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F1 Racing - - WORLD -

Alain Prost did the bulk of the test­ing work in a mod­i­fied 1987 MP4/2C McLaren mono­coque (above) that ran the all-new turbo Honda ahead of 1988. In De­cem­ber ’87 he gave the McLaren-Honda its first pub­lic out­ing at Sil­ver­stone and com­pleted around 30 laps be­fore suf­fer­ing gear­box fail­ure.

Then it was off to Es­to­ril for a five-day test, ham­pered by rain and fog. Re­ports said the Honda was “buried un­der a ‘spaghetti’ of wiring to log its per­for­mance and fuel con­sump­tion”. After Christ­mas, the in­terim car went to Jerez and then to Rio, with Ayr­ton Senna run­ning in hot weather. Per­for­mance was still noth­ing to write home about.

At the fi­nal test at Imola, the all-new Steve Ni­chols and Gor­don Mur­ray-de­signed MP4/4 ran for the first time. An all-nighter at Wok­ing meant the car just made it for the fi­nal day of the last test. For­mer McLaren test team man­ager Indy Lall takes up the story: “We’d had a hor­ren­dous time with this [in­terim] car dur­ing tests and when we got to Imola the MP4/4 ar­rived and it just looked the bol­locks. We were knack­ered and were sort of shov­elled into the cor­ner be­cause Ayr­ton and Alain didn’t want to know about the old car any more – you can’t blame them.

“But it gives me goose bumps to this day when I think about what hap­pened next. The MP4/4 went on track and the lap times just got quicker and quicker and quicker. It was get­ting dark – and Ayr­ton didn’t want to stop. It was an ab­so­lutely amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Top times at Imola were 1m 29secs, but Senna soon found he was do­ing 1m 27secs, lap­ping two seconds a lap quicker than any­one else. That first year of the McLarenHonda union has gone down in legend: 15 wins from 16 races. From such an in­aus­pi­cious start, it didn’t turn out too bad, did it?

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