1986 Formula 1 McLaren MP4/2C
Once again, however, the changes were under the skin. One of the most important was a smaller fuel tank, as new regulations limited cars to a maximum capacity of 195 litres instead of 220.
This was to be John Barnard’s last season with the team but until the end he continued to refine his pioneering design, instigating a new six-speed gearbox and a revised version of Bosch’s superb Motronic engine management system. The car’s overall dimensions remained unchanged, but maximum power was up to something approaching 800bhp at 12,000rpm.
Together with the arrival of Rosberg - allegedly ‘the fastest man in Formula 1’ - McLaren fans had plenty to look forward to. Many were keen to see whether Prost could buck the opinion of former champion Jackie Stewart, who long ago had mentioned how hard it was for both driver and team to remain hungry enough to win when they had already tasted success. Others wondered whether the flying Finn would manage to unseat Prost to become the de facto number one.
The answers to both questions took very little time to surface: a definite yes to the first - Prost was still ravenous - and an equally forthright no to the second, not least because of Barnard’s refusal to change his car to reduce the understeer and better suit it to Rosberg’s driving style.
As Barnard had designed it, the MP4/2C could not have been more perfect for Prost. It suited his smooth and scrupulously considered driving style, which always enabled him to find the speed when he needed it, without recourse to winding up the boost. Rosberg was inherently just as quick, but his speed came from his ebullient, press-on style, and that just did not work with the MP4/2.
lmola provided all the evidence anyone needed of the value of the new car, Prost romping home brilliantly despite a computer glitch which denied him an accurate reading of his fuel status. He crossed the line to the accompaniment of tyre and crowd noise only, having run out of fuel. Rosberg was less fortunate, however, and looked a tad foolish when he too ran dry two laps from the end. He later protested “I’m not a fool. I can read a fuel gauge!” The same glitch was to blame.
Monaco was much, better, however. Prost’s third victory on the famous street circuit - he won by a spectacular 25s - was supported by a fantastic drive from Rosberg who fought his way up to second using some thrilling overtaking manoeuvres to charge through traffic from his ninth-place start position.
And for Prost, at least, Belgium was eventful since a first-lap collision meant that instead of winning, which he certainly deserved, he came away with only a single Championship point. Canada was more fruitful, the Williams-Hondas of Mansell and Piquet taking first and third, with Prost and Rosberg managing to sandwich the Brazilian to take second and fourth. Detroit yielded a third place too, despite Prost’s well-advertised dislike of the course and a shunt in practice.
France provided a repeat of the Canadian race, which meant points at least, but things went badly at Brands Hatch with Prost actually being lapped but taking third and Rosberg out with another gearbox failure. Hopes now rested on the German event, which in a sense was a semi-home fixture thanks to the immense contribution made by Porsche and Bosch, the latter even then busy making further revisions to the Motronic engine management set-up.
Rosberg now had the set-up he had wanted and, having announced earlier in the week his decision to retire at the end of the season, he took his first pole of the season. He had a fine battle with Nelson Piquet, harrying the Williams-Honda driver again and again, before running out of fuel just a lap from the end. Prost too ran dry, and made his feelings clear by pushing his car towards the line even though he knew this was technically not allowed.
In Hungary both drivers qualified well for the inaugural event but then attempted to pit at the same time, with Rosberg being forced to go back out with a deflating tyre while the crew wrestled with an electrical fault in the T-car which Prost had been forced to use.
Both eventually retired but in Austria things looked more promising with Rosberg charging hard against the apparently unstoppable Benetton-BMWs before having to pull out with a dead engine when second place looked secure. Once again Prost’s experience shone through, however, and despite suffering similar problems he nursed his car along to a somewhat lucky victory.
In Italy he was less fortunate, his engine blowing up, whilst Rosberg took fourth for his last-ever GP points. Prost was out of sorts at Estoril but managed a second and in high-altitude Mexico he repeated that result, despite losing a cylinder. He then headed to Adelaide for the final showdown where a fantastic win - after Nigel Mansell blew a tyre and Piquet was called in for a precautionary stop - brought him a second consecutive Drivers’ World Championship. McLaren finished second to Williams in the Constructors’ title.
At the end of the season John Barnard decided to sell his shareholding in the team, and to head for pastures new.