While the majority of Formula One teams elected to test at Paul Ricard prior to the sojourn to the official pre-Brazilian GP tests at Rio’s Autodromo Nelson Piquet, Honda Marlboro McLaren took the unusual decision to seek the relative seclusion of Monza.
The rationale behind that move was partly explained by the plan to give its new transverse gearbox its maiden run in camera, but also by the desire to keep the transmission’s material a secret. The casing is made of carbon-fibre, the first time it has been used in such a role.
The new MP4/5 designed by Neil Oatley raced in Brazil with the familiar longitudinal gearbox mated to Honda’s new RA 109E normally-aspirated V10 engine, as the transverse casing had given problems in the Monza test. This interim stage is described as ‘Phase One” by team boss Ron Dennis, and is as effective as one would expect. Should the opposition get closer, McLaren has “Phase Two” up its corporate sleeve, comprising the new gearbox, a revised rear suspension to accommodate it, and new front uprights to incorporate Brembo’s lighter, single-caliper braking system in place of McLaren’s own which served it faithfully all through 1988.