The highs and low of Ron Dennis's time at McLaren
After a 37-year stint at McLaren, we take a look through his history at the firm as his time as company boss comes to an end
With 37 years at McLaren under his belt, Ron Dennis is set to sell his entire 25% stake in McLaren Technology Group and 11% shareholding of McLaren Automotive. We’ve taken a look through his peaks and troughs at the firm.
– Once a humble mechanic, Dennis successfully rose through the ranks of motorsport team ownership to the point that he was placed with – and then in 1981 bought – the struggling McLaren team. That season the team started winning races again, and soon after world titles. From persuading Porsche and Honda into F1, to aligning with sponsors like Marlboro, to introducing carbonfibre construction to the sport, Dennis was regarded by many as a revolutionary thinker wrapped up in the body of a man desperately trying to be as straightforward as possible.
– From 1988-1991 McLaren – and Honda – were the undisputed heavyweight champions of F1. During that time the team won four consecutive constructors’ titles and one of Alain Prost or Ayrton Senna won the world drivers’ title each season. In 1988, of course, Prost and Senna won 15 of the 16 races – a so nearly perfect result, but one which Dennis memorably conceded “keeps us hungry – because we know we can do better”.
– Dennis made numerous drivers rich, many race winners and a select few world champions. But his relationship with some wasn’t just about winning. In Senna he found someone who shared his intensity, and they shared a spree of world titles. For Mika Hakkinen – champion for the team in 1998 and 1999 – the relationship was almost father and son-like. And then there was Lewis Hamilton, who was signed by Dennis aged ten and nurtured to be world champion in 2008.
– With the F1 team at the height of its powers, Dennis set his sights on diversifying McLaren’s income streams. It’s hard to believe, but the McLaren F1 road car wasn’t a sales success when it was unveiled in 1992. A project to take the land speed record was also aborted. Key to Dennis’s vision taking off was the creation of the Norman Foster-designed McLaren Technology Centre, the futuristic Woking headquarters for the team that opened in 2004. In 2011 McLaren Automotive was launched, and today McLaren employs engineers working on everything from high-powered battery packs to designing Olympic bicycles.
– How the word ‘Spygate’ must jar in Dennis’s throat. A 780-page document containing sensitive data about Ferrari was discovered at the home of former McLaren chief designer Mike Coughlan – and the sport’s governing body, the FIA, went to town, fining the team almost £50m and stripping it of its 2007 constructors’ points. The blameless Dennis, remember, went straight to the FIA and told it about the document the moment he was informed of its existence.
– For all his success nurturing mercurial talents, Dennis has also fallen out with his fair share of superstars. That Lewis Hamilton would break the bond that had formed between them was hard enough; that he would add two more world titles (to date) worse, not least because he remains the last McLaren driver to stand on the top step of the podium. Celebrated managerial fallouts led to the loss of Adrian Newey, the pre-eminent designer of his generation, and Paddy Lowe, who joined Hamilton at Mercedes, too.
– To be booted aside by the team you rescued, made great and led to glory once would be remarkable – but for it to happen twice, as has happened to Dennis in the twilight of his McLaren years – is indicative of both his difficult personality and modern corporate cultures. Never one to back down, Dennis even went to court to try and cling on at the helm of the F1 team at the tail end of last year – although given its annus horribilis courtesy of Honda, he may now be heading off into the sunset with a wry smile on his face.
Source: Autocar Online