Lewis Hamilton in Ayrton Senna’s McLaren-Honda MP4/4

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Lewis Hamilton in the McLaren-Honda MP4/4
Lewis Hamilton in the McLaren-Honda MP4/4

Lewis Hamilton didn’t get to drive Ayrton Senna’s McLaren-Honda MP4/4 at the Goodwood Festival of Speed as planned. The car’s gearbox broke the day before he was due to take over.

But he did try out the car at McLaren’s headquarters in preparation for the event. Here’s some pictures of Hamilton in the 1988 McLaren-Honda MP4/4.

The MP4/4 was the car Senna won his first championship with in 1988. He and Alain Prost carved up the championship, winning all bar one of the 16 races, the most dominant performance ever seen by an F1 team. They ended the season with 199 points – two less than every other team added together.

The 1.5-litre turbocharged Honda RA168E had around 700bhp at its disposal. This, in the final year of turbo cars in F1, was far less than in early days of turbos. Tight fuel and boost restrictions reined in their explosive potency which had been far in excess of 1,000bhp.

The engine was installed in a car designed by Steve Nichols and Gordon Murray. It bore the same low, sleek profile of Murray’s unsuccessful 1986 Brabham BT55 – but now the concept had been honed to perfection.

There was no single element that made the MP4/4 untouchable – much like the dominant F2002 and F2004 Ferraris of this decade it was a car that was more than the sum of its parts.

Hamilton, who is well-known to be a Senna fan, will be hoping he gets a chance to drive it next year. Here he is trying out the car:

Lewis Hamilton in the McLaren-Honda MP4/4
Lewis Hamilton in the McLaren-Honda MP4/4
Lewis Hamilton in the McLaren-Honda MP4/4
Lewis Hamilton in the McLaren-Honda MP4/4
Lewis Hamilton with the McLaren-Honda MP4/4
Lewis Hamilton with the McLaren-Honda MP4/4

Images used with permission of Racing Line magazine.

Goodwood Festival of Speed 2009 pictures and video

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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51 comments on “Lewis Hamilton in Ayrton Senna’s McLaren-Honda MP4/4”

  1. Paul Sainsbury
    13th August 2009, 8:03

    I would love to have seen him in that car.

    Hope it works out next year for him.

  2. I love that car, and the MP4/5 too. They are fantastic. I guess, knowing that Senna and Prost had their epic duel in these cars, is probably part of what makes them so appealing.

  3. What a shame he didn’t get to drive it – he looked so excited just to be sitting in it. There is always another time.

  4. Just out of curiousity, if anyone knows, is this car that they use for demo runs and such the same car that would normally be on display in the MTC reception area?

    1. I don’t know how many were produced but theres also one currently on display here at Te Papa (National Museum) in Wellington (New Zealand). Cars on display there:

      – Lotus 16
      – Cooper T51
      – Brabham BT20
      – McLaren M7A
      – BRM P160
      – McLaren MP4/4
      – Williams FW14B
      – Ferrari F2004
      – McLaren MP4-21

      Sing out if anyone wants to see some pictures of them. Being from NZ we never get opportunities to see things like this so when I saw this for the first time it was simply amazing. Also is a section dedicated to NZs golden era in F1 – McLaren, Amon and Hulme. Did really answer your question there did I TJ?

      1. The sri lankan
        14th August 2009, 1:37

        Supp Hamish, Yeah im going to the exibition next week! i cant wait too see Senna’s Mclaren.

  5. Very cool! So what is the most powerful formula one car in history?
    Any stats on performance for such a machine?
    Keith if you can get your hands on that info (if you haven’t already done so) that would be a great read!
    Would be interesting to compare how the cars have evolved over time. How pure power has moved over and aero has become the make or break in F1. Which F1 cars had the best preformance figures? I remember years ago Murray Walker explaining during qualifying or a race how fast they could accelerate up to 100mph and back down to 0. I couldn’t believe it! :-)

    1. spanky the wonder monkey
      13th August 2009, 11:04

      i seem to recall that the bmw motor around ’86 was producing nearly 1500hp in qualifying trim, being described as a “bomb kept just the right side of going off”. would have to check the facts though!

      1. Yeah, the 1986 turbo cars were the most powerful of all time in quallifying spec alone and could run at up to 5.5 bar. The Beemer had about 1400 bhp max in quallifying. After ’86 though, the FIA limited the engines to 4 bar and by 1988 they were limited to 2.5 and so the MP4/4 “only” had just under 700 bhp in quallifying.

        1. I even hear the engines were made from the same blocks used for their early 3series model. The block was left outside for a while to weather then haven endured the elements, it was then processed to get the F1 engine at that time.

      2. My recollection is that the BMW was thought to be putting out 1,500bhp in qualifying trim – but BMW’s dyno stopped at 1,400bhp so they could never be sure.

        1. Hmm well i’ve heard that 1500 bhp was a myth and realistically no more than 1400 was available but I cannot be completely sure. By Adelaide in 1986 the cars were so powerful that they were hitting 215 mph on the main straight in quallifying. This is incredible when you consider that they still used wings the size of barn doors. I guess that’s just brute power for you. Incredible times they must have been.

    2. I’m sure that will go to a mid 1980’s car for qualifying. I know Piquets Williams in qualifying was at times putting out close to 1500bhp!!!!

      Nice video to compliment that, enjoy:

      1. Where is the video? :-) Would be great to see.

  6. Max should resign now!!!
    13th August 2009, 10:54

    Beautiful car, How wide were they at the time? Anyone?

    1. Just over 2m wide I think.

  7. Kind of strange that it broke down before Hami was to drive it, but behaved well for Bruno… I don’t believe in Ghosts but Hey… you have to have hope that Senna is still around, somehow?

    1. I believe it was Bruno who damaged the gearbox. Correct me if I’m wrong.

  8. Amazing car. Lewis looks pretty chuffed to get ‘hands on’ like that. Shame he never got the chance at Goodwood.

  9. She’s a beaut. When I think of 1980’s F1 its the first car that springs to mind. I love it.

  10. lewisisoverated
    13th August 2009, 15:57

    thank god he didnt get to drive that… he is not worthy of touching it forget driving it… so glad it broke down before he drove! BRUNO AT BRAWN IN 2010 and WEBBER FOR CHAMP 2009!!!!! AUSSIE AUSSIE AUSSIE OI OI OI !!!

    1. how very original…

    2. How very puerile.

    3. As an Aussie, I’d like to distance myself from the tone of above comment by ‘lewisisoverated’.

      I have to say though, there is something that irks me about Lewis driving Senna’s MP4/4. Maybe it feels like it’s more about Lewis than remembering/honouring Senna’s memory.

      1. Hamilton is a current McLaren racing driver and current world champion. He’s getting the chance to drive the McLaren of his childhood racing hero at the Goodwood FoS – an event that is a great celebration of motor sport. I think it’s a very appropriate way of honouring Senna’s memory; rather Hamilton than a driver who wasn’t inspired by the great Senna.

  11. Paul Sainsbury
    13th August 2009, 20:09

    ‘thank god he didnt get to drive that… he is not worthy of touching it forget driving it… so glad it broke down before he drove!’

    What a shame you had to lower the tone.

    I know this kind of remark is a simple ingnorance of the sport, but it really does stand out here, where thankfully the remarks tend to be a little better informed and intelligent.

    If it makes you happy though…….

    1. Yes. Reading his pathetic remark brought back bad memories when I visited the Planet F1 site once, with its “I think Lewis Hamilton smells” and “My driver’s better than yours” comments. ;-)

    2. lewisisoverated
      14th August 2009, 8:44

      ummm sorry but no… the remarks on planetf1 are a little better. ive actually got a damn good knowledge of f1 having followed it for many many many years. only just found this website and frankly there are other out there that are wayy better. just think lewis has forgotten his roots and has no idea of what the word humble means.

      1. Yes, there are some very good comments on Planet F1 but they tend to be engulfed by pathetic ones, which is why I gave up with Planet F1.

        I’m not questioning your knowledge of F1. But it’s a shame that someone who has been watching the sport for many years and is no doubt a fan would resort to such remarks.

        If you’ve found better websites then you have that choice to go to them instead. A pity you feel this way I think this is one of the better F1 sites.

        1. Typo (sorry)

          A pity you feel this way as I think this is one of the better F1 sites.

  12. Keith, just wondering if you like seeing comments as puerile as @ndy’s and lewisisoverated on your site. They are just not worthy.

  13. All I see is a young man who is placing his hands on history and appreciative of that fact. Lewis never said he was Senna in a new guise.

    1. lewisisoverated
      14th August 2009, 8:16

      but i believe last year (before he even won (or was gifted) the championship) he said that he was better than senna and schumi… i think hes a good driver.. he just needs to have his ego chilled. im trying to look for a non biased f1 site for some descent info that is not always biased towards hamilton a la planetf1 and this one.

      1. lewisisoverated
        14th August 2009, 8:19

        i mean decent (typo)

      2. I’m not sure where you’re seeing the ‘bias’ in this article. If there were an opportunity to do a similar piece on another driver – Vettel in one of Schumacher’s old cars, or Webber in one of Jack Brabham’s for example – I’d jump at the chance.

        1. lewisisoverated
          14th August 2009, 10:21

          sorry mate not this article, i meant in general..

          1. Lewis said that he was better than Senna? To you? or you read it? Oh you read it and believe everything you read as fact?

      3. “but i believe last year (before he even won (or was gifted) the championship) he said that he was better than senna and schumi…”

        So did Hamilton say that or didn’t he? If so, where and when? If he, then he’s a silly boy. But what I see in the papers is our useless British press continually making the comparisons. DC also said that he thought Lewis could be put up there with Senna and Schumacher. And Hamilton has commented on Senna being a huge influence on driving style and mental approach.

        “im trying to look for a non biased f1 site for some descent info”

        Well you’ve come to the right website.

        “that is not always biased towards hamilton a la planetf1 and this one.”

        If you bothered to look at this website, read the articles and the majority of the comments, then you would realise that this site is for those fans who want to discuss and, where possible, celebrate the sport; and yes, some of these visitors are Hamilton fans. But I visit this site because the contributors and the majority of visitors care and are very knowledgeable about F1 and want to have sensible discussions on all aspects of the sport. They are not interested in pathetic remarks that are typical on many F1 websites.

        1. lewisisoverated
          14th August 2009, 10:33

          fair enough.. and he did in fact say that.. if i remember right it was on the formula1.com website. just did a search of it to see if i could send you the link it doesnt come up any more..

          1. Well Lewis is a silly boy then if he made such a remark. But there’s nothing wrong with him having an ego. Senna, Schuey, Prost, Alonso all had them.

            What’s been fascinating with Hamilton this year is having to take the rough with the smooth. Over the first few races I could see his morale go down. His post-race comments in interviews were getting shorter and shorter. (The controversy at Australia didn’t help as well as the British press stirring things up.) It must have been a very difficult time for him. But there was then a sudden change in his attitude (I can’t remember where off the top of my head – it might have been Monaco); he was a lot more positive despite the car still being rubbish.

            I think Hamilton is a talented driver but has a great deal to learn, like all drivers. He just happens to have the added bonus of being the defending world champion in his third season. I think this season will make him a better all-round driver.

            Do stick with this website. I think it is one of the better ones.

          2. So you have gone from believing Hamilton said he was better than Senna and Schumacher to knowing for a fact he said it even though you can’t find the article.

            Also your choice of name on the boards makes it appear you are biased against Hamilton and so any site which isn’t anti-Hamilton would fail to meet your standards.

          3. Lets recap all the times Lewis has mentioned senna with interviews with F1.

            Q: The day you will never forget?
            LH: The day Ayrton Senna died – 1st May 1994. I was racing in Cadet karts at the Hoddesdon Kart Club. I remember I was having a difficult day and had not done very well in my races. My dad told me the news and I remember my heart sinking, going behind the trailer and having a bit of a cry

            Q: When did you first dream of becoming a Formula One driver, and did you then imagine it would be with one of the leading teams within the sport?
            LH: It is difficult to be sure but like most kids, I am sure I dreamt of one day racing with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. Now my dream has literally turned into a reality and I am driving not only in Formula One but also for the same team as Ayrton and Alain did. I worked hard to make it to Formula One but never imagined it would actually be with a team such as McLaren and in my first year!

            Q: How old were you when you first realised that you had a strong interest in motor sport? And when you came forward into the sport was there any major Formula One driver that you modelled yourself on or took as an inspiration?
            LH: I first started watching Formula One when I was about five or six. I spent my weekends with my dad at his house and we always watched the Grand Prix together. The two red and white McLarens were the cars to be in, they were the most attractive and they had the two best drivers; Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. I always preferred Ayrton, he was a phenomenal driver and it was a shame to see him go. I was disappointed not to meet him. In 1995, when I won the [karting] championship, I had the opportunity to meet all the famous Formula One drivers, but I was a year too late to meet Ayrton.

            Q: One of your driver heroes is Ayrton Senna. At which race did Senna score his first Formula One victory?
            LH: I should know that one. Must have been 1985 in a John Player Lotus, in Portugal.

            Q: What did you think about Rubens winning – it was like seeing two generations of F1 driver on the podium!
            LH: It was a great result for Rubens – he was absolutely on it all weekend. I’ve got a huge amount of respect for him – he’s a driver who’s been in Formula One for a long time and has seen so much. He was racing back when Ayrton (Senna) was in Formula One, which is incredible. He did a fantastic job and drove a stonking race!

            So there you go everything I can find from 2006-2009 I didn’t bother with 2010 because that would have been impossible. They have all their articles archived, spend less time hating and more time researching.

      4. I can’t find any quote where Hamilton said he was better than Senna or Schumacher. I did find this in a Q&A:

        Talking of Brazil, there was a recent story quoting you as saying you felt you were better now than Ayrton Senna – was that true?
        “I never said that – and I definitely wouldn’t say it about Ayrton because he’s my favourite driver. I think he’s the best driver there ever was and, to this day, I still don’t believe anyone would beat him. If I could achieve just a small part of what he’s achieved, it would be a dream for me.”


  14. Paul Sainsbury
    14th August 2009, 9:30

    I don’t think this site is biased at all. There seems to be a real misunderstanding from the Hamilton-haters.

    The fact is people admire him because he is an exceptional talent. We admired Gilles Villeneuve and Nigel Mansell too.

    As for Lewis Hamilton, there have never been any ‘gifts’ and referring to his WDC was as such simply underlines what I said in my earlier post about total ignorance of our sport.

  15. Just read an article last night in this months F1 Racing magazine about the turbo era. I think the highest they mentioned was around 1300-1400bhp. Very interesting article with input from Derek Warwick about the difficulties in driving in the wet with that much power, having to keep the revs low and short shift, and the special ‘grenade’ engines for qualifying, combined with the qualifying tyres. Banzai driving!

    1. Indeed. It can’t have been made easier with having no TC and by using propper manual gearboxes with a clutch either :D

  16. Love him or hate him, Hamilton is an exceptional talent. Compare him against Alonso and Heikki, he is as about as good as Alonso, matching the world champion in his first F1 season but is much better than Heikki – this is the only true comparison we can make at this time. Please also remember that he is still very young, he is bound to say the wrong thing from time to time and I can see how he often gets up peoples noses.

    Good luck to the kid, lets see him pushing Mark and Jenson for the rest of the season!

  17. StrFerrari4Ever
    14th August 2009, 15:50

    Good for Hamilton gets to drive a legendary car and the turbo cars were immense. I’m sure that 1500hp was indeed reached with that BMW engine I read this other article on turbo engines from the very first one the Renault to the most powerful one’s and Gerhard Berger said he experienced wheelspin in 6th gear at 215 mph!! those things required amazing skills we should get back to those beasts but without the poisonous things they put into those engines :D

  18. i was just wondering if anyone knows the name of the silver haired guy in the photos .as i saw him at the race of champions where hamilton was doing donuts for charity

    1. i think he’s Ron Pellatt, not sure though.

      1. cheers thanks for that mp4

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