For 1988 McLaren had secured the use of the 1.5L V6 Honda turbo engines which since late in the 1985 season had been the best engine in Formula One. With the engines coming at the expense of Williams, who had won the previous two Constructors' Championships, a strong 1988 was possible. Team boss Ron Dennis had previously tried to secure Honda engines for his Formula 2 team and welcomed the Japanese company after four successful years with the TAG engines. 1988 was due to be the last year for the turbo engines before they were banned, so most teams were making a concerted effort to establish themselves with naturally aspirated cars. Steve Nichols went ahead with the design of the car on a pure turbo engine basis, which put the team at a potential disadvantage to their rivals.
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 seconds 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 were 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 had seen numerous late race retirements in recent years, and the McLarens lapping the field at the speed they did prove 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 ninth 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 weekend.
At Silverstone, McLaren introduced revised aerodynamics to the MP4/4, doing away with the turbo "snorkels" (which force-fed air to the turbos) located on the top of the side pods. While this proved troublesome on the first day of qualifying, with both drivers feeling it created an imbalance in the cars, and the snorkels re-introduced for the rest of the British GP weekend, it was the last time the snorkels were seen on the MP4/4s for the rest of the season, as testing before the next round in Germany had shown the imbalance was caused by incorrect settings on the car's suspension and not by the removal of the snorkels. Team boss Ron Dennis estimated that the research and development on the revised aerodynamics had cost the team somewhere around £150,000 for something that was purely an aerodynamic gain and gave no extra horsepower to the Honda engine. 781b155fdc