Ask any Formula 1 fan to name some of the sport’s greatest cars and you’ll surely hear mention of McLaren’s MP4/4. It was the last of the turbo era and one of the most successful Formula 1 cars to date.
Designed by Gordon Murray and Steve Nichols, the MP4/4 was the car that earned 15 of 16 pole positions in the 1988 Formula 1 season. It was also the car in which Ayrton Senna secured his first Formula 1 Driver’s Championship. Senna won it by just 3 points, over his teammate Alain Prost.
1988 was the last year before turbos were to be banned from Formula 1, so most teams were eager to shift their focus towards naturally aspirated setups. McLaren decided to hold back and stick with a V6 twin turbo, for which the MP4/4 was specifically designed. At the time Honda’s RA168-E was the most powerful engine on the grid and it proved to be a success for McLaren, who also won the Constructor’s Championship that year.
Senna drove the MP4/4 to 8 of the car’s 15 total victories, before its final outing at the Australian Grand Prix.
It’s quite amazing to look at the MP4/4 compared to this year’s MP4-27, driven by Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. For today’s Formula 1 cars, the emphasis is primarily on aerodynamics, where as in the 80’s aero development was fairly limited and the focus was on power. The MP4/4 developed a whopping 1200 HP, hundreds more than the sport’s current V8s.
With the lack of aerodynamics, the MP4/4 remains clean and sleek. Today it’s a thing of beauty, even down the red and white Marlboro livery. I prefer this look to the current McLaren’s mirror finish and Vodafone livery.
The MP4/4 is now a regular at the Goodwood Festival of Speed and is considered one of the all time F1 greats.
For me, it could be the greatest of them all. The lack of downforce and driver aids, combined with the insane power output are things that would never be allowed by the FIA today. The turbo era in Formula 1 is similar to Group B rallying. Both were times of no holds barred, where nothing was out of reach, in the pursuit of ultimate performance.
Videos courtesy of McLaren.