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The Golden Era of Formula 1 or Plain Domination?

Written by William Stephens, Edited by Simran Kanthi

Credit: ART Collection/Alamy

The heavily disputed golden era of Formula 1 is supposedly the 1980s through to the early 2000s but many years such as 1988, which will be the focus of this article, were dominated very heavily.

1988 saw McLaren design, build and race one of the most famous race cars in the world. The pace of the McLaren-Honda MP4/4 and mixed with two of the greatest talents (Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna) of all time behind the wheel created an unstoppable force throughout the season.

The car is a carbon fibre honeycomb monocoque partnered with a double wishbone pull rod front suspension and a double wishbone rocker actuated rear suspension. Honda's 1.5-litre V6-turbo engine, named the RA168E, powered the car by producing 685 bhp (brake horsepower). The car was kept on the ground by Goodyear tyres. The team made six chassis for the MP4/4 with five of the six taking at least one win; the exception being the MP4/4-03 which was a primary test car driven in Rio after Senna had a car failure in MP4/4-01 and had to use the spare car. All six chassis still exist with the majority being owned by McLaren.

Having signed Ayrton Senna for 1988 to join Alain Prost, McLaren had a formidable line-up. The team showed that in the season opener, the Brazilian Grand Prix, with Senna getting pole and Prost in third with only a V8-powered Williams of Nigel Mansell splitting the duo. The race however showed what was to come for the season with Prost winning and Senna being disqualified. Prost and Senna would trade wins that season by winning 15 of the 16 races including 10 1-2 finishes while also sweeping up the poles for a total of 13 of the 16 times. Senna claimed the drivers' title and McLaren easily claimed the constructors' championship. The only race McLaren had not won was the Italian Grand Prix where Prost had a rare engine failure and Senna had a collision with a lapped car.

1988 was also the year where Senna had one of, if not the most famous pole lap of all time in Monaco that saw him be a staggering 1.4 seconds ahead of his teammate in second. However, after pulling a 50-second lead with Prost stuck behind a slower car, he lost concentration and crashed on lap 67 at Portier.

This level of domination makes the 1988 season similar to the current performance of Red Bull in 2022, as well as the previous years where Mercedes have been at the top, making the golden era not so golden.

If there are any other seasons you would want us to look at, feel free to comment below.

1 comment

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14. Sept. 2022

Great piece William - I think a big part of 1988s dominance was, apart from the car being far superior to the competition (which was a legacy if I recall of a number of its features, such as being very lowline in nature having been trialled at Brabham previously when some of the design team were there and perfected a year or two later at McLaren) most of the other teams were preparing for 1989 when turbo cars were no longer allowed. Most teams pretty much gave away 88 to focus budget and resources on 89. I think its a bit of a feature historically around big rule changes, often one particular team will dominate the final year of one…

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