end of the 16 round season Senna had scored 8 wins, Prost 7. Prost had more points than Senna but the championship rules dictated only the best 11 races count towards the championship. Senna had the most wins and so took the championship. The McLaren MP4/4 won 15 out of 16 races, an incredible 93.75% of the races it entered.

The Mclaren Mp4/4 - The Technical

The Gordon Murray lead design team developed the carbon monocoque around the new for the ’88 season Honda RA168E 1.5-litre V6-turbo engine. The move to naturally aspirated engines for 1989 meant that most teams on the grid were using evolutions of their 1987 cars. Steve Nichols designed a low slung car, featuring a reclined driving position. Sleek bodywork and simple aerodynamics adorned the outer surfaces. Pullrod front suspension allowed a low narrow nose which helped reduce drag. Top speed was only marginally down on previous years, even though there had been a drastic reduction in turbo boost.

With reduced boost pressure down from 4.0 bar to 2.5 bar and smaller fuel tank (150l) dictated for the 1988 season, the Japanese manufacturer designed a new engine to make the most of the rules. With up to 700 reliable horsepower still available the team were able to control the races from the get go.

In total McLaren built six MP4/4 chassis which all still exist today. Two are in the hands of collectors and 4 are still owned by McLaren. They are regularly displayed and even run on track for historic events form time to time.

Only time will tell if the records set by the MP4/4 will be beaten.


Chassis construction: McLaren moulded carbon fibre/honeycomb composite
Bodywork construction: One piece cockpit top, side panels and engine cover
Separate carbon fibre nose section
Front suspension: Upper and lower wishbones, with pullrod-operated, remotely adjustable Showa spring/damper units
Rear suspension: Upper and lower wishbones, with pushrod-operated, remotely adjustable Showa spring/damper units, plus lower track-control arm
Wheel diameter: Front and rear: 13 in (330 mm)
Wheel rim widths: Front: 11.5 in (292 mm)
Rear: 16.5 in (419 mm)
Tyres: Goodyear
Brakes calipers: McLaren
Discs and pads: Carbon Industrie
Steering: McLaren rack-and-pinion
Radiators, intercoolers and oil coolers: McLaren with Secan cores
Fuel tank: ATL
Battery: GS Yuasa
Instruments: Honda and McLaren
Oil tank: Integral within gearbox casing
Carbon composite materials: Hercules Aerospace
Carbon release agents/bonding materials: Hysol Frekote


Clutch: Tilton 5.5 in (140.0 mm) multiplate carbon
Gearbox: McLaren six-speed, three-shaft longitudinal. Dry sump lubrication system
Differential: Torsen (Gleason internals)
Driveshafts: Metalor steel


Type: Honda RA168E
Cylinder layout: V6 (80°)
Maximum downshift rev limit: 14,000 rpm
Fuel and oil: Shell
Spark plugs: NGK
Fuel injection and ignition: Honda PGM-FI
Power: 504 kW (676 bhp) at 12,500 rpm
Torque: 424 Nm (313 lb/ft) at 10,000 rpm
Displacement: 1,494 cc (91.2 in³)
Compression ratio: 9.4:1
Bore: 79.0 mm (3.1 in)
Stroke: 50.8 mm (2.0 in)
Weight: 146 kg (322 lb) fully dressed
Cylinder block: Cast iron with wet cylinder lines
Cylinder heads: Aluminium alloy
Camshafts: Two per bank (inlet and exhaust), gear-driven
Turbochargers: Two, IHI

Dimensions and weights

Wheelbase: 2,875 mm (113.2 in)
Track: Front: 1,824 mm (71.8 in)
Rear: 1,670 mm (65.7 in)
Length: 4,394 mm (173.0 in)
Width: 2,134 mm (84.0 in)
Height: 940.0 mm (37.0 in)
Weight (without driver): 540 kg (1,196 lb)
Fuel tank capacity: 150 litres (39.6 gallons)

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