Ron Dennis
Ron Dennis.jpg
Full Name Ronald "Ron" Dennis CBE
Date of Birth 1 June 1947 (age 65)
Occupation Executive Chairman
Employer McLaren Automotive
Years Active 1980 - 2009

Ronald "Ron" 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, 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. Dennis has a "tense" relationship with, and a reported dislike for, former FIA president Max Mosley.

In January 2007, Dennis sold half of his 30 percent shareholding in the McLaren Group to the Bahraini 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.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early life[edit | edit source]

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.

McLaren[edit | edit source]

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 until the present time (the 2011 car is known as the McLaren MP4-26). After the change of title sponsor in 1997, the same abbreviation was retained, with the 'M' now standing for McLaren.

1980's[edit | edit source]

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 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 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 and at the 1982 South African Grand Prix the double World Champion lined up alongside Watson at the start of the season. By the end of the year both drivers had secured two victories and 1983 began with more success with Watson's United States Grand Prix win. 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, now a race winner at Renault F1, 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. The following year the situation was reversed and Prost beat Lauda to the drivers' title. 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.

By 1987 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) led Honda to transfer their engine supply to the McLaren team. Dennis further strengthened his team by signing Brazilian Ayrton Senna (who had developed a close relationship with Honda while at Lotus in 1987) to partner double champion Prost.

In 1988 McLaren was supremely dominant, even when compared to the superiority it had experienced in 1984, taking 15 of the 16 races and both titles with no real opposition. 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.

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 the 1989 San Marino GP, Senna and Prost collided in Suzuka, handing that year's title to Prost. Subsequently, Prost left the team for Ferrari and was replaced by Gerhard Berger for the following season.

The 1990s[edit | edit source]

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.

The 2000s[edit | edit source]

In 2000 Dennis was made a Commander 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.

Ron Dennis announced on 16 January that he would be stepping down as McLaren's team principal on 1 March, to be replaced by Martin Whitmarsh. On 16 April 2009 Dennis 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."

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