1988 Season Recap Part 1 of 18: Preseason

In an era underscored by periods of dominance, it is important to remind ourselves that dominance is not inherently a bad thing. One of the most dominant cars in history, the Mclaren MP4/4, also produced one of the most exciting and competitive seasons in the history of the sport. Two equally matched drivers, the well established master, and the young rising star dueling for the title. It was the perfect formula for an exhilarating season, and it delivered to the fullest extent possible. For the next few weeks we will be looking back at this legendary season one race at the time, highlighting the in season battle between these two great rivals in a way that many younger fans have never seen.

Prost in the Mclaren MP4-4
The build up to the season was filled with much speculation on who would be competitive going into the final turbo powered year. The previous season was won by Nelson Piquet in his Honda powered Williams. Piquet made the move to Lotus for 1988, hoping to secure his fourth title. In addition to losing their star driver, Honda also left the team for Mclaren, leaving many wondering if the Williams could remain competitive without a turbocharged engine. The young Brazilian Ayrton Senna moved up to Mclaren after finishing a stellar third in the championship for Lotus the previous year. He would race alongside then two time champion, Alain Prost. Following a stellar showing at the end of the 1987 season, Ferrari were the clear title favorite in many people's minds, having won the final two races of the season.

The turbo engines that had been nearly unbeatable in previous years faced many regulation changes to combat their effectiveness. Maximum turbocharger pressure had been limited to 2.5 bar, enforced by a FIA mandated pop off valve. The total fuel allowed for turbo powered cars was also lowered to 150 litres. This would be the final year for the turbo engines, they were to be banned for the 1989 season. These factors left many wondering if the turbocharged engines would retain the advantage they had held previously. Because of this, the Jim Clark and Colin Chapman cups, awarded to the best driver and team running a naturally aspirated engine, was discontinued from 1988 onwards.

The FIA mandated pop off valve can be seen in the upper right hand corner on this Honda RA168E engine
Lotus and Mclaren were the only turbo powered teams to build entirely new cars, as many teams had already shifted their focus on to the 1989 regulation changes. Honda backed up their teams with the all new RA168E engine, which was the only engine designed for the 1988 engine regulations, with all other engines being evolutions of the the 1987 engines. The Honda teams hoped that these two factors would give their cars a clear advantage over the other teams. Williams opted to use a Judd V8 for the season, hoping that the experience with the naturally aspirated engine would give them a leg up over other teams in 1989. Williams, unable to rely on the advantage of the Honda engine, added reactive suspension to their 1988 car, a technology introduced by Lotus in 1987. Lotus would not use the system, finding it too heavy to justify itself. The weight of this system would end up adding to the problems Williams faced with their under powered Judd V8. These factors would lead to a horror year for Williams, the reigning champions would only score twenty points and finish seventh, a massive disappointment for the team.

There were three new teams on the grid for 1988, EuroBrun, BMS Scuderia Italia, and Rial. The three of these teams chose to run the cheaper Ford Cosworth DFZ, an evolution of the legendary Ford Cosworth DFV. The new teams brought the number of cars entered up to thirty-one, one more than the limit set by the FIA. Because of this, the cars from these teams and the Coloni team would take part in a session on friday to decide which cars would advance to the regular qualifying session. Out of these four teams only five cars were entered, EuroBrun was the only backmarker in the 1988 season to field a full team of two cars.

Ferrari's championship hopes were lifted further by their impressive showing in preseason testing in Rio De Janerio. Both Ferrari's were unmatched during the tests, seconds ahead of any other cars. This sparked rumors that the team had been running an illegal engine configuration during the test. As testing concluded, all eyes turned to round one, the Brazilian Grand Prix, where many lingering questions of both the teams and the fans would be answered. With thirty-one drivers and eighteen teams entered, it was shaping up to be a great race.

1988 Brazilian Grand Prix
Will Ferrari live up to expectations? Will Mclaren Honda's development gamble pay off? Be sure to check the site, part two of our 1988 season recap will be up soon!