Ron Dennis doesn’t want a seat filler in 2008

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes, Montreal, 2007 | DaimlerI’ve read a lot of remarks by people who think that Ron Dennis will just stick any old driver in the second McLaren seat next year.

The assumption seems to be that he’s already got Lewis Hamilton and all he needs and wants to do is stick a loyal but not super-quick number two in the second car.

I don’t agree with that idea because it doesn’t fit Ron Dennis’s modus operandi.

Throughout his entire time at McLaren Dennis has always tried to sign the best two drivers he could get his hands on. Before Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton came Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya.

Look at the drivers he signed to McLaren on long-term deals: David Coulthard (multiple winner), Mika Hakkinen (multiple champion), Gerhard Berger (multiple winner), Ayrton Senna (multiple champion), Alain Prost (multiple champion), Keke Rosberg (champion) and Niki Lauda (multiple champion).

Do any of those look like a Pedro de la Rosa to you?

When he signed Lewis Hamilton last year Dennis said it was as much because he looked at the other drivers in the sport and didn’t think any of them good enough to drive for his team.

Nico Rosberg, Williams-Toyota, Hungaroring, 2007 | Lorenzo Bellanca / LAT PhotographicSince then Heikki Kovalainen has made an impressive d??but and is considered a front runner for the seat. Nico Rosberg had a markedly better 2007 than 2006 and Dennis is also believed to be after him.

I am sure these two are the front runners for the seat and that Frank Williams will demand a king’s ransom for Rosberg. Among the drivers in the lower echelons of the sport only Timo Glock has a CV anything like Hamilton’s was this time last year – and Toyota have already nabbed him.

Yes, on occasions in the past he’s stuck a less talented driver in the car as a one-off: a Stefan Johansson or Mark Blundell. But this was usually a short-term of contingency measure.

The state of the driver market may force him to do the same this year. But I think Ron Dennis is too stubborn to change a fundamental aspect of how he runs his team – such as insisting that they run two first-rate drivers in equal equipment.

He might have one Hamilton already, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t looking for the next one.

Photos: Daimler | Lorenzo Bellanca / LAT Photographic

More on the 2008 driver market

27 comments on “Ron Dennis doesn’t want a seat filler in 2008”

  1. Doesn’t that mean it has to be Rosberg? I think it might be a done deal too. Why elder would Flav be talking about two new drivers?

  2. I’d bet he wants a good and loyal number 2, I think he was expexting Lewis to be one of those but he turned out to be fast and solid.
    Yes, it’s true, they offer same equipment but they do expect different performances.
    Anyway, we’ll know shortly…

  3. Well, to be fair to de la Rosa, DC and Hakkinen were not multiple GP winners prior to joining Mclaren (though they were still highly rated) – they built their careers around those long term deals, which Pedro could do as well in theory – so I don’t think that’s a factor. What probably is is PdlR’s substitute drives, which were never above mediocre really.

    But surely one day even Ron is going to tire of the internal bickering between his drivers, costing him championships and morale and money, and just stick a safe no. 2 in?

    I hope not just yet, though. Pedro is the safe, boring choice, in my opinion. Ok Rosberg probably won’t happen, but Kovalainen is a good bet. Sutil would be a bit of a gamble but maybe worth a shot. Going for someone like Ralf/Fisi would be a backwards step.

  4. I completely agree with McKay, constantly trying to sign the two best drivers that he can must make him tired from the internal bickering, but its the way he runs a team.

    Rosberg – great candidate but Williams won’t let him go without a massive payment
    Kovalainen – most likely to get the seat, have a straight swap with Alonso
    Sutil – quite a risk, but it may be a worthwhile risk to take, he’s fast.
    De La Rosa – Reserve driver, he’s reasonably quick and reliable
    Paffett – Reserve driver, been waiting for a race seat for years

    And as McKay said, hiring Fisi or Ralf would be a backwards step for the team, its best to leave them to fight for the remaining Force India seat…..even though I think Christian Kilen would be better there.

  5. sutil would b a gamble, but as said above he is fast.
    hamo was a bit of a gamble too! and look how that turned out!

  6. I think time has come for me to be absolutely suspicious about team’s public relations and corporate statements (they usually say black when they mean white). My instinct is telling me that if there’s something Ron Dennis does not want is to suffer another hot boiled season ending with a hole in his pocket and no title to feed his hungry mouth. I’m pretty sure that Pedro isn’t the chosen one, but the negative of Nico Rosberg to seat on the second car is enough to understand what is going on….

  7. I think Dennis have invested much time and money on the career of Hamilton, probably Dennis has a headache now because it is not easy unify his personal bet and his thought about how a team should be. I am awaiting to see how he will solve it.
    Maybe Rosberg would be the best choice.

  8. I think the Ron will want someone good and loyal first, and given his dismissiveness of the established element of the field (which the Alonso experience probably hasn’t changed), I think he’ll look for someone relatively new with good development potential. That may mean that the driver he recruits will be a de facto number 2 to start with, but McLaren have the skill to develop good loyal drivers to team leader status if the raw material is there. It is that raw material that Ron is looking for. I doubt McLaren will be able to pay for Rosberg’s release (if only because Frank will demand a ridiculously high amount of money for him), so Kovalainen’s most likely to get the nod. Sutil would have been a candidate had he not committed himself to Force India next season.

  9. In full agreement with Robert! Pedro could do reasonably well with a long term deal alongside Lewis. Also, Dennis must be getting tired of shenanigans of driver rivalry and lost championships (or some face, for that matter). Ron would do himself a favour, cos Hamilton is not someone who could put up with someone who is equally strong(You do not want another Hungary, do you?). He will take (undue?)advantage and the whole cycle will begin again, of driver rivalries.

    Well, whatever, i guess it would be good if either Sutil or Kovalainen got the seat. For once, they would be able to show their true potential. For that matter even Fisico, he is fast.

  10. Fisico ? hahahahahahahahahahaha

  11. I think a little too much is made of this driver policy of Ron’s. You mention Coulthard, Keith, but he was only a test driver before Ron took a chance on him and look how long he stayed at McLaren, regardless of what he says of the experience now. Hakkinen went into the race seat because he was the test driver when McLaren lost Senna – that was a somewhat lucky decision too.

    It looks to me as though McLaren have two driver policies, not one. Yes, they like to have the two best drivers in F1 in their cars but, if they can’t get that (and obviously they can’t for 2008), they go with what they know – test drivers. PDLR is the obvious choice but it’s just possible that Ron will take a chance and choose Paffett. Kovalainen, Rosberg and Sutil were never serious options.

  12. Everyone sees things in his own way but in my opinion Mc Laren has allways done the same as every single F1 team, they have had number 1 and number 2 drivers, Mika, Kimi, were n1 driver and their mates were 2nd driver, (winning races of course when n1 one could’nt, same as did Berger, Rubens and Irvine in Ferrari, Coulthard, Montoya, etc) except Senna-Prost they have allways had first and second driver. Even when Lauda and Prost they knew who was first and who was second.
    Many teams have had problems between drivers when they were on top, as Williams with Piquet and Mansell, it happens when you have two drivers like them.

    I think Ron is having problems finding a second driver, because every driver in the pit knows his first driver is Lewis, and young drivers dont want to split their future joining them, even having the opportunity of driving a winning car. So only old drivers who have notthing to loose and their chances of becoming WC have allready gone would accept that “Hot seat”.

    I dont think De la Rosa is not as good as Coulthard, Rubens etc…. both of them won races of course, but when they were driving winning cars, just look now how they are doing…. and De la Rosa has never driven a winning car.

  13. “Sutil would have been a candidate had he not committed himself to Force India next season.”

    With so many drivers fighting for the seat with Force India I do not think there would a problem for Sutil to get a release from contract if he wanted and if his new team would be prepared to pay. He would likely come much cheaper than Rosberg …

    Clive’s arguments for the test drivers make sense. But I think that the decision will be closely linked to the decisions in Renault. Should Kovalainen become free, he would probably land in McLaren. He is good enough for Dennis to sign him and would not really have anywhere else to go…

  14. Except Senna and Prost they have always had first and second driver. Even when Lauda and Prost they knew who was first and who was second.

    Lauda was champion in 1984. Prost was champion in 1985. Are you saying they decided between them who was going to win each title? Having narrowly lost the ’83 title I don’t think Prost was too happy about losing the ’84 one.

    I don’t think your argument makes sense. If you want a subservient number two in the car you do not employ Gerhard Berger or David Coulthard, you employ Eddie Irvine or Rubens Barrichello. Even Michael Andretti, though he did poorly, was brought over from the States because he had a very good record over there. And Dennis tried to put Nigel Mansell alongside Hakkinen in 1995. Was Mansell supposed to be the supporting driver in that arrangement?

  15. “You mention Coulthard, Keith, but he was only a test driver before Ron took a chance on him and look how long he stayed at McLaren,”

    Again, being asbolutely fair to Coulthard, he had won one Grand Prix with Williams before switching to Mclaren.

  16. Although Ron Dennis will certainly be looking for someone that gets on well with Hamilton, I think he would like to put the fastest driver possible in the car regardless of weather or not he ruffles a few feathers. I think he wants to destroy the Ferrari’s this year and show he hasn’t lost his touch.

    I could see PDLR as a short term fix, but barring any breakthroughs, 2009 doesn’t seem like it will be that much better a market. If the FiA comes down hard on Renault I think he has to swoop in and try to steal Hekki at a low cost long term.

  17. And Coulthard was a number 2 at Williams, he had to sacrifice some results to help Damon Hill. When he was hired by McLaren, he was very highly ranked.
    About Mika Hakkinen, he was also very promising and was hired in case Senna would leave for another team (or even the US, as it was thought to be an option at the time). When Senna stayed, having Michael Andretti contracted, Mika had to step down to test driver. He eventually took MA’s seat before the end of the season, but would have been in the car the next year anyway.

    About DeLaRosa, the fact he is Spanish will probably help him, not like last year. The sponsor which followed Alonso are angry and PDLR would be a way to keep their money, in addition to be experienced in setting up the car, a competence McLaren needs.

  18. De La Rosa is the driver who SHOULD be in the second seat, he’s experienced, experienced in the McLaren, he’s a good driver, he’s EARNED the seat and he likely could retain some Spanish sponsorship that might move with Alonso, BUT…… this is F1 and common sense doesn’t seem to play the part it should. I’m sure young first timers like Vettel, Piquet, maybe even Kovalainen (and others) are not willing to delay their careers for the sake of playing second fiddle to Hamilton. Many would no doubt like to drive a McLaren car (based on this years performance) but there will definately be a #1 and #2 seat regardless of what Ron Dennis preaches. Those that we the public are so willing to throw overboard, Fisichella to name one, might be a better choice. He’d gladly play second fiddle and still deliver superb performance to McLaren as a team. Ah! but this is all SPECULATION, the game that never ends.

  19. Can I just say I was very tired this morning when I wrote my comment this morning – I meant Kovalainen.

  20. Excellent excuse, Alex! I claim the same regarding Couthard…

    You have to admit that he’s the perfect number two driver, however. :D

  21. The one factor no one has pointed out (and maybe obvious to everyone) is that Hamilton is Ron’s spoon fed protege, he has a vested interest in seeing that he lives up to the promise his performance in 2007 showed. Drivers in the past have come from outside the team, Ron could say they were not playing favorites. Hamilton is so unique he has to be the defacto numero uno.

    PDLR is the choice, as it will keep the Spanish sponsors somewhat placated as well.

  22. I would be very grateful if PDLR was to get the seat, but i´m afraid that is the last option for ron. If alonso finally goes to mclaren probably kovalainen will do the trick, better be number two in mclaren than renault. If any other combination don´t leave a driver enough talented for mclaren (¿Webber?) ron may try with pedro, but the last two times he took de drive he never reached the times of the official drivers, and sometimes he got a strange place in qalify (11 or 12 last year somtimes, that were not the place for mclaren)

  23. If you’re talking about paying high ammounts for someone’s (Rosberg or Sutil) contractual release, what do you think about hiring Sebastien Bourdais? His a proven champion, and experienced enough to command car development, surely the biggest gap left by Alonso…

    Yes, he wouldn’t be the best choice as a “loyal number 2”, but the best bet to continue the so-called ‘McLaren equality policy’, in my opinion…

  24. powerline2007
    6th December 2007, 1:20

    This is really a lot of speculations. We’re not privy to any of RD’s or Mclaren’s driver recruitment exercise. For all we know, they may have already prepared a shortlist of drivers already. And who knows, Alonso may yet make a return to the team after a short “divorce.”

  25. Conspiracy theory # what now? Is Ron also waiting for the results from tomorrow’s hearing to see if Renault gets bashed, Alonso gets wings and Coulthard finds himself looking for a ride? Or just waiting to see how the cards actually do shuffle?

    I think he’d prefer not to have a seat filler but, if he needs to hire a one season off driver, he’ll do it regardless of the smoke and mirrors he spats at the press. And sorry to sound like I’m bashing the sacred bull, I’m not, but was Mansell supposed to be #1 at McLaren in’95? Dennis made no bones about the faith he had in Mika and Mansell ’95 was most apparently not Mansell ’92. I think he signed Mansell for precisely the same reason he signed Andretti. They both made headlines and he already had the driver he had faith in in the other seat.

  26. Martin Whitmarsh has given some more insight into the team’s thinking, saying they want someone better than their test drivers:

    The reality is that Lewis is now an absolutely proven product. He can lead a team and he can be the talisman that can take us to a championship.

    Consequently, there’s not a lot of difficulty for the team – we already have within the team two very competitive and great drivers in the form of Pedro de la Rosa and Gary Paffett. And we’ve got to find people who are better than them – and that’s not easy.

    There aren’t many drivers in the world who you could say are materially better than those two, and we’re mindful of the stability that using drivers who are already within the team brings us.

    Autosport – Whitmarch: Hamilton can lead McLaren (external)

  27. Hi Keith, this is my own point of view about Lauda-Prost era in Mc Laren, of course Prost wanted 84 title, as Villeneuve wanted 79 title (maybe this is very difficult to judge) but Villeneuve didnt fight Jody and never pushed him when they were 1 and 2 in the race, not the same that Pironi’s way of doing things.
    I’m sure both Lauda and Prost could select their own strategies and had order not to fight betwen them, and talked about how to afford races respecting what they had acorded. Dindt work with Senna, maybe because Senna would break any agreement if winning was a chance.

    About Coulthard and Berger being same status as Senna and Mika, sorry but thats not my impression, I see no difference between Rubens and both of them, no diference as a driver and no diference as real number 2 driver behind real n1 Senna and Mika.

    About Nigel’s “return” to Mc Laren, of course he knew he wasn’t n1 driver, he was retired of F1, he wasn’t even in good fit to drive, he couldnt even get inside the cockpit, I never understood why both himself and Ron got that agreement, Nigel had allready won his very well deserved tittle with Wiliams fighting against the greatest Senna, for sure Nigel Knew he was out of F1 at the time, the only thing he could do is supporting the team with his knowledge, not asking for N1 driver status.

    As I told this is my point of view, every team wants the best drivers possible or availavle for the money they can spend, but they allways have a n1 and a n2, maybe that changes in the season depending of results but total and equal treatmet for both is impossible, allways has been.

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