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McLaren MP4/4 - Honda, the perfect race car!
Since the beginning of my passion for Formula 1 that I remember the tall, slender figure of Gordon Murray and his bold and almost always innovative creations.
The last project of the South African technician for Brabham has been the BT55, which ran in 1986. This was a fascinating project, with the driver on an almost lying position, the center of gravity placed very low and an original arrangement of the BMW engine, tilted sideways, allowing the reduction of the front surface of the car with an obvious gain in aerodynamic efficiency. Several technical problems, especially of engine lubrication, dictated the failure of the project, which remains associated with one of the darkest years of the team and with the accident that killed the talented Elio de Angelis.
Enthusiastic about the original idea of the car, I thought of dedicating him a technical article. Thus, in a period of pause in the track tests that took place at the Estoril Circuit, after the end of the Championship I looked for Gordon Murray in the team boxes. I had prepared some questions that seemed relevant to me, about his original project, but when I asked him if he would be available for a short conversation, he told me, after a few seconds of reflection, yes, but I would have to have permission from the team owner.
It hasn´t been difficult to find the boss of Brabham and, indeed, of all Formula 1. Affable, Bernie Ecclestone replied to my request in a brief and polite way, that it was not convenient at that time that had any interview, even informal, with Mr. Murray.
A few days after these words, the transfer of the technician to rival team McLaren was made public, in which he would replace John Barnard, hired by Comendatore Enzo Ferrari to assume the command of his technical team.
Gordon Murray found in McLaren a strong technical department, headed by the American Steve Nichols, who allowed him to continue the concept of BT55, and a compact six-cylinder engine in V from Honda, which suited best to its original idea than the 4-cylinder in-line of BMW. If we add to all this the arrival of Ayrton Senna, taken by the Japanese for the Woking team, as teammate of the experienced and already two times World Champion, the Frenchman Alain Prost, we can better understand the triumphant season of McLaren, who in the 1988 Championship, did not won only one race, at Monza.
The McLaren MP4/4-Honda proved to be easy to drive, with a carbon fiber chassis, evolved from the previous generation MP4/3 and built, like its predecessors, by Hercules Aerospace. The suspensions, with double wishbone, activated the shock absorbers with concentric coil springs, by a pull-rod system on the front and by a push-rod one at the rear. The brakes had discs of carbon fiber.
The engine, designated RA-168-E, was also an evolution, the last one before the ban of supercharged engines the next year, of the generation of engines that Honda conceived in the eighties and that powered, successively, the Spirit, Williams, Lotus and McLaren cars. Designed under the technical direction of Osamu Goto, it was a six-cylinder engine in V at 80º, of 1.5-liter capacity, with the boost turbocharger pressure limited to the 2.5 bar of the technical regulations. With a very small time response of the turbo, it turned out to be very gentle on the delivery of power, which, in settlement of qualification, attained near 700CV at 14,000 rpm. The transmission of that power to the rear wheels was made via a manual 6 speed gearbox, built in collaboration with Weismann.
The mastery exercised by the McLaren drivers ended with the consecration of Ayrton Senna, who won half of the 16 races of the Championship and took the pole position 13 times, in winning his first World Championship and an equally brilliant season of Alain Prost, victorious in 7 Grand Prix and maker of 2 pole position, which was a honorable 2nd place in the Championship.
The cutaway drawing that I present in this work was done by order of Philip Morris International, with which I had begun, a year earlier, a fantastic collaboration. In order to made it I used the pictures of technical details, made for the purpose by my good friend the photographer Carlos Matos.
The work on the Brabham BT55-BMW was published, without the required interview with its creator, in a special edition of the weekly Portuguese magazine AutoSport, in collaboration with the renowned journalist José Miguel Barros.