Formula 1 Insight

Homage to Ron Dennis

I dislike periods of dominance in F1 by one car or team. When one team gains a big advantage over the rest or a particular driver starts winning all the races, F1 becomes boring, predictable and hardly worth watching. In fact, the only reason for continued viewing is the forlorn hope that something will go wrong for the usual winner so that someone else can make it to the top step of the podium.

Ron Dennis and Lewis Hamilton
Ron with his latest champion

Whether I would feel differently if it were my favorite team or driver that was doing all the winning is debatable; I like to think that, after the first few wins, I would be just as desperate for someone else to take a victory or two. But I cannot say for certain since I have never been on the side of a consistent winner - all my favorites have been underdogs and have had to fight tooth and nail for their occasional championships.

Until Ron Dennis took over McLaren with his MP4 outfit, I was quite kindly disposed towards the team. Under Teddy Mayer it was quite likable, almost cuddly at times, winning occasionally but never dominating, then going into gradual decline as the great years of the M23 drifted into history. Ground effect killed off Teddy's chances for a return to greatness, his designers never seeming to master the art, and it was only the continued presence of the unpredictable John Watson that prevented us dismissing their chances completely.

Then along came Big Ron and everything changed. He and his star designer, John Barnard, transformed Mclaren into the best-organized team on the grid and within a year they started to win races. When the TAG-Porsche engine came along and Alain Prost was teamed with Niki Lauda, McLaren became unbeatable and I started to dislike the team accordingly. As the architect of this revival, Ron Dennis became the bogeyman, the nasty man who destroyed competition in F1 with his steam roller efficiency. The best engine, the best designers, the best drivers, that was Ron's recipe for success and I hated the fact that it worked.

Yet my attitude was irrational; F1 is about competition and, if one team has better answers than do the others, its success is deserved. It is up to the rest to come up to the new standard, rather than hope that misfortune befalls the victor. In time, other teams, most notably Williams, Benetton and Ferrari, learned the lesson and could compete with McLaren for the spoils. And this has been Ron's legacy to F1 - he has made it more professional, more serious, more respectable than ever before. The humor and haphazardness of the Teddy Mayer years will do no longer; now you must get your act together or perish.

Much has been lost as a result but just as much gained. McLaren may have brought unsmiling, professional efficiency to the sport at the cost of the silly jokes and duct tape engineering, but it has also established its claim to be the pinnacle of motor sport. This is the achievement of Ron Dennis, the once-mechanic turned team owner. We may be amused by his unique way of expressing himself, criticize his management of drivers and deplore his apparent lack of humor but there is no doubt that he has built the most effective F1 team of the last 25 years. He deserves respect for that, at least.

But I submit that there is more to him that is worthy of due honor. As I have written before, Ron has shown a measure of integrity and decency that is rare amongst leaders today. Through all the troubles that beset McLaren over the last two years, Ron remained restrained and honorable, refusing to be drawn into a slanging match with his detractors. Compare his public statements with Bernie Ecclestone's pathetic inference this week that Sir Jackie Stewart is going senile and it can be seen how exceptional and necessary is the good example set by Ron's common sense and restraint at times of enormous pressure.

As Ron steps back from leadership of the McLaren F1 team, it would be good if we were to remember how great an influence on the sport he has been. He may be detested in some quarters but largely that is as a result of his success coupled with old world standards of behavior - envy is an unforgiving enemy. Martin Whitmarsh has some enormous boots to fill.


Steven Roy
I have always been a fan of Ron's and have been pleasantly surprised by the reception given to his announcement. He is someone who comes in for a lot of utterly undeserved criticism and I had expected quite a few people to used this as an opportunity to have a dig.

We keep hearing how Bernie has made F1 into the ultimate professional sport but in reality it has more to do with Ron raising the bar and forcing others to follow. He seems to have total mastery of every aspect of F1. Apart, of course, from the Bernie and Max show. He never seems to have gaps in his sponsorship. He doesn't have spells where he does not have a competitive driver. John Barnard left as did Gordon Murray and Adrian Newey. Most teams losing one of these guys would have gone into freefall but McLaren just keep going.

When you look at the size of McLaren it is wuite amazing that there were no real leaks during the spy nonsense. No-one in the whole company felt the need to take the opportunity to put the boot in. Compare that with Renault where we had chapter and verse of who had seen what and when, and what they had said. At Ferrari we had the whole Stepney saga including the mysterious white powder episode played out in the public domain.

I expect Ron will be around for long time yet setting the standards. He may not be attending the races but he will be running the company. As we saw at Maranello it is possible to totally control a team without going near a circuit. Enzo did and I think Luca has a dimilar plan.
Date Added: 17/01/2009

Agreed completely, Steven. Ron's influence on F1 has been huge and it will likely continue even after he hands over the team to Whitmarsh on 1st March. I find it ironic that the event that was supposed to destroy him, the WMSC hearing on the Stepney affair, was actually the cause of Ron's reputation soaring, primarily thanks to his dignified handling of the matter.
Date Added: 17/01/2009

Nick Goodspeed
I know there is absolutely no proof and I hope if Ron Dennis is guility he never gets caught, but I will believe (because it's what I want to believe) that he had something to do with Mosley being caught by the candid camera! For $100,000,000 he earned the right and attempting to step on the ginger cockroach does nothing but add to his classy legacy (theoretically, of course). Congratulations for going out on top!!!!
Date Added: 18/01/2009

Dave Spurr
I personally think that Ron would be a perfect candidate for the FIA presidency, focused, detail-orientated, always able to take the long-view approach to situations and a-political. They all sound like qualities that Max has been lacking, although with the di Montezemolo (apparently Ron's suggestion) headed FOTA we can now see how much these qualities were lacking and how Ron's influence being borne in this situation.

Just a thought.
Date Added: 18/01/2009

Alianora La Canta
Ron has done a fantastic job over the years at McLaren. His record is excellent, his team operates in a sensible and sustainable manner and Ferrari were scared of him. All this despite the best efforts of Max Mosley to block McLaren's progress (possibly related to the latter).

I can't see Ron going very far. Just far enough to not cramp Martin Whitmarsh's style. If Martin finds himself in a disaster situation at McLaren, Ron will surely help (if in a relatively discreet manner). However, given Ron's mentoring of Martin over the years, and the extent to which Martin has accepted the McLaren ethos, I doubt this will happen unless Mosley and/or Ecclestone forces it to happen.
Date Added: 18/01/2009

It does seem as if the old guard are all leaving. Last year it was Todt (whom I have to say I don't miss) and now Dennis. How much longer will Briatore be sticking around.

I honestly don't believe Dennis was involved in the Max Mosley tabloid affair, but I have to way of knowing one way or the other. It just doesn't strike me as his way of doing business...
Date Added: 18/01/2009

Nick: I never believed that Ron had anything to do with Mosley getting caught - it's just not Ron's style. in the end, I think the most likely scenario is that the call girl and her husband saw a way to make a quick buck and planned the whole thing themselves, contacting the NoTW once they'd made the film. But there was certainly a sort of rough justice to the affair!
Date Added: 18/01/2009

Dave: While I agree that Ron has the qualities necessary to be FIA President, I don't think he'd be interested in the job. his focus has always been on McLaren and that's where it is likely to remain.

Luca might be a different matter, however...
Date Added: 18/01/2009

Alianora: I agree that Ron has done an excellent job of preparing for his withdrawal from F1 team leadership by bringing on a successor (something that Max and Bernie have failed completely to do). Martin Whitmarsh will do a fine job having been brought increasingly into it over the last few years but it is inevitable that the character of the team will change as Ron's influence fades. it will be a long time before Martin demands the amount of respect due to Ron, however.
Date Added: 18/01/2009

Patrick: Flavio recently announced that he would be in F1 until the end of 2010, coincidentally the expiry date of Alonso's contract with Renault. So yes, the old guard are leaving - apart from Sir Frank, who seems to be a fixture for the foreseeable future.
Date Added: 18/01/2009

Nick Goodspeed
I doubt very much that Ron Dennis had anything to do with the Mosley scandal. I imagine he's smarter than that.Unfortunately, I'm not sure Mosley believed or believes this.
Date Added: 19/01/2009

I'll miss Ron. He made the sport bearable precisely because of his honour and integrity, when the sport was becoming a circus.
He would be a brilliant FIA President, more fair than any other potential candidate.
I feel that Ferrari have always tried to undermine Ron because they feel threatened by him and the success of his team. We know that Force India have ended their contract with Ferrari and switched to McLaren engines, and Ferrari have lost their sponsorship with Martini. I bet Ron is having the last laugh.
I hope Ron stays close by to offer his support and advice to Matin who will do a brilliant job.
Date Added: 20/01/2009

I'm quite sure that Ron will continue to give Martin whatever assistance he needs, Rehana. He still cares about the team and will be there if needed.
Date Added: 20/01/2009

RSS feed icon RSS comments feed

Back to the main blog

Have your say

You may use some HTML in comments. For bold text use <strong></strong> and for italic text use <em></em>. If you know what you're doing feel free to use more complex mark-up but please no deprecated tags, break tags or JavaScript.

Enter the code shown above:

Name *

Comment *

Email *


Copyright disclaimers XHTML 1.0 CCS2 RSS feed Icon