Steve Nichols and Gordon Murray’s MP4/4 had been one of the most dominant Formula One cars in history, and certainly the most dominant in the modern era. By every conceivable measure it was the best car of 1988 by far, so the team now had a lot to live up to. The new MP4/5, also penned by Nichols, was based on its all-conquering predecessor but with some modifications to account for the biggest change: gone was Honda’s mighty V6 turbo, replaced with a V10 atmospheric engine. How that would affect the balance of the car and whether Honda had got the engine right first time remained to be seen, but signs in testing looked good. Retaining the driver lineup of Senna and Prost, the team regained the coveted numbers 1 and 2.
1. Ayrton Senna
The Brazilian had looked like a potential champion ever since he arrived in F1 and certainly since winning just his second race for Lotus in his second season in the sport. 1988 had not only cemented his reputation by making him Brazil’s third F1 World Champion, but had decisively given him bragging rights in his battle with rival Nelson Piquet. Senna had made the Lotus-Honda look good; the Lotus instead made Piquet look ordinary. Senna would look to defend his title from Prost, who would surely be his main rival again.
2. Alain Prost
The Professor had every right to be disgruntled with the results of the 1988 season; if all his results had counted, he would have won easily. However, he seemed to be taking the loss of his third title to an arcane rule with remarkable equanimity, apparently happy to welcome his team-mate Ayrton to the fraternity of F1 champions. The relationship between the two men seems good so far, though there were signs at the end of ’88 that under pressure that might change.