There have been quiet whispers for months that Ron Dennis might be removed from his position at the head of what is now known as the McLaren Technology Group, the parent company of the McLaren F1 team. There has never been sufficient on-the-record evidence to justify writing a story, but the rumours have swirled nonetheless.
It is clear, if you look at the paperwork, that Dennis does not have control of the business, in terms of shareholdings, owning just 25 percent of the shares and so, logically, if the other owners combine and vote against him, he could be removed from his role, just as Martin Whitmarsh was when Dennis made his comeback after five years away, in January 2014. The deal at the time, so they say, was that Dennis would toughen up McLaren in F1 and would make it more competitive. He would also find backers to buy shares from his partners and retake control of the entire business. That hasn’t happened and it is said that various deadlines have come and gone.
Just to be clear, we are talking only of the racing team and associated companies, not the automobile manufacturing business, which is separate but has most of the same shareholders.
The parties involved, of course, are saying nothing publicly, although the official line is that there is no change planned. But does that mean no change in the future as well?
The question that the McLaren shareholders face is simple and yet complex at the same time. Will separating McLaren from Dennis cause the company any harm, or will it be able to work differently and achieve more success if he is no longer there?
One cannot fault his record of success in the sport, McLaren won seven Constructors’ and 10 Drivers’ Championships during his reign as team principal between 1980 and 2009. Having said that it is quite astonishing to think that the team has not won the Constructors’ title since 1998, although it has been runner-up seven times since then. Dennis is not quite as integral to the team as, for example, Enzo Ferrari was with Ferrari, but the difference is only really the name. Dennis took over McLaren 36 years ago and built it into the empire it is today. It is a remarkable achievement and one which should be recognised as such.
Under Whitmarsh – between 2009 and 2013 – McLaren did not win the World Championship, but the team was at least winning races. The change of engine rules and the switch to Honda meant that it has done little since Whitmarsh departed.
Ron is 70 next year and has always been keen to promote the idea of handing the company on to younger men, but at the moment it seems that this ambition is less acute than once it was.
One way or another things seem to be coming to a head and we will see which way the wind blows.