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McLaren designer Nichols on Prost, Senna and Lauda

10 months ago

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Dan Prosser | Ti co-founder


2 August 2023

On this week’s episode of The Intercooler podcast I’m joined by Steve Nichols, the Formula 1 designer who won multiple World Championships with McLaren in the 1980s and ’90s. He was not only the designer but also Ayrton Senna’s race engineer for that combustible 1988 season, when the McLaren MP4/4 won all but one Grand Prix and Senna and Alain Prost fought tooth and nail for the drivers’ title.

Nichols describes the highly charged atmosphere within the team that year, saying he actually enjoyed the tension. He recalls how the two drivers wouldn’t communicate directly with one another, but would instead use their engineers as intermediaries. I thought it was a fascinating insight into one of Formula 1’s most compelling periods – hopefully you will too.

6. Steve Nichols
Nichols has produced his own McLaren M1A-inspired road car

There are stories about Senna that reveal a little more about the man – a vulnerable side to him that I hadn’t heard described before – and Nichols talks about his new road car project too. He also reveals what is was like to work with Niki Lauda, who he rates as highly as anybody. But I wanted to share just one of his anecdotes here. It’s a story about Prost, from the 1985 season, and how freakishly smooth his driving was.

‘One year at Spa I wandered off down to Eau Rouge,’ Nichols says. ‘Mansell came out to do his lap and it just looked phenomenal. His hands were a blur, there was a shower of sparks, the car looked electric… And then Prost came through on his out lap and it looked absolutely calm. He came through again and it looked slow and absolutely calm – I thought maybe he had a problem. He came through a third time and it was absolutely calm. I thought he must have a problem.

Alain Prost31

‘So I walked back up to the garage – and he was on pole. You couldn’t tell the difference between the out lap, the fast lap and the in lap. It was just fantastic. I know the Mansell thing is spectacular, but Prost could put you to sleep he was so smooth – yet devastatingly fast.’

The full interview is available now on whichever podcast app you use – just search ‘The Intercooler’. Remember to click the follow or subscribe button so you never miss another episode. You can also find it on the Video & Podcast page.