Ron

Ron Dennis is not an easy person to get to know. Over the years I have been his friend and I have been his enemy. Back in the early 1990s we were quite close but then we fell out because he did not like the way I assessed the performance of his team. When McLaren returned to being successful the tensions between us eased. These things happen if you are an F1 journalist trying to tell the truth. You cannot please all the people all the time. And so relationships fluctuate. For me it has been a similar story with Max Mosley. When I support him, he likes it, when I attack him he does not – and he makes his feelings very clear, which is a good thing. Ron is the same. If he does not like something I write, he will come out and say it and we will discuss it.

Trying to find a balance between the two men in the last couple of years has been an experience. But nothing is ever as black and white as some would like it to be. There are many shades of grey.

As far as I am concerned Ron has been one of the most honest team principals I have encountered and this is why I have such trouble accepting things that have been claimed about him of late. In the late 1990s there was a graphic illustration of this. My friend and colleague Andrew Benson, now at the BBC but then at Autosport, had run a story saying that Damon Hill would leave Williams at the end of the season. It was in the summer and it was a very brave story to run. I had heard not one whisper and I rang Andrew to ask him if he was REALLY sure about the story. He said that he was absolutely certain that the story was true. One hundred percent. That got me thinking. Who would I trust 100% in F1 with a story of that magnitude? The following day I rang Andrew back and said: “I know your source”. He was very surprised. “How can you?” he said. And so I explained that there was only one man in F1 who I would trust that much and that was Ron. Andrew was shocked. Ron had been the source. Adrian Newey, who was on the verge of leaving Williams, had told Ron that Damon was not going to stay. Ron had decided that it would be good to get that out into the open and had told Andrew. Yes, his aim had been to destabilise Williams, but that was just gamesmanship.

So when Ron says something to me – and I listen very carefully to exactly what he says (which is important) – I believe it. Some people in F1 lie all the time and do not care when you go back to them later and say “But you lied…” They shrug and say that it was necessary at the time. Ron never wants t have to face such remarks. I believe that trust is the most important thing that exists in any relationship and I am distrustful of many in F1 because they lie as they need to. One of the things I have always tried to do is to build up relationships in which I convince people to tell the truth and then we negotiate about what should or should not be written. In that way, a journalist gets a much better rate of success and teams have to deal with far fewer stories based on media guesswork.

So what happened in Melbourne? Well, I am sure that McLaren did what they thought was right to protect Lewis’s position, given what was known about previous events, such as Belgium last year. The team is paranoid about the way it is treated by the FIA. Is it right to be that way? Who knows? Given what has happened to McLaren in the past it is clear that there is a certain wariness. The FIA says that it is always fair with McLaren, but there are times when things just don’t seem right. I have mentioned the Renault spying case at the end of 2007 as an example. I have mentioned Toyota’s recent rear wing illegality in Australia. The impression that these stories create is that some teams are not equal to others. I am not saying that this is the truth. It is just the impression one gets.

If Ron Dennis has to leave F1 to protect his beloved McLaren, I know that he will do it. He will do anything for McLaren. There are some who say that for Ron McLaren comes first and F1 comes second and that this is what has led him into trouble with the FIA.

Show me a team owner who is not the same way. They all argue from their own corner, just as Max Mosley used to do when he was the F1 boss of March.

Ron can be amazingly irritating. If there is an opportunity to say the wrong thing, then he will take it. But his heart is in the right place and we should not forget that.

14 thoughts on “Ron

  1. Thanks for this contribution.
    The man shows leadership and this will be the ultimate sacrifice. He should not have been put in this situation in the first place.

    I wish him all the best. Great respect!!!

  2. i was a 30 year McLaren fan until his ludicrous treatment of Alonso!!! You must have both drivers working together, not rivals!! He set the circumstances for the destruction of his team, and now he has to “fall on the sword” to save his own company? Its just a preposterous notion! McLaren have become a shambles, and now the Hamiltons are blaming the team for making a slow car?? Dennis could have had it all from 2007 if he had got Hamilton to ride shotgun for Alonso!! Alonso would have had 07 to get used to the new team, he had Hamilton could have then gone on to finish 1-2 in both drivers and constructors, Alonso would have won his 3rd title on the trot, the team and all the sponsors would have all been happy bunnies, and Dennis could have taken all the credit for a job well done!! But he made all the wrong decisions and from Monaco that year it was already obvious to me that he was not thinking clearly for his team! The “team orders” enquiry by the stewards should have prompted him into an immediate and firm stance as far as who talks to who and when! He must realise by now what a balls up hes made??

  3. Well said Joe!

    As I’ve commented elsewhere there will be a lot of piling on McLaren this weekend in China by many eager to fan the flames.

    But I have a strong feeling that history will be kinder to him than it looks now.

  4. It is a shame the wrong guy is being forced out of his position. Ron has done nothing but good for F1 and has never dragged it through the gutter. I hate to see someone like Mosley come out on top of a fundamentally decent man.

    As for Mr sLAMMER. Can I suggest you lay off the tequila a few hours before you switch on your computer? How could you have respect for a third Alonso title when you knew he only had it because a faster driver had been told to slow down? Ron’s only mistake in this was thinking that he needed Alonso and that Alonso was going to fit in at McLarer. He would have been far better off in hindsight putting Wurz or de la Rosa in the second car rather than Alonso.

    As far as I know Lewis does not design the cars at McLaren so it is hardly his fault if the aerodynamics are not up to scratch. Alonso has not done a brilliant job of designing this year’s Renault which disproves your argument.

  5. Ron Dennis always has been an enigma to me. If anything I have an enormous amount of respect for the guy. He took the Teddy Mayer racing team and built it into the comprehensive engineering business to keep the racing team sustainable. He has put McLaren in a position to compete not only for now, but for the future as well. Next to Ferrari, McLaren is the best positioned team for long-term success in the sport. It is something I wish Frank Williams would have done in the late nineties.

  6. McLaren have insisted for a very long time on equal treatment of their drivers up until it is mathematically impossible for the second driver to go for the drivers’ title.

    Prima donna Alonso simply caught the wrong side of that policy, expecting the rookie (who happened to be seriously embarrassing him in equal machinery) to give way.

    And, for the record, it now seems that Alonso’s championships appear to be at partly down to amazing Renault cars until the mass dampers were removed – at which point his performances really tailed off for the rest of that season. Unlike Schumacher, he’s never demonstrated the ability to drag a car around by it’s bootstraps, to get results from mediocre cars … in contrast, consider Schumacher’s feats with the first couple of Ferrari’s he got his hands on.

    Hamilton, on the other hand, does appear to have at least some of that ability – afterall, who would have expected a podium from the last row of the grid in this year’s dog of a McLaren (however badly fluffed were the pass/re-pass/re-pass again of Trulli and the resulting stewards enquiry).

  7. That’s a very nice, even assessment of Ron Dennis, the type we don’t usually hear about him. Yes, he is notorious for saying things in 80 words what could be said in 10, but those 80 words have always seemed to hold the truth somewhere in there. I’ve found the accusations of gross misconduct and lying that have been levelled at McLaren over the last three years absolutely ludicrous. Are we supposed to believe that McLaren are the only team who engages in any behavior that’s not above board? Felipe Massa lied to the stewards at Monza in 2006 about getting held up by Alonso in qualifying. Was Felipe penalized? No, Alonso was. Renault commits an act of industrial epsionage in 2007 that appears to have been eerily similar to the one McLaren committed. Not even a slap on the wrist for Renault. Nice consistency there, FIA.

    Sorry for the gross variation from the Ron Dennis theme. It’s just driving me crazy right now, the lengths that the McLaren team is having to go through to “atone” for behavior that’s commonly deployed by nearly every other team in the paddock. What’s next? Is Martin Whitmarsh going to have to fall on his sword for McLaren using a pit board that’s too large?

  8. I totally respect the man, only a handful of people, like Sir Williams are in F1 today with such a strength, experience, brilliance, and above all performers. He will be missed.
    And steven, the world knew Alonso was far better driver than the rookie that year, and nationality did play a big part in internal politics, like it does with your comment.

  9. Arun,

    First I am Scottish and only British under protest so Lewis’s English nationality is not really a bonus from my point of view. I have never assessed any driver on his nationality and neither has Ron Dennis.

    Ron has only ever been interested in how good a driver is and had Alonso been demonstrably better than Hamilton and not behaved like a complete prat he would be fimrly ensconsed in McLaren probably with another couple of titles to his name.

    Look at Ron Dennis’s history with drivers. He pestered Niki Lauda to come out of retirement to drive for him. When Prost was sacked by Renault at the end of 1983 he was signed immediately even though John Watson (a British driver) was negotiating a contract with McLaren.

    People thought Prost made a mistake going into Team Lauda but he was faster so the team moved behind him to the point that people thought Senna was crazy to sign for Team Prost. Senna was faster and Prost effectively squeezed out.

    If Alonso was remotely as good as his reputation suggests he would have blown Hamilton away and McLaren would now be Team Alonso.

    However Hamilton was not only faster but he got inside Alonso’s head in Hungary which resulted in Alonso behaving like an idiot inside the car then out of it when he threatened Ron Dennis.

    When Alonso was at Renault the first time the theory was that some days Fisichella was able to raise his game and match him. What a season at McLaren proved was that some days Alonso’s performance dropped which was not believed to be the case before.

    I am amazed that people still talk about him being the most complete driver. No other driver who ever has been regarded as such has ever been spooked by a team mate into completely losing his head. Hamilton is and always has been better than Alonso.

  10. Thanks JS for the great article (as usual). Personally, my lasting image of Ron will be the post race chaos at Interlagos 2008. The camera caught Ron celebrating, trying to find Lewis, pure relief on his face. THIS is the picture I will remember of this F1 giant. A mechanic who built a championship dreadnaught. After all the turmoil, his face was the picture of relief and joy.

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