Classic Cars Wiki
Classic Cars Wiki
McLaren MP4-4 Honda, Chassis MP44-1, at the 2013 Goodwood Festival of Speed, WM

McLaren MP4-4 Honda, Chassis MP44-1, at the 2013 Goodwood Festival of Speed, by Wouter Melissen -

The McLaren MP4/4 was a highly successful Formula 1 car that competed in the 1988 Formula One season.

It was designed by Gordon Murray, who based the design on his lowline Brabham BT55 car of 1986, and American racecar engineer Steve Nichols.

It is the most dominant Formula One car ever built, (statistically), winning all but one race in the 1988 season.


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 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 Honda RA168E engines with 685 PS (504 kW; 676 bhp), 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 with very little testing, but that didn't stop Senna putting the car on pole position by half a second from surprise 2nd placed qualifier Nigel Mansell driving the naturally aspirated Williams-Judd V8.

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 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 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. Indeed both McLaren-Honda's had lapped the entire field by lap 55 of the 60 lap race with Prost and Senna's fastest laps (again the only drivers under 1:30) 1.5 seconds faster than the next fastest, Gerhard Berger's Ferrari.

The car retired only 4 times in the season - with Prost retiring at Silverstone and Monza, and Senna's infamous accidents at Monaco and Monza. Another example of McLaren's domination was at the 3rd race in Monaco where Senna qualified 1.4 seconds faster than 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 for the British Grand Prix 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 with Senna and Prost on the 2nd row. 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). It would be followed by the Honda V10 powered McLaren MP4/5 in 1989.

Current McLaren Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton drove the MP4/4 on Top Gear. 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."

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.

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 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.


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).


  • Class: Formula One car
  • Engine: Honda V6 powered by 2 Turbochargers (900bhp/671 kW)
  • Gearbox: 6 speed manual
  • Drivetrain: Rear Wheel Drive (RWD)
  • Weight: 540 Kilograms (1190.5 lbs)
  • Length: 4394 mm (173 inches)
  • Width: 2134 mm (84 inches)
  • Height: 940 mm (37 inches)
  • Tyres: Slick/Grooved Goodyear tires with shiny-black BBS rims