McLaren MP4/4

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McLaren MP4/4
Ayrton Senna 1988 Canada.jpg
Category Formula One
Constructor McLaren International
Designer(s) Steve Nichols
Gordon Murray
Predecessor MP4/3
Successor MP4/5
Technical specifications[1] [2]
Chassis Carbon fibre honeycomb monocoque
Suspension (front) Double wishbones, pull-rod actuated coil springs and dampers
Suspension (rear) Double wishbones, rocker-arm actuated coil springs and dampers
Axle track Front: 1,824 mm (71.8 in)
Rear: 1,670 mm (66 in)
Wheelbase 2,875 mm (113.2 in)
Engine mid-engine, longitudinally mounted, 1,494 cc (91.2 cu in), Honda RA168-E, 80° V6, turbo (2.5 Bar limited)
Transmission Weismann-McLaren 6-Speed manual
Fuel Shell
Tyres Goodyear
Competition history
Notable entrants Marlboro McLaren Honda
Notable drivers 11. France Alain Prost
12. Brazil Ayrton Senna
Debut 1988 Brazilian Grand Prix
Races Wins Poles Fastest laps
16 15 15 10
Constructors' Championships 1 (1988)
Drivers' Championships 1 (1988, Ayrton Senna)

The McLaren MP4/4 was a highly successful Formula 1 car that competed in the 1988 Formula One season. It was designed by American engineer Steve Nichols, with assistance from the team's Technical Director Gordon Murray. Nichols and Murray based the design on the lowline Brabham BT55, designed by Murray for the 1986 season when Murray was chief designer at Brabham. It is one of the most dominant Formula One cars ever built, winning all but one race and claiming all but one pole position in the 1988 season.[3]

Origins[edit]

The MP4/4 and the Honda RA168E engine

1987 was a relatively disappointing season for McLaren. The Steve Nichols designed McLaren MP4/3 with its 900 bhp (671 kW; 912 PS) TAG-Porsche engine lost out nine times to the dominant Honda powered Williams' Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell, twice to the Lotus-Honda of Ayrton Senna, and twice in the latter stages to the Ferrari of Gerhard Berger. Reigning World Champion Prost taking only three wins for the season and finished 4th in the Drivers' Championship, though his win in Portugal was cause for celebration as it was the Frenchman's 28th career win, taking him past the previous record of 27 wins by triple World Champion Jackie Stewart.

McLaren secured the 1.5L V6 Honda turbo engines, one of the most powerful in F1 at the time. With the engines coming at the expense of Williams, a strong 1988 was possible. Team boss Ron Dennis had previously tried to secure Honda engines for his Formula 2 team and welcomed the Japanese company after four successful years with the TAG engines. 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. Steve Nichols went ahead with the design of the car on a purely turbo engine basis, which put the team at a distinct advantage over their rivals. There was speculation that Honda would introduce their V10 engine during 1988, though Ron Dennis confirmed during qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza that racing the V10 was never part of the plan for 1988. By keeping the V6 engine, Honda and McLaren also gave themselves more development time on the 1989 car.

The lowline chassis layout was pioneered in 1986 when Murray was at Brabham. The idea being that a low car with a reduced front area of about 30% 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, with cornering speeds unaffected despite less wing being needed, and straight line speeds improved as less air needed to be moved by the car. In practice though, the slanted straight 4 BMW engine used in the Brabham proved troublesome in this layout with fuel starvation problems, oil starvation, and engine installation issues plaguing the BT55. While the BT55 was generally among the quickest cars in a straight line and proved to have good downforce in the corners, the cars oil starvation problems, added to the 4cyl BMW's legendary poor throttle response and subsequent turbo lag (often around 2 seconds), saw to it that acceleration was severely lacking compared to its rivals. Overall the cars problems made the BT55 generally uncompetitive on all but the faster circuits where top speed often counted for more than acceleration. The 80° Honda V6 engine however was smaller and had a lower centre of gravity than its BMW counterpart, so it was ideal for the low-down chassis layout (Murray had stated in an interview during 1986 about the lowline concept that it would work much better with a V6 engine). With this in mind, Murray's original design for the BT55 was revised and McLaren went ahead with his plan.

The lowline concept was not completely new to McLaren however. Murray had joined the team in 1987 where he played a small hand in helping Nichols refine his design for the MP4/4's predecessor, the MP4/3, which was completely different aerodynamically to the bulbous looking MP4/2C designed by John Barnard which was used by the team from 1984-1986. With the 90° TAG-Porsche V6 at their disposal, and a fuel tank size of 195 litres (down from 220 litres), McLaren proved that the concept did work, with redesigned side pods also getting the treatment (only the nose section remained as a visual reminder of the MP4/2C, though it too was lower and approximately 10% smaller). The improved aerodynamics helping the Prost and Stefan Johansson to be closer to the more powerful Honda powered cars than they might have been with the older MP4/2 design, although the team was hampered by unreliability which had crept into the TAG engines which had been redesigned in 1987 to cope with the lower fuel limit and the FIA's controversial pop-off valve which restricted turbo boost to just 4.0 Bar. The team was able to build on this and, with the smaller 80° Honda V6, and a reduction in fuel tank size from 195 to 150 litres, the sleek looking MP4/4 was produced and first appeared early in 1988.

Team performance[edit]

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 Honda engines with 650 bhp (485 kW; 659 PS), 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 RA168-E which was especially built for the reduction in turbo boost from 4.0 bar to 2.5 bar rather than upgrading the 1987 spec 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, save for a few aerodynamic revisions. The car appeared at the first race in Brazil with very little pre-season testing at Imola only a week before the race, but Senna was able to put the car on pole position by half a second from surprise 2nd placed qualifier, Nigel Mansell driving the 600 bhp (447 kW; 608 PS), naturally aspirated Williams-Judd V8, with Prost qualifying 3rd.

One feature of the MP4/4 was the driver's position. Due to the cars low-slung aerodynamics, and the FIA safety rule which stated that the top of a drivers' helmet had to be below an imaginary straight line from the top of the roll bar to the top of the cowling, the drivers were required to be in a 'lay down' or reclining position rather than the conventional upright seating position of Grand Prix cars until then. At first Prost objected to the new driving position, claiming it made the car uncomfortable to drive. However, the more he drove the MP4/4, the more he got used to the position. The car can be considered a pioneer as the current F1 cars (2014) all have the lay down driving position as standard.

Before 1988, the most dominant car seen in a single season of F1 had been McLaren's 1984 car, the John Barnard designed MP4/2 which had won 12 of the 16 races that year driven by Prost and World Champion Niki Lauda (Lauda had defeated Prost to the Drivers' Championship by only half a point). However the MP4/4's successes eclipsed the MP4/2 not only in wins, but in qualifying performance. 1988 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 the 14 races he finished (he had 2 retirements - Britain and Italy). The dominant run was only interrupted once, at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza for Round 12, when Senna crashed out of the lead with only two laps remaining while lapping Jean-Louis Schlesser, who was making his first and only F1 start for Williams in place of Mansell who was suffering from chickenpox. With Prost already out after a rare engine failure, Gerhard Berger claimed an emotional victory for Ferrari just a month after the death of Ferrari founder Enzo Ferrari.

Perhaps the most telling example of the MP4/4's emphatic domination was seen at San Marino in just the second race of the season. Senna and Prost both qualified the 5.040 km (3.131 mi) Imola circuit in the 1:27's (Senna 0.7 faster than Prost) while no other driver could get below 1:30. Third on the grid was defending World Champion Nelson Piquet in his Lotus which used the same Honda engines as McLaren. Piquet could only qualify in 1:30.500, 3.352 seconds slower than Senna and 2.581 slower than Prost. Despite both Piquet and Lotus telling the assembled media at Imola that they believed the Lotus 100T to be better aerodynamically, and therefore more fuel efficient than the MP4/4, both McLaren-Hondas had lapped the entire field, including 3rd placed Piquet, by lap 55 of the 60 lap race. The fast Imola circuit with its long periods of full throttle racing, was notoriously hard on fuel, especially for the turbo cars, and the McLarens lapping the field at the speed they did proved the aerodynamic efficiency of the car as well as the work Honda had undertaken to reduce fuel consumption. Prost and Senna's fastest laps (again the only drivers under 1:30) were 1.5 seconds faster than the next fastest, Gerhard Berger's Ferrari. Piquet's fastest lap was only the 9th fastest of the race, and some 2.8 seconds slower than Prost's fastest lap of 1:29.685. Both Prost and Senna lapped faster than Piquet had qualified, putting an exclamation mark on McLaren's dominant weekend.

The car retired only 4 times in the season - with Prost retiring at Silverstone during a very wet British Grand Prix (handling), and at Monza for the Italian Grand Prix (engine), along with Senna's infamous accidents at Monaco (where he totally dominated qualifying and by lap 66 of the race had built a 50 second lead over Prost who had been stuck for 54 laps behind Berger, only to throw it away by crashing into the barriers at Portier. As he lived in Monaco, Senna went back to his home and did not contact the team until the next day when he finally returned to the pits as the team was packing up, such was his disappointment), and Monza. Monaco was another example of McLaren's domination, Senna qualified 1.4 seconds faster than acknowledged Monaco master Prost, who himself was 1.2 seconds faster than third placed Gerhard Berger in his Ferrari.

During the season both McLarens qualified for a race over one second faster than the rest of the field on six occasions (San Marino, Monaco, Germany, Portugal, Japan and Australia), while the team achieved 15 pole positions (13 for Senna and 2 for Prost) to go along with the 15 wins. Only Gerhard Berger's pole position at Silverstone prevented a perfect pole record for McLaren. Britain was the only race where neither McLaren qualified on the front row with Ferrari's Michele Alboreto qualifying 2nd, Senna and Prost occupying the 2nd row. Britain was also the only race of the season that Ayrton Senna didn't qualify his McLaren-Honda on the front row of the grid. Prost failed to qualify on the front row four times during the season (Brazil, Detroit, Britain and Hungary). Hungary saw the worst qualifying position for a McLaren in 1988 when Prost was only 7th fastest. Senna, as usual, was on pole at the tight Hungaroring, though only 0.108 in front of Nigel Mansell's Williams-Judd. Other than at Silverstone, this was the closest any car got to knocking one of the MP4/4's off pole position.

It was during qualifying at Hockenheim in Germany, the MP4/4 set its top speed record, and the fastest speed trap of the 1988 season when both Senna and Prost achieved 333 km/h (207 mph) on the 1.6 km long straight that took the cars into the forest. This compared favourably to the Ferrari of Berger who trapped at 328 km/h (204 mph), and the fastest of the non-turbo's, the March-Judd of Ivan Capelli which was trapped at 312 km/h (194 mph). However, with the reduction in engine power from the levels of 1986 and 1987, the McLaren-Honda's top speed was 12 km/h (7 mph) slower than the fastest speed of 1987 (Nelson Piquet in a Williams-Honda at Monza), and 19 km/h (12 mph) slower than had been achieved in 1986 (Gerhard Berger in a Benetton-BMW, also at Monza).

It was at Silverstone that McLaren introduced revised aerodynamics to the MP4/4, doing away with the turbo "snorkels" on the side pods. While this proved troublesome on the first day of qualifying, with both drivers feeling it created imbalance in the cars, and the snorkels re-introduced for the rest of the British GP weekend, it was the last time the snorkels were seen on the MP4/4s for the rest of the season, as testing before the next round in Germany had shown the imbalance was not caused by the removal of the snorkels. Team boss Ron Dennis estimated that the Research and development on the revised aerodynamics had cost the team somewhere around £150,000.

Other than the four retirements, the lowest finishing position for the MP4/4 were a 6th in Round 13 in Portugal, and 4th in the next race in Spain, with both recorded by Senna. During both races his car was hampered by fuel readout problems which forced him to run slower than he otherwise could have in order to have enough fuel to finish. Both races were won by Alain Prost.

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). McLaren, who scored a then record 199 points in the Constructors Championship, wrapped up the Constructors title with a 1-2 finish in Belgium for Round 11 of the 16 race season, it was the team's eighth 1-2 finish of the season (Senna and Prost would finish 1-2 twice more, in Japan and Australia). The team finished the season a massive 134 points in front of 2nd placed Ferrari.

The MP4/4 would be succeeded by the Honda V10 powered McLaren MP4/5 in 1989. Although statistically not as successful as the MP4/4, the 1989 car would give the team another Constructors Championship, with Prost and Senna finishing 1-2 in the Drivers' Championship.

Former McLaren Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton drove the MP4/4 on Top Gear (though the show mistakenly quoted the Honda engines 1986 power figures of 1,200 bhp (895 kW; 1,217 PS) and not the actual 1988 figure of 650 bhp). After driving the car, Hamilton said to host Jeremy Clarkson "I love this car. It's one of the best days of my life. I finally can check off my dream of driving this car." Not surprisingly, Hamilton also noted that the car lacked grip compared to the aerodynamically superior McLaren MP4-25 he raced that year (2010).

A modified car, the MP4/4B, was used as a test mule for Honda's new 3.5 litre V10 designed around the new regulations for the 1989 season banning turbo-charged engines.[4]

Chassis log history[edit]

Bruno Senna demonstrating an MP4/4 at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, 2009.

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 sometimes on display at the Honda Collection Hall at Motegi. Chassis #2 is in a private collection in the UK.

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 (used in Italian GP).
4: Monaco, Mexico, & France by Prost
5: Great Britain, Germany, Hungary, Belgium by Senna.
6: Portugal, Spain, & Australia by Prost.

Other[edit]

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; 588 kW).

Complete Formula One results[edit]

(key)(results in bold indicate pole position, results in italics indicate fastest lap)

Year Entrant Engine Tyres Drivers 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Pts. WCC
1988 Marlboro McLaren Honda RA168-E
V6 tc
G BRA SMR MON MEX CAN DET FRA GBR GER HUN BEL ITA POR ESP JPN AUS 199 1st
Alain Prost 1 2 1 1 2 2 1 Ret 2 2 2 Ret 1 1 2 1
Ayrton Senna DSQ 1 Ret 2 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 10 6 4 1 2

See also[edit]

Alain Prost's McLaren MP4/4
1988 McLaren-Honda MP4/4 driven by Bruno Senna at Goodwood Festival of Speed 2009

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References[edit]

  1. ^ "1988 McLaren MP4/4 Honda - Images, Specifications and Information". Ultimatecarpage.com. 2009-06-24. Retrieved 2010-08-23. 
  2. ^ "Weismann McLaren F1 Car Transaxle". Weismann.net. 2009-06-24. Retrieved 2010-11-03. 
  3. ^ "McLaren Timeline '80s". 
  4. ^ http://www.forix.com/8w/6thgear/neverraced.html

Bibliography[edit]


Awards
Preceded by
Jaguar XJR-8
Autosport
Racing Car Of The Year

1988
Succeeded by
Sauber C9