For many years, I have been responsible, as a mechanic, for the preparation of numerous racecars. Some of which have been very successful, others not so. Of these, Jackie Stewart’s 1971 World Championship-winning Tyrrell is among the greats. As a spectator, the 2002 Ferrari that took Michael Schumacher to yet another Formula One world title has to rank as not only a beautiful car but also a very successful one. However, I’m going to be very biased and say my pick for greatest racecar is the McLaren of 1988, the MP4/4 powered by Honda. It won 15 out of the 16 races of the Formula One World Championship that year. We could have won them all had it not been for an accident at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza that took Ayrton Senna out. On lap 49 of 51, while leading, he was “T-boned” at the Rettifilio chicane by Jean-Louis Schlesser in a Williams, who was deputizing for a “sick” Nigel Mansell. Appropriately, that race was a 1-2 for Ferrari, a fitting tribute to Enzo who had passed away just a few weeks earlier.
The strength of a good car can usually be seen from a very early stage in its life. I remember the car being very good straight “out of the box” when we first tested at Imola. Adjustments were needed, but we changed very little from that first test. Most of the car was manufactured at our Woking factory—everything, with the exception of the tires, wheels, engine, and internals of the gearbox. Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna were our drivers that year. It was their determination to push each other relentlessly that contributed enormously to our success. Yes, they had their problems with each other; it is very difficult to give two immense talents such as their’s a free reign and not to expect some acrimony.
The 1988 McLaren-Honda MP4/4 was designed by Steve Nicholls and Neil Oatley. Gordon Murray was recruited at the beginning of that year and was part of the design team too. In an attempt to achieve closer racing, the FIA produced regulations to marginalize the difference between competing turbo-powered and normally aspirated cars. Restrictions were made to turbo engines and fuel capacity, while normally aspirated cars suffered none. There was a minimum weight for turbo cars too. On paper, it was set for a very competitive year. Everything came together for us at McLaren, the car, the drivers, the engine, in fact the whole team as a package just clicked. The car won the first 11 races of the season.
At the end of the season, from the 16 races, Ayrton had won his 1st World Championship with eight wins, Alain was 2nd with seven wins and McLaren won the Constructors Championship with a record 199 points. We had 10 1st and 2nd places, 15 pole positions, and 10 fastest laps. If ever I needed the record books to prove the validity of my choice, it is there for all to see.
Jo Ramirez started in motorsport as a “gopher” for Ferrari in 1962, but soon went on to work as a mechanic for such teams as Tyrrell, AAR, Shadow and finally McLaren, from where he recently retired as team Co-ordinator.