McLaren’s dominance of the 1988 Formula One season was nearly total. It was only at Monza, where a spark plug failure forced Alain Prost’s retirement and a crash cost Ayrton Senna the lead, where a McLaren didn’t win. A lot of McLaren’s dominance had to do with its car, the legendary MP4/4. WTF1 caught up with MP4/4 designer Gordon Murray to learn what made this car so good.
Murray of course gives a lot of credit to its drivers, both of whom were at the top of their game in 1988, but he admits the car was pretty damn good too. It was powered by a 1.5-liter turbocharged V6 built by Honda that proved to be reliable and powerful, and it featured radical aerodynamics. Murray’s big idea was to get the driver and engine as flat as possible, which brought big gains in aerodynamic efficiency.
“We knew from the wind tunnel that it was going to be good,”Murray said. He was proven right when the MP4/4 was 1.5 seconds quicker than any of its competition in testing.
The MP4/4 owed much of its suspension design from Murray’s previous workhorses developed for Brabham, and a last-minute gearbox redesign ensured reliability through the season.
No F1 car has matched the MP4/4’s dominance, though Mercedes-AMG came close in 2016, winning 19 out of 21 races. In Murray’s estimation, everything came together perfectly in 1988, and it’s hard to disagree with him.