|Ron Dennis CBE|
Ron Dennis at the 2000 Monaco Grand Prix
1 June 1947
Woking, Surrey, England
Ronald Dennis CBE (born 1 June 1947) is the executive chairman of McLaren Automotive and McLaren Group, and is also a significant shareholder in both companies. He was also the team principal of McLaren Racing, the group's Formula One team, until 2009.
Since 1981, Dennis had been the team principal of the McLaren Formula One team, and was instrumental in transforming the outfit into a regular world championship contender. Constructors' and drivers' world championships were won with Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Mika Häkkinen and Lewis Hamilton.
In January 2007, Dennis sold half of his 30 percent shareholding in the McLaren Group to the Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding Company, leaving him with a 15 percent share. In 2009, Dennis, together with co-owners Mansour Ojjeh's TAG Group and the Bahraini Mumtalakat Holding Company, bought back Daimler AG's 40 per cent shareholding in a deal that will be concluded in 2011.
Ron Dennis was placed at number 648 in the Sunday Times Rich List 2006 with a net worth of £90 million, however The Times put his wealth at £200 million in 2009. In the Sunday Times Rich List 2011, Dennis' net worth is estimated to be £177M.
Born and raised in Woking, England, Dennis began working for the Cooper Formula One team in 1966 at the age of 18 where he worked alongside lead driver Jochen Rindt. In 1968 Rindt moved to Brabham and took Dennis with him. For the 1969 season Rindt moved to Team Lotus; however, Dennis stayed on, choosing instead to work for Sir Jack Brabham.
When Brabham chose retirement in 1971, Dennis and his colleague Neil Trundle decided to start their own team. In 1971, Rondel Racing was founded in Dennis's native Woking. By the mid-1970s the team was enjoying considerable success in Formula Two. Rondel aspired to be more than a customer team, however, and Dennis soon managed to find a backer (Motul) to fund a Rondel F2 car. For 1974, a Ray Jessop-designed F1 car was planned but the energy crisis affected racing severely and the car was completed by other hands and raced as the Token and later the Safir.
Dennis regrouped, forming a Marlboro-backed F2 team for two talented and well-sponsored drivers from Ecuador. In 1975 Dennis founded the Project Three team, and his cars once again became race winners. In the late 1970s, Dennis founded Project Four. This team went on to great success in Formula 2 and Formula 3, winning championships in 1979 and 1980 with Philip Morris (Marlboro) backing. Project Four also participated in the build programme for Procar BMW M1 racing cars. As his business interests became increasingly successful and lucrative, Dennis aspired to return to Formula One, hiring talented designer John Barnard to spearhead the design and development of an innovative new F1 car.
Dennis's return to Formula One was well-timed. The recent poor performance of the former world championship-winning McLaren team had prompted Philip Morris executive John Hogan to initiate a takeover of the outfit by Dennis's Project Four operation. Effectively a reverse takeover, it heralded the arrival of the rebranded McLaren International operation and ultimately placed the thirty-four-year-old in full control of the outfit. In addition to hiring Barnard to begin work on the team's revolutionary new carbon fibre composite chassis, the MP4/1, Dennis also successfully recruited the Porsche automobile firm to build the cars' engines from 1984-87.
The 'MP4' designation originally stood for Marlboro Project Four (the MP4/1 design was complete before the merger). The numbering system has been retained to the present time (the 2013 car is known as the McLaren MP4-28). After the change of title sponsor in 1997, the same abbreviation was retained, with the 'M' now standing for McLaren.
Prior to Dennis's arrival at McLaren in September 1980, the team was going through a particularly uncompetitive stint. The team had last won a grand prix with then defending World Champion James Hunt in 1977 and had finished a lowly seventh in the 1980 constructors' title with John Watson and Alain Prost. Even in those early days Dennis recognised the young Frenchman's potential but was unable to prevent him moving to the Renault team for 1981, a season that saw McLaren once again winning races. The year also saw many other teams struggling to duplicate Barnard's revolutionary carbon-fibre chassis.
In 1981 Dennis and his business partners bought out the other McLaren shareholders, Teddy Mayer and Tyler Alexander. In 1983 Dennis persuaded then-Williams backer Mansour Ojjeh to become a partner in McLaren International. Ojjeh invested in Porsche-built turbocharged engines which carried the name of his company, Techniques d'Avant Garde (TAG).
Dennis then persuaded the retired Niki Lauda to return to Formula One for the 1982 season and at the season opening South African Grand Prix the double World Champion lined up alongside Watson at the start of the season (only after an F1 drivers strike was averted). By the end of the year both drivers had secured two victories and 1983 began with more success with Watson's win in Long Beach. No more victories followed that year but Lauda debuted the Porsche-powered MP4-1E interim chassis at that season's Dutch Grand Prix. By the following race, the Italian Grand Prix, both cars were powered by turbocharged engines: McLaren-Ford had become McLaren-TAG. Convinced by his initial investment, Ojjeh became the major investor in McLaren, taking 60 per cent of the shares. By the end of the year, Alain Prost, who had finished second in the 1983 Drivers' Championship with Renault but was fired after publicly criticising the team following the loss of both the Drivers' and Constructors Championships, had been signed to replace Watson. With the experienced Lauda at his side, everything was set for a title challenge in 1984.
In just four years Dennis had turned McLaren from an also-ran team into a front-runner and in 1984, with Barnard's revolutionary MP4/2 car his work was rewarded with 12 wins from 16 races from and both drivers' and constructors' titles. Lauda took the drivers' crown by a half point from his McLaren team-mate Prost, with both drivers scoring more than double the tally of third-placed Elio de Angelis. While neither Lauda nor Prost were the fastest combination of the year, that title going to reigning World Champion Nelson Piquet in his BMW powered Brabham BT53 who claimed 9 pole positions, the McLaren-TAG's reliability was unmatched. As said by Clive James in commentary on the official video review of the Formula One season produced by FOCA: "Anything as fast as the McLaren's fell apart, anything as reliable finished later". The following year the situation was reversed and Prost won his first World Championship while Lauda suffered multiple failures and only won one race. At his home race in Austria Lauda announced his permanent retirement from Formula One at the end of the season. McLaren finished eight points ahead of second-placed Ferrari that year but the pack was closing and in 1986, McLaren lost out to Williams, although the consistent Prost won the drivers' title. Lauda's replacement was the 1982 World Champion Keke Rosberg, who also retired from Formula One at the end of the 1986 season.
Dennis signed Stefan Johansson from Ferrari for the 1987 season to partner Prost, but it was clear that the TAG engine was no longer competitive in the face of increased manufacturer involvement, and so Dennis approached Honda, who were at the time supplying rivals Williams and Lotus. Williams' unwillingness to accept a Japanese driver (Satoru Nakajima) in place of Nigel Mansell, as well as their displeasure with Williams team management for losing the 1986 Drivers' title, led Honda to transfer their engine supply to the McLaren team. Dennis made no secret that Johansson's seat was only temporary as his intention had been to sign the brilliant Brazilian Ayrton Senna (who had developed a close relationship with Honda while at Lotus in 1987) to partner double champion Prost. Senna was under contract with Lotus for 1987 but Dennis got his man and midway through the year it was announced that Senna would be joining the team, along with Honda, for three years from 1988.
In 1988 McLaren was supremely dominant, even when compared to the superiority it had experienced in 1984, taking 15 of the 16 races and taking 15 of the 16 pole positions, and both the drivers' and constructors titles with no real opposition. The team won the Constructors Championship with a then record 199 points, 134 in front of second placed Ferrari while Senna won his first World Championship by three points from Prost (Senna won 8 races to Prost's 7). It was behind the scenes that Dennis's political manoeuvering was most required. Dennis masterfully kept the drivers focused on racing, yet it could not last. Prost was highly skilled, "the professor": Senna was volatile but brilliant. Their pairing had always been a recipe for conflict, despite it being Prost who first suggested to Dennis that he sign the Brazilian, and the sign of things to come made its first public appearance on the second lap of the Portuguese Grand Prix. Senna almost forced Prost into the pit wall at high speed as the Frenchman passed him and took control of the race, Prost going on to win while Senna could only finish sixth. The two had words about the incident after the race and while it all seemed settled, the die had been cast.
By mid-1989 it was becoming impossible to pacify the two warring drivers. Following a fall-out in the aftermath of a broken promise between them at San Marino where Prost and Senna agreed before the race that whoever got to the first corner in front wouldn't be challenged into that turn. After the restart following Gerhard Berger's crash, Senna outbraked Prost going into the Tosa turn and broke the agreement, something which angered Prost. Senna later denied making the agreement but Prost was backed up by Marlboro's John Hogan who had been with the drivers when the agreement was made. The result was that the two barely talked for the rest of the season. Prost angered Dennis when not only did he announce that he would be joining Ferrari for 1990, thus ending a highly successful five-year stint with McLaren, but also with his public comments about the team and Honda allegedly favoring Senna at the Italian Grand Prix. Dennis then showed his anger in public (a rare event) after Prost, who won the race following an engine failure for Senna, dropped his winners trophy from the podium to the Tifosi showing how unhappy he was despite the win. Dennis flung the Constructors winners trophy at Prost's feet and walked off the podium (Prost was later made to make a public apology over his comments about his unfavorable treatment under the threat of being sacked before the season ended). The "cold war" between the drivers came to a head at the Japanese Grand Prix when, at Honda's home track, Prost and Senna had their infamous collision while fighting for the lead late in the race which took Prost out and led to Senna's disqualification and gave Prost his 3rd World Championship.
It was Alain Prost's actions with the winners trophy in Italy in 1989 that prompted Dennis to rule from that point on McLaren had ownership of all trophies won by the team and its drivers, with the drivers free to have replicas made of their race winning trophies for their own collections if they so desired (Dennis reportedly made the decision in the McLaren team transporter within minutes of the episode on the podium at Monza). Even though Dennis is no longer the F1 team principal, this rule still exists at McLaren as of the 2012 Formula One season.
At the start of the 1990s, McLaren continued to dominate the sport with Ayrton Senna taking back-to-back titles in 1990 and 1991. McLaren signed the promising newcomer Mika Häkkinen as a test driver at the end of 1992, but by 1992 Williams was once more in the ascendancy. McLaren was not to win another title for seven years. With the loss of Honda power in 1993, Dennis was left haggling with Ford and Ford's works team Benetton for a supply of competitive engines. A disappointing partnership with Peugeot in 1994 failed to yield the expected results and left Dennis searching to find a fourth engine partner in as many years. In October 1994 he agreed terms with Mercedes-Benz to supply engines from 1995 onwards, an association that continues to this day.
For the first couple of seasons the McLaren-Mercedes relationship was difficult, with the inevitable teething troubles that always come with a new engine, indifferent chassis, and the odd choice of a driver for 1995 in the aging Nigel Mansell. Mansell did not even fit into the car at the start of 1995 (Mark Blundell deputised) and even when a revised chassis was produced Mansell's performances were not successful. Mika Häkkinen gradually assumed leadership of the team but suffered severe head injuries in a crash at the end of the 1995 season, from which he eventually made a complete recovery.
By the mid-1990s Dennis was once more guiding his team towards domination of the sport, and in 1996 he approached Williams's star designer Adrian Newey to become technical director of McLaren. Newey agreed, and in 1998 McLaren took both the drivers' and the constructors' titles with Mika Häkkinen. A second drivers' title followed in 1999, but Ferrari took the constructors' title.
In 2000 Dennis was made a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
In 2001 Dennis was faced with a crisis amongst his staff when Jaguar boss Bobby Rahal attempted to lure Newey from McLaren. Details of how Dennis convinced Newey to stay have remained extremely vague but rumours in the specialist motor racing press suggested a deal allowing the designer to work on racing yachts. In the same year, team leader Mika Häkkinen announced that he was to leave the sport. Faced with the loss of his double world champion star driver, Dennis signed another Finn, Kimi Räikkönen.
In 2005 Dennis remained at the top of the sport following a poor year in 2004. Despite producing their strongest performance for several years and winning more grands prix than any of their rivals, McLaren were narrowly beaten in both championships by the Renault F1 team. A further blow was the announcement that Adrian Newey was to join Red Bull Racing from the start of 2006.
In December 2005, McLaren announced a title sponsorship deal with Vodafone estimated to be worth £500 million and the signing of World Champion Fernando Alonso, both to begin in 2007. In the interim, McLaren had a difficult 2006 season, failing to win a race for the first time since the 1996 season. Halfway through the 2006 season, McLaren gave up on perfecting their current car and the team focused on the 2007 MP4-22 car. The start of the 2007 season saw McLaren in top condition, with only Ferrari as a challenger for the world championships. The McLarens became the cars to beat, with both drivers, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, in the race for the drivers' championship. However, the team suffered throughout the season from the in-fighting between Alonso and Hamilton.
In the Alonso vs. Hamilton conflict, Dennis always advocated treating his two drivers equally. However, after the 2007 Chinese Grand Prix, he said "We weren't racing Kimi, we were basically racing Fernando." The Times said his comments "made a nonsense of his claims to be treating his drivers equitably in the World Championship run-in" but the team's insistence on parity until the very final race in Brazil underlined Dennis's core philosophy even if it ultimately lost the team the world championship.
Infighting and team orders aside, owing to the team’s complicity in the theft and use of Ferrari intellectual property, dubbed spygate, McLaren F1 was fined a record $100 million USD by the FIA and stripped of all constructor championship points for season 2007.
Ron Dennis announced on 16 January 2009 that he would be stepping down as McLaren's team principal on 1 March 2009, to be replaced by Martin Whitmarsh. On 16 April 2009 Dennis reportedly handed over complete control of the McLaren F1 team to Whitmarsh, citing a desire to pursue new challenges, especially focusing on the McLaren road car.
On 17 November 2011 Prime Minister David Cameron formally opened the McLaren Production Centre, a new building that sits alongside the existing McLaren Technology Centre. "I want this country to be respected for what we make, as well as the services we provide," said the Prime Minister. "McLaren, in breaking new ground, are a powerful rebuke to those who say the manufacturing base has gone. Visits to places like this make me optimistic that we can in time ride out this storm and come out stronger." In the period between 22 April 2005 and 16 June 2011 the Conservative Party accepted £126,200 in donations from Ron Dennis.
Future of McLaren
On 16 November 2009 McLaren parted ways with Mercedes as it bought debut-season driver and constructor championship-winning Brawn GP. However Mercedes will continue to supply engines to McLaren until 2015. Dennis said one reason they had parted ways was because of McLaren's plan to become a car manufacturer. The successor to the McLaren F1, the McLaren MP4-12C was put into production in 2011. The company completed the buy-back of Mercedes's 40 per cent stake in 2011.
"Ronspeak" is the term coined for the style of speech used by Dennis, and has become a well-used phrase in the F1 paddock to describe sentences of unneeded complexity. Dennis is renowned for his excessively verbose, evasive and cautious answers to tough questions from Formula One journalists. It started about 1980, when sponsorship started to play a more prominent role in the sport.
However while acknowledging that the term has been used to criticise Dennis, the former editor-in-chief of F1 Racing, Matt Bishop, who now works for McLaren as Group Head of Communications and Public Relations, argues that "Ronspeak" is not a vice; rather, it is informative and accurate. Dennis, in describing Fernando Alonso's contribution to the McLaren team's development, said his experience and ability "[prevented] an F1 team from going down [time wasting] technical cul-de-sacs - and as a result, car-developmental progress becomes more linear." Bishop described this as a prime example of Ronspeak, hailing it as "logical, informative and insightful. [but also] careful... in that what it doesn't do is compare Alonso's exceptional all-round ability with that of his predecessors."
On 15 February 2008 Dennis announced his intention to separate from his wife of 22 years, Lisa, with whom he has three children. Lisa Dennis was the author of a series of illustrated children's books during the 1990s; they followed the Formula One adventures of main characters "Mac" and "Lauren".
In March 2011, Dennis was banned from driving for six months after a string of traffic violations that started from April 2008.
Awards and honours
- 1996 De Montfort University Honorary Doctorate
- 1997 City University London Honorary Doctorate
- 2000 Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for services to motorsport.
- 2000 University of Surrey Honorary Doctorate
- 2001 British Racing Drivers' Club Gold Medal 
- 2007 British Racing Drivers' Club Colin Chapman Trophy.
- 2008 British Racing Drivers' Club Gold Medal
- 2008 Royal Academy of Engineering Prince Philip Medal
Notes and references
- "Dennis to quit as McLaren F1 boss". BBC Sport. Friday, 16 January 2009. Retrieved 31 March 2009.
- "Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding Company Portfolio".
- Eason Keating, Kevin (2009-01-17). "Ron Dennis hands over the controls at McLaren". The Times (Times Newspapers). Retrieved 2009-01-17.
- "The team: management biographies". www.mclaren.com (McLaren). Archived from the original on 2007-03-12. Retrieved 2007-04-08.
- Keating, Frank (1991-07-13). "British Grand Prix: Man behind the man behind the wheel - Frank Keating meets Ron Dennis, whose pursuit of perfection still sparks McLaren". The Guardian (Guardian Newspapers).
- Henry, Alan (2003-02-25). "Motor Racing: Jaguar land Crocodile's brother". The Guardian (Guardian Newspapers). p. 31.
- Blundsden, John (1988-07-07). "Dennis confronts the difficulties of his own success". The Times (Times Newspapers).
- Two Till The End - 1984 Rd.2 South Africa
- "Team McLaren fires Mansell". Moscow Pullman Daily News. May 24, 1995. p. 11B.
- Zanca, Salvatore (2007-04-08). "Alonso wins Malaysian Grand Prix for McLaren". USA Today. Retrieved 2007-04-09.
- Henry, Alan (2007-04-09). "Dennis' nous helps British team rediscover winning ways". The Guardian (Guardian Newspapers). Retrieved 2007-04-09.
- Slip of the tongue by Ron Dennis adds fuel to Fernando Alonso conspiracy theory
- Holt, Sarah (2009-01-16). "Dennis to quit as McLaren F1 boss". BBC Sport. Retrieved 2009-04-06.
- "Dennis hands over complete Mclaren F1 team control to Martin Whitmarsh". bbc.co.uk. 16 April 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-16.
- "Posh Dosh for Posh Boys The Sunday Times Rich List And How They Support the Tory Party". gmb.org.uk.
- Matt, Bishop (May 2007). "The Long Interview: Ron Dennis". F1 Racing (Haymarket). pp. 48–56.
- "Dennis announces separation from wife". itv.com. 15 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-15.
- "Ron Dennis given six-month driving ban". ITV. 2011-10-19. Retrieved 2012-08-18.
- "Chronological list of honorary graduates". City University London. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
- "A high degree of engineering sucess". GetSurrey.co.uk. 8 December 2000. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
- "Glittering prizes". Times Higher Education. 12 January 2001. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
- "BRDC Awards: Dennis honoured". Autosport.com. 2 December 2001. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
- "BRDC Awards". crash.net. 2007. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
- "BRDC Annual Awards Luncheon notes". motorsport.com. 8 December 2008. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
- "Ron Dennis to receive Prince Philip Medal for lifetime services to engineering". Royal Academy of Engineering. 4 June 2008. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
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