BEYOND THE GRID: Steve Nichols on creating the most dominant F1 car of all time


“This car is going to be ****ing quick.” As legendary designer Steve Nichols recalls in the latest episode of our Beyond The Grid podcast, those were Ayrton Senna’s first words after he’d tested the McLaren MP4/4 that would come to dominate the 1988 season.

The American designer is undoubtedly most famous for the creation of the MP4/4, which would win 15 of the 16 races it contested in the 1988 season, and deliver Senna the first of his three World Championships. And as he admits to host Tom Clarkson, it was certainly the apotheosis of his career.

“I suppose it doesn’t get much better than 1987 I spent designing the MP4/4,” Nichols says when asked about his stand-out moments in motorsport. “Then 1988, racing it and developing it and helping Ayrton Senna win his first World Championship.”

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Recalling the car’s first test, he adds: “I remember Senna. He did his first run, five laps or so and he came in. He just sat there, silent, in the car. It seemed like a couple of minutes but it was probably only 15 or 20 seconds. He just looked stunned and he just said: ‘This car is going to be ****ing quick.’”

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Outside of the MP4/4’s success, Nichols also tells the story of how and why he left McLaren and followed Alain Prost to Ferrari, a difficult period which included another famous clash with Senna at the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix.

You can tune into the episode in the audio player up top, or head here to listen on your preferred podcasting platform.

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And for more from Beyond The Grid, head to our dedicated page here.


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