BACK TO THE FUTURE
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?