Ron Dennis’ team were optimistic for 1988. Their captures of both star driver Ayrton Senna and the all-conquering Honda turbo engine both turned heads in the paddock, and the team are looking to regain the dominant form they enjoyed in 1984-5. While other teams were looking forward to 1989 and either switching to atmo engines early or just tweaking their ’87 car to the new regs, Steve Nichols designed a whole new chassis – the MP4/4 – to carry a new engine. The MP4/4 looked fast – it took cues from Brabham’s famous “skateboard” car with its low-slung bodywork and almost supine driver’s position – and it went well in testing. McLaren swapped numbers with Lotus – the Hethel team’s signing of Piquet giving them the number 1/2 slot, so McLaren would run with the unfamiliar numbers of 11 and 12 in 1988.
None doubted the potential of the Senna-Prost partnership either, though there were murmurs about how well the two would work together, given Senna’s insistence at Lotus on having a “lesser” team-mate.
11. Alain Prost
Double-champion Prost had had a turgid 1987 by his own high standards, but still managed two wins early in the season. He might be eyeing Senna’s arrival with trepidation, but he has never shown himself rattled by team-mates before and will be confident as the established star against the young upstart.
12. Ayrton Senna
One year with Toleman, three with Lotus and now McLaren – this young man’s trajectory keeps going upward. Few doubt that he is a potential champion, but even if the MP4/4 is as good as it looks, he has an Alain Prost-shaped mountain to climb to get there. We have yet to see him against a team-mate truly his equal: this will be an interesting year.