Posts Tagged ‘Dennis’

Ron Dennis announced today that he is stepping down as CEO and chairman of McLaren Group and has walked away from all racing activities, a decision he says is unconnected with the team’s current disciplinary problems and which he reached alone.

He will head McLaren Automotive, making road cars, a business which later this year will be spun off from the McLaren Group. He has said he wants to double the company’s value in the next five years. The new chairman of McLaren is Richard Lapthorne, the current chairman of Cable and Wireless Plc. Dennis and Whitmarsh will both report to him.

Dennis says that he found it easier to miss the Malaysian Grand Prix than he had expected and so he has no qualms about relinquishing all control of the McLaren Group business to Lapthorne and full control of the racing team to Martin Whitmarsh, to whom he bequeathed the team principal role on March 1.

There has been widespread speculation about the timing and motive for this move. Dennis has categorically denied that it has anything to do with the Melbourne ‘liargate’ scandal and the FIA hearing on April 29th. It is being presented as Ron’s own work, not the result of a back room deal with Max Mosley, nor of a power play by Anthony Hamilton.

I posted yesterday that he was most likely making this move hoping that it would give the team the best possible chance of escaping exclusion from this championship. McLaren were fined £50 million and lost their constructors’ championship points barely 18 months ago and thus go into a second trial over issues of honesty on April 29th with some trepidation. What is the next stage in punishment, if you are proved to be a serial offender, after a £50 million fine and loss of constructors’ points?

Dennis is the kind of man who likes to be central to things and to take control of a situation and so if this move is not linked to their current problems, it seems odd that he should seek to move away from F1 at a time when strong leadership and experience are most needed.

It is quite plausible that he thinks that by stepping away from the team now, drawing the sting, if you will, that the team will escape the kind of punishment which might cause it’s very existence to come into question, such as exclusion from the 2009 season. I still don’t believe that this will happen, but if it did, it would rupture the relationship with many of the sponsors and would test the resolve of 40% shareholder Mercedes.

So will Ron’s move effect the outcome? The FIA world council on April 29th is seeking to uncover the facts of what happened after the race in Melbourne when sporting director Dave Ryan and Lewis Hamilton deliberately misled the stewards. Whitmarsh said in the press conference on Friday in Sepang that no-one more senior than Ryan was involved at any stage in this plot.

The WMSC will seek to discover if this truly is the case and whether Dennis or Whitmarsh was involved at any stage. Other team principals I have spoken to say it is hard to believe that Ryan would have been sent in an hour after the race without any briefing from Dennis or Whitmarsh, it’s just not how things are done, especially as Whitmarsh had appeared on TV after the race talking about the significance of the stewards’ enquiry.

Some commentators also see the hand of Lewis’ father, Anthony Hamilton in this departure. It is no secret that he spoke several times to Max Mosley over the course of the Malaysian GP weekend and his anger at the way the team allowed the situation to unfold around, and damage, his son was clear. I’m fairly sure he put pressure on the team to agree for Whitmarsh to issue the full apology in that Friday press conference in Sepang and he was instrumental in briefing Lewis what to say in his own press meeting shortly afterwards.

But does he have the clout to force Dennis to step down from the team in which he still retains a 15% shareholding? Did Anthony remove the man who had nurtured Lewis since he was 13 years old and gave him his opportunity in F1?

As world champion and F1’s biggest box office draw, Lewis Hamilton has significant power, but I can’t see that it is sufficient on its own to bring a move like this about.

I think this is a tactical play. Dennis knew in 2007 that if he fell on his sword and walked away the spy scandal would have a less painful ending, but he chose not to do that. Perhaps his reading of the situation now is that this is the only way to avoid obliteration for the team. If so it rather suggests that he believes his role will be uncovered on April 29th and he’s positioning himself and the team for that.

But I don’t know whether it is like that this time. I don’t know whether walking away and saying ‘Max and Bernie will not be displeased to see me go’ covers it. If Whitmarsh was involved in briefing Ryan and Hamilton he will still have to face the music and there is also the question of whether Dennis walking away really means an end to the saga as far as McLaren are concerned.

There is more to come from this.

Read Full Post »

An exhilarating hour spent in the pit lane during the first practice session. Strangely unfamiliar for me as it’s three years since I was last down there, having had to yield my pit lane pass to Steve Rider back in 2006. I used to live in the pits, back in the day, knew every nook and cranny, had eyes in the back of my head for cars coming in, going out, mechanics rushing. It takes me 20 minutes to get used to the rush and the energy.

I quickly get used to it again. The energy is always astonishing. You can feel the drivers who are on it, Massa is very aggressive straight away, Raikkonen looks committed.

The Red Bull mechanics were under pressure. Vettel stopped out on the track early on and they were unscrewing the floor of Webber’s car as I left the pit lane.

But what really caught my eye was three commanding presences in the pit garages.

At McLaren, Ron Dennis dressed in black, standing on his own in the middle of the garage. The mechanics move around him, respectfully, leaving a wide space around him. He looks very serious, has his aggressive face on. No longer the team principal maybe, no longer central to activities on the pit wall, but still a huge presence in the garage.

Next door at Ferrari an equally serious looking Michael Schumacher. An adversary of Dennis for many years, now a fringe player in a way, as a consultant to Ferrari, but they’ve built his part up a bit this weekend. With the switch to slick tyres and other new rules his eye and judgement are valued. He’s taking the role seriously, moving across the garage to inspect Raikkonen’s rear tyres when the car comes in from a run. He studies, them, runs his finger across the ruts and blisters. A young Bridgestone engineer, prodding his temperature guage into the tyre finds a stony faced seven time world champion grilling him about the tyre. Schumacher, like Dennis, is a competitor. No longer directly competing, maybe, but still engaged, committed.

Down the other end of the pit lane is the Brawn garage. The decoration is sparse, no frills, the cars sponsorless for the moment. If you didn’t know better you’d think you were looking at the Minardi of today. But these guys are the team to beat this season. And the reason is Ross Brawn, Schumacher’s old ally from Ferrari. His name is above the door, he’s more engaged than he’s ever been and he’s been smarter than everyone else in preparing for this year. Or is that craftier? Actually it’s both. Brawn cuts a massive figure on the pit wall, a radio on each hip, his face impassive.

Some work on the footwell of Button’s car is taking longer than expected, Brawn comes off the pit wall to inspect the work. The mechanics are aware of his presence, but not intimidated by it. Unlike his old colleague Schumacher and his rival Dennis, Brawn is competing directly, he’s at the heart of what is happening.

Three huge characters, authors of much of the sport’s recent history, competing in their different ways on day one of a new Formula 1 season

Read Full Post »

Today’s McLaren launch was a quietly confident affair. The team looked composed and calm ahead of what is likely to be a hard fought and chaotic season, with complex new rules and an intense development programme away from the circuit. And then just as the thing was winding to a close, Ron Dennis, the sport’s most successful entrant, goes and lets slip that he’s standing down as team principal at the end of February.

It’s no great surprise in one sense; he is 61 years old and has been discussing stepping down for some time. He was under pressure from the authorities to quit in 2007 during the Stepney spy scandal, but he toughed it out, determined to stay in charge until Lewis Hamilton had clinched the world title, which he regarded as the culmination of a project he put in place over 10 years ago.

But that success and the pleasure it gave him seemed to have given him a fresh love of the sport and renewed motivation. So it was still mildly surprising that he chose today to announce that he was finally going to allow his loyal deputy of 20 years, Martin Whitmarsh, to take the top job. As Ron said, they’ve been sharing the job for years anyway and practically speaking Martin has been the boss for a few years, with Ron the figurehead who makes his presence felt at race meetings and in the public arenas. There will not be much change in the way McLaren goes about its business, although they will probably enjoy better relations with the FIA now that Dennis is out of the way.

Read Full Post »