Ron Dennis doesn’t want a seat filler in 2008

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

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

  1. Dan M said on 5th December 2007, 15:27

    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.

  2. greg76 said on 5th December 2007, 15:42

    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.

  3. Number 38 said on 5th December 2007, 16:06

    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.

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

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

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

  6. 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.

  7. ninguen said on 5th December 2007, 20:59

    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)

  8. Daniel said on 5th December 2007, 21:45

    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…

  9. powerline2007 said on 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.”

  10. verasaki said on 6th December 2007, 4:50

    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.

  11. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 6th December 2007, 12:01

    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)

  12. 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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