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McLaren MP4/4
Ayrton Senna 1988 Canada.jpg
Category Formula One
Constructor McLaren International
Designer(s) Gordon Murray
Steve Nichols
Technical specifications
Chassis Carbon Fiber Monocoque
Suspension (front) Unequal-length wishbones, pullrod activated
Suspension (rear) Unequal-length wishbones, pushrod activated
Engine Honda RA168E 80-degree V6 1500cc turbocharged Mid-engine, longitudinally mounted
Transmission Weismann 6 speed 3 Shaft Longitudinal Manual
Fuel Shell
Tyres Goodyear
Competition history
Notable entrants Marlboro McLaren-Honda
Notable drivers 11. Alain Prost
12. Ayrton Senna
Debut 1988 Brazilian Grand Prix
Races Wins Poles Fastest laps
16 15 15 10
Constructors' Championships 1
Drivers' Championships 1

The McLaren MP4/4 was the most dominant car in the history of Formula One. It was designed by Gordon Murray, who based the design on his lowline Brabham BT55 car of 1986, and American engineer Steve Nichols.[1]



After a relatively disappointing 1987, when McLaren-TAG Porsche lost out nine times to the dominant Honda-powered Williams, twice to Lotus and twice in the latter stages to Ferrari, Taking only three wins, McLaren secured the 1500cc V6 Honda turbo engines, the most powerful in F1 at the time. With the engines coming at the expense of Williams, a strong 1988 was possible. 1988 was due to be the last year for the turbo engines before they were banned, so most teams were making a concerted effort to establish themselves with naturally-aspirated cars. Murray went ahead with the design of the car on a purely turbo engined basis, which put the team at a distinct advantage over their rivals.

The Donington Collection's ex-Senna MP4/4.

The lowline chassis layout was pioneered when Murray was at Brabham. The idea being that a low car would be more aerodynamically efficient and allow more air to pass over the rear wing causing more downforce to be produced, but without excessive drag. In theory this sounded great. In practice the BMW engine used in the Brabham proved troublesome in this layout with fuel starvation problems and engine installation issues plaguing the BT55. However the Honda unit was much smaller and had a lower centre of gravity than its BMW counterpart, so it was ideal for the low-down chassis layout. With this in mind, Murray revised his design and went ahead with his plan.

Team Performance

The situation improved immensely when Ayrton Senna signed to partner Alain Prost (at Prost's suggestion) on a 3 year contract. The McLaren chassis, the Senna and Prost pairing, and finally the new powerplants, looked like a formidable combination. However, there were concerns after the FIA introduced a fuel regulation for the turbo powered cars of 150 litres for a race distance. Honda's engine management team worked feverishly on the fuel consumption of the engine, trying to improve it in order to avoid embarrassing late race retirements. The team also experimented with active suspension in early testing but this was abandoned, and the car appeared 'as-is' through the season. The car appeared at the first race with very little testing, but that didn't stop Senna putting the car on pole position by a long way.

Before 1988, the most dominant car seen in F1 had been the Lotus 79, however the MP4/4's successes made the Lotus seem almost ordinary. The season was an almost embarrassing walkover for McLaren, who took 15 victories from 16 races, including 10 1-2 finishes and Prost finishing 1st or 2nd in every race other than his 2 retirements in Britain and Italy. The dominant run was only interrupted once, at Monza, when Prost had a rare engine failure and Senna had an accident while lapping Jean-Louis Schlesser making a one-off appearance for Williams. With Prost already out after a rare engine failure, Gerhard Berger of Ferrari took an unexpected victory. Perhaps the most telling example of the MP4/4's emphatic domination was seen at Monaco that year. Senna qualified an astonishing 1.5 seconds faster than Prost using the same car, while Prost was again a second ahead of the rest of the field.

Alain Prost driving the MP4/4 at the 1988 Canadian GP.

At the end of the season, McLaren had taken both the Constructors' and Drivers' titles (Senna edging out Prost by default - only the eleven best results counted but Prost scored more points with fewer wins) but the relationship between their two top class drivers had soured, and they would not reconcile until the rostrum of their last race together.

The MP4/4 took 15 wins from 16 races, 15 pole positions, and 199 points, all in a single season.

It was followed by the McLaren MP4/5.

Chassis Log History

For the 1988 season, six MP4/4 cars were moulded from carbon fibre with assistance from Hercules Aerospace. The chassis numbers, 1 through 6, were used throughout the year. All six MP4/4 chassis still exist: Chassis #1, 3, 4, & 6 are owned by the McLaren Group, with #1 on display at the McLaren Technology Centre, and #3 on loan and displayed at the Donington Grand Prix Exhibition. Another is on display at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu (UK). Chassis #5 is owned by Honda and on display at the Honda Collection Hall at Motegi. Chassis #2 is in a private collection in the United States.

Mclaren MP4/4 chassis number 3: The only MP4/4 never to win a Grand Prix .

Wins/1st Place (by chassis & driver):
1: San Marino and Canada by Senna.
2: Brazil by Prost. USA and Japan by Senna.
3: Only MP4/4 not to win a GP.
4: Monaco, Mexico, & France by Prost.
5: Great Britain, Germany, Hungary, Belgium by Senna.
6: Portugal, Spain, & Australia by Prost.


Senna's MP4/4 was included in the 2001 video game Gran Turismo 3 under the aliases "F688/S" (Japanese and American NTSC-J/NTSC-U/C versions) and "Polyphony002" (European PAL version). It was the least powerful turbo F1 in the game, producing 800 PS (789 hp).

See also

McLaren MP4/4
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Other dominant F1 cars of different eras:


  1. ^ "McLaren Timeline '80s".  
Preceded by
Jaguar XJR-8
Racing Car Of The Year

Succeeded by
Sauber C9


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