Today marked the end of a dazzlingly successful era when Ron Dennis, the McLaren group chairman, announced that he was formally relinquishing any further involvement with the team’s World Championship grand prix programme.
Having passed the role of F1 team principal to his long-time number two Martin Whitmarsh, Ron has now decided to throw his efforts exclusively behind a programme to develop a range of pure McLaren sports cars. As part of this plan it is intended that McLaren Automotive will become an independent company later this year.
Dennis’s inscrutable countenance has been ever-present on the pit wall since he took operational control of McLaren in 1980. Since then the cars from Woking have won world championships in 1984, ’85 and ’86 (with TAG turbo engines), 1988, ’89, ’90 and ’91 (with Honda power) and in 1998, 99 and 2008 (with Mercedes power).
This decision will no doubt be interpreted by some people within the F1 community as a move forced on Dennis by the pressure of the controversy surrounding the McLaren team in the wake of the events surrounding Lewis Hamilton in the recent Australian Grand Prix.
Yet those close to the 61-year-old multi-millionaire point to his track record as an unyielding competitor and opponent over the years, arguing that he has never been intimidated into backing down in his life. But there is also no doubt that Ron’s decision may be beneficial in the sense that it may help Whitmarsh develop his own space and style in what, initially at least, will be a rather fraught few weeks for the team leading up to the World Council meeting before which they have been summoned on 29 April.
Reflecting on his life in Formula One, Ron Dennis concluded by saying: “I admit I’m not always easy to get on with. I admit I’ve always fought hard for McLaren in Formula One. I doubt if Max Mosley or Bernie Ecclestone will be displeased by my decision. But no-one asked me to do it. It was my decision.”
He will be missed. Whitmarsh will find Dennis a hard act to follow. But having been groomed for the job for almost 20 years, the transition for McLaren out on the circuits will surely be seamless.