The McLaren MP4 / 4 one of the most dominant cars in history of the sport. 15 of the 16 races it started from pole position, 15 of the 16 races were also won and ten times it was 1-2 for McLaren. Only during a wet qualifying session during the 1988 Grand Prix of Great Britain did the team not take pole. And in Ferrari's home race, Ferrari driver Gerhard Berger won. The car has the highest win percentage ever with 93.8%.
This design was so dominant, it took 15 poles (13 for Senna and 2 for Prost) of which 12 front row lockouts and 15 wins (8 for Senna and 7 for Prost). The car was 6 times more than 1 second faster than the third in qualifying. McLaren won both the Constructors 'Championship and the Drivers' Championship. Alain Prost had more points than Ayrton Senna, but because the results of the best 11 races were counted, Ayrton Senna won the championship.
The 1988 Season
The mighty Honda RA168E. Arguably the best F1 engine ever built.
For 1988, McLaren had assured the use of the 1.5L V6 Honda turbo engines that had been the best engine in Formula 1 since late 1985. Honda had left Williams (who had won the previous two manufacturers' championships from McLaren). 1988 would be the last year for the turbo engines before they were banned, so most of the teams made a concerted effort to settle down with naturally aspirated cars. Steve Nichols went on to design the car based on a pure turbo engine, potentially putting the team at a disadvantage against their rivals.
1988 was a year of transition ahead of a naturally aspirated only formula in 1989, and the regulations were designed to reward the teams that had already made the switch. Over a race distance, the MP4 / 4 would suffer something like a significant power shortage compared to its naturally aspirated rivals. The car had the luxury of being able to modulate the boost, but with a fuel surcharge of just 150 liters (naturally aspirated cars were unlimited), this meant that the team would have to save fuel significantly to get to the end of a race.
Perhaps the most telling example of the MP4/4's emphatic domination was seen at San Marino in just the second race of the season. Senna and Prost both qualified the 5.040 km (3.131 mi) Imola circuit in the 1:27s (Senna 0.7 faster than Prost) while no other driver could get below 1:30. Third on the grid was defending World Champion Nelson Piquet in his Lotus 100T, which used the same 1988 specification Honda engines as McLaren. Piquet could only qualify in 1:30.500, 3.352 seconds slower than Senna and 2.581 slower than Prost. The Lotus actually recorded faster speed trap figures (302 km/h (188 mph), 1.5 km/h faster than the McLarens) on the run to Tosa, but around the rest of the circuit the McLaren's acceleration and downforce was unmatched.
Despite this, both Piquet and Lotus boss Peter Warr told the assembled media at Imola that they believed their car to be better aerodynamically, and therefore more fuel efficient than the MP4/4. However, both McLarens had lapped the entire field, including 3rd placed Piquet, by lap 55 of the 60 lap race. The fast Imola circuit with its long periods of full throttle racing was notoriously hard on fuel, especially for the turbo cars which has seen numerous late race retirements in recent years, and the McLarens lapping the field at the speed they did proved the aerodynamic efficiency of the car as well as the work Honda had undertaken to reduce fuel consumption. Prost and Senna's fastest laps (again the only drivers under 1:30) were 1.5 seconds faster than the next fastest, Gerhard Berger's Ferrari. Piquet's fastest lap was only the 9th fastest of the race, and some 2.8 seconds slower than Prost's fastest lap of 1:29.685. Both Prost and Senna lapped faster in the race than Piquet had qualified, putting an exclamation mark on McLaren's dominant position.