F1 racing has always been an open wheeled, open tempered affair. From the likes of Jackie Stewart, Mario Andretti, Jacques Villeneuve, and Michael Schumacher, fans have seen some of the greatest racing ever to grace the tarmac. But as of late, no F1 driver has had more presence than the legendary Ayrton Senna De’Silva…
With the poignant reminder of his all too untimely passing last year in the form of the “Senna” documentary by Asif Kapadia (a must watch for any car guy), we are reminded of just how well he could pilot a car, with which in the eyes of many, earns him the title of the worlds best. To stumble upon his most famous personal race machine is something many automotive fans the world over could only dream of. But thankfully, for the 7Tune staff, we happened to do just that. So now, for the first time, we can share that with you.
The 1988 McLaren MP4/4 was bred out of the idea of Gordon Murray and Ron Dennis. At the time, Ron Dennis was the head of team McLaren, which had seen poor results the previous year in the form of a bad engine setup, and a disastrous aero design. At the request of Mr. Dennis himself, Gordon was called in to change all that. Having previously designed ( among many other cars ) the Brabham “Fan car” and also having worked in secret on the legendary McLaren F1 road car for up to 15 years beforehand, Gordon Murray was pleased to help Mr. Dennis find a medium in aerodynamic design and engineering prowess that would push his newest driver, Ayrton Senna De’Silva, to his first world championship and firmly establish legend in the record books.
With the permission from McLaren, Murray went to Honda to pursue an arrangement to use their exceptional 1.5 liter 1200BHP Twin Turbo V6 engine, as it had the smallest size and displacement with the greatest optimum performance. This pleasant medium, when fine-tuned with Gordon’s incredible aero design and McLaren’s legendary suspension engineering, practically made the MP4/4 a Ferrari slayer over night. Behind all the fancy aero and engineering however, lay a brutal monster of a machine.
With the Honda power-plants 1200HP kicking in it’s full force at a meager 3500RPM (Which is fairly low in a car with a 17,000RPM redline), it could accelerate from 0-100KM/H in under two seconds, before even leaving first gear.
But without the aid of traction control, anti lock brakes or any form of stability management, it was entirely up to a skilled and well prepared driver to make it do just that. Thankfully, the en-suite rivals of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna De’Silva were capable enough to handle the car and the rest as they say, is history.
This exact chassis was the one that powered Senna to his first world victory and the one that an emotional Lewis Hamilton piloted on Top Gear.
It has been meticulously maintained by the McLaren museum in Surrey England. What makes its presence so incredible however is its incredibly low ride height, which falls just under 3 feet.
In pictures, it looks like a fairly large racecar, but in person, you wonder how Senna or Prost ever even fit in the damned things.
The cockpit is surprisingly simple and only has a few buttons laid out for communications back to the pits, but compared to the F1 cars of today, it’s quite spartan. To the right of the wheel lies a shifter so closely gated that you wonder where the next gear even lays, and big “BOSS” seat belts slide down over the small seat.
Thankfully for visitors to Japan, anyone can go and view this car. You won’t however, be able to get as up close and personal to it as we did but the staff at the Osaka McLaren Hakko dealership go out of their way to make sure you feel comfortable looking at the car, offering conversation and unique facts along the way.
On the day we went, a beautiful young woman stood all alone in the showroom taking the time to show every little detail on display. They have a 2year contract with McLaren back in England to keep the car in their showroom, and it sits quietly in the front corner, with a MP4/12C flanking it on the opposite side of the room…
[(Adam) So how about the keys to the MP4/12C, McLaren Japan? We’d love to see what makes this amazing car tick!]
If you’re a Senna fan, a McLaren fan, or just a race nut in general, we highly suggest taking the time out to visit. It’s a lifetime altering event, and the best part is that it’s free of charge.
The McLaren Osaka Hakko dealership can be reached by clicking on THIS LINK.
7Tune. The Ultimate JDM Experience Since 2005.
Words and Photos Exclusively for 7Tune – Steve Neill