The explanations for Dennis’s departure

Ron Dennis is formally ending his role with McLaren's F1 team

Ron Dennis is formally ending his role with McLaren's F1 team

The timing of Ron Dennis’s announcement that he is stepping down as CEO of McLaren Racing is bound to provoke speculation that it is a consequence of the FIA’s latest investigation of the team.

But could Lewis Hamilton and father/manager Anthony have played a role in Dennis’s departure? Or did he quit in the hope of healing the rift between the team and governing body? Here’s a look at each of these explanations.

Ron Dennis and timing

If you were Ron Dennis, and you wanted to announce you were stepping down as CEO of McLaren Racing while causing as little fuss as possible, you wouldn’t announce it today. You might have buried it in a press release 24 hours ago while everyone was writing about diffusers. Or wait until the WMSC decision, only two weeks away, had been and gone.

The details of this decision were probably worked out some time ago. But that does not preclude the possibility that things have been accelerated because of new pressures on Dennis’s position.

The timing makes it very hard to believe the two are not connected. But Martin Whitmarsh’s firm denial of a link between the two (in a very detailed interview you can read here) is significant:

Ron was not, to the best of my knowledge, involved in anything that happened in Australia or in the lead up to Malaysia. So therefore I don’t believe there’s a link.

Having publicly excluded Dennis from the affair, Whitmarsh cannot go before the WMSC on the 29th and lay the blame at his departed boss’s door.

Clearly, Dennis is not following in the footsteps of Dave Ryan as the next person to carry the can for the team’s mistakes in Australia. It seems McLaren are going to stick by their explanation that the former sporting director was responsible:

As a racing team, I’d love to have Davey back. But we also have to demonstrate… I think part of this process is demonstrating to the FIA that we accept the seriousness of what has occurred, and we are working hard to change the culture of the business.

Lewis Hamilton’s alleged role

Did Lewis Hamilton have anything to do with Dennis's decision?

Did Lewis Hamilton have anything to do with Dennis's decision?

The competing explanation for why Dennis has stepped down is that it is at the behest of Lewis and Anthony Hamilton.

For the past two weeks there has been a lot of speculation that the Hamiltons played a role in McLaren’s decision to pin the blame on Ryan. Now many are pushing the line that they are responsible for Dennis’s departure. Whitmarsh denied this too:

And for Lewis, I think he has certainly expressed his support for this team consistently, and he has very kindly expressed his support for me. I think and I hope that I have a good relationship with Lewis and I think he is committed just as we are to restoring the good fortunes and competitiveness of this team in the future.

Perhaps this was delivered with more conviction, but it does not read like a man speaking with a cast-iron certainty about a partnership of allies. On the contrary, it is riddled with uncertainty.

It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve fallen out.

McLaren and the Hamiltons commitment to each other has no doubt been tested many times during their relationship. But it probably came under the greatest strain – before now – in 2004.

Hamilton, then 19, had a less than successful first year in Formula Three. But while Anthony pushed for an early jump into the new GP2 category (and began discussions with Frank Williams about a future F1 drive) Whitmarsh wanted to keep the young driver in F3. Mark Hughes, in his excellent biography of Hamilton, writes:

Probably only Anthony Hamilton’s failure to generate enough short-notice sponsorship to get Lewis a GP2 drive for 2005 rescued the partnership. McLaren were not prepared to have the terms of their backing dictated to them, and all the signs are they would have walked. […]

It’s difficult to know if this whole matter was triggered only by a genuine frustration from the Hamiltons at Lewis not being moved up the ladder quickly, or if it was a disagreement contrived by Anthony as a brilliant but high-stakes strategy of negotiating an F1 commitment.

If nothing else, this demonstrates the single-minded manner in which the two have pursued success in F1. Would they go so far as to bite the hand that fed them – and force out the man who gave Hamilton his precious break? Could they even muster the political power within McLaren to do that? We can only speculate.

Better for the team

A more pragmatic explanation is that Dennis simply believes it is in the best interests of the team. I find this explanation the most persuasive.

It’s widely known that he hasn’t got on with F1’s powers that be, something he alluded to as he left:

I doubt if Max Mosley or Bernie Ecclestone will be displeased by my decision.

And Whitmarsh acknowledged it as well:

Well, I think anyone who has looked at the relationship between McLaren and the FIA over the last few years would have to conclude that it would be healthier for all of us to have a more positive, constructive relationship than perhaps we’ve had in the past.

In a strong defence of Dennis’s character, veteran F1 correspondent Joe Saward offers this explanation:

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.

McLaren weakened

Heading into the WMSC meeting, McLaren find themselves in a vulnerable position. In the past fourth months for various reasons they’ve lost several major members of staff who had long histories with the team: Dennis, Ryan, head of race operations Steve Hallam (to NASCAR) and the vastly experienced Tyler Alexander (to retirement).

On top of that, Whitmarsh has also revealed that he offered his resignation to the McLaren board following the Australian Grand Prix, but it was rejected.

To some that will be tantamount to an admission of guilt or failure. The FIA’s request for an interview the BBC conducted with Whitmarsh suggests he could be a target at the forthcoming hearing. Is his position at the team vulnerable too?

McLaren’s meeting with the World Motor Sports Council on April 29 should provide more answers.

Was Dennis’s departure a pre-arranged move that was poorly timed? Did he quit over the Melbourne affair? Was he forced out by the Hamiltons? Or did he just want to end the row with Mosley? Have your say in the comments.

Read more: Ron Dennis at McLaren, 1980-2009

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73 comments on The explanations for Dennis’s departure

  1. S Hughes said on 16th April 2009, 23:35

    The sentence in this piece that is the most significant to me is “We can only speculate.” Because that is what this whole article is – pure speculation. We don’t have any facts. Lewis and his father/manager are loathe to speak to the press, especially the British media, because it is just so vicious and negative towards them, so you probably won’t hear anything about this from them. I don’t blame them either, as the Mail and the Times have spent the entire last 2 weeks using speculation and paddock gossip as a substitute for fact.

    The problem with this is that this speculation and guesswork is taken by bloggers and internet “experts” and discussed as if it was fact, with the result that Lewis and his father are abused and blamed and accused of being the vilest Machiavellians. I think that is such a shame because neither of them has said a word and yet the talk about them goes on regardless, mostly negative.

    I am sad to see Ron leave F1 but he had to do it eventually. He was a remarkable team principal and I am sure his relationships with the Hamiltons and Whitmarsh are no better or worse than before. I am sure Lewis knows he owes Ron so much and that Ron still has immense affection for Lewis. I would just advise Lewis to say as little to the media, particularly the British, as is humanly and contractually possible. Then they can speculate and gossip their little hearts out because they will never get the real inside story. Gosh, no wonder Lewis still has his father as manager – he wouldn’t be able to trust another living soul.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 16th April 2009, 23:38

      I am sure his relationships with the Hamiltons and Whitmarsh are no better or worse than before. I am sure Lewis knows he owes Ron so much and that Ron still has immense affection for Lewis.

      Is that not also speculation?

    • pSynrg said on 16th April 2009, 23:42

      Say it like it is S Hughes. Cheers!

    • S Hughes said on 17th April 2009, 0:00

      Yes Keith, but I would rather speculate positively than negatively because no damage is done if the positive speculation turns out to be false.

    • I´m no so sure that the Hamiltons have power enough and character to force Ron Dennis out of McLaren. No way!

      I´m reading too much crap written by some journalists that jumped in the Formula 1 wagon recently and do not understand the dynamic of the sport…

      Those are the same ones whom came to accuse the team to have the “culture of cheat” without know Ron and the team´s history enough and properly.

      Those guys doesn’t care about McLaren even about F1.

      The same Joe Saward, now my hero, quoted here, has written a good piece about those mercenaries:

      I accept that perhaps I am a little strange in that the ups and downs of F1 really do affect my mood. You can call it sad, if you like, but it is my profession and I care. I read the stuff being produced in national newspapers, by people who do not care, and it makes me angry. They are happy to destroy heroes before lunch and more than one of them tells shocking lies all the time when it comes to claiming expenses from the F1 races… So let us not ride high horses about honesty. These same people were attacking McLaren two years ago, then turned to attack Mosley during his scandal (at which point they started having lunch with McLaren again) and now they are back attacking McLaren. Do they care about the sport? Do they even like it? Or are they just journalists trying to climb the greasy pole in the trade (it used to be a profession but, alas, it has fallen from that status)? I think I am more upset by the coverage of the Hamilton Affair than I am with the facts of the case.

    • S Hughes said on 17th April 2009, 10:35

      Becken, thanks for showing me that piece by Joe Saward. There are decent journalists still – how refreshing to know!

  2. steve said on 16th April 2009, 23:42

    Max Max Max Max Max Max Max Max Max Max Max Max Max Max Max Max Max Max

    The powerful move in secret ways – never tamper in the lives of the aristocracy.

  3. Oliver said on 17th April 2009, 0:10

    Well said S. Hughes.

    And I do agree Steve, this was just a fall out of the “Class” warfare in which Ron was engaged in against Max.

  4. manatcna said on 17th April 2009, 0:23

    My view on this is that Ron just got fed up with the whole situation.

    If I had been in his shoes I would have quit right after the $100m fine.

    • Patrickl said on 17th April 2009, 10:03

      Hear hear.

      In my mind that’s also the only thing that makes sense. He’s been showing the signs of this for a while now.

      People forget, Dennis’ personal life has suffered a lot from the situations he was pushed into over the last few years.

      Can you imagine living under that much stress and negative attention all the time?

    • Arthur954 said on 17th April 2009, 11:15

      Yes, i think so also. Putting up with Bernie and Mo must be enough to drive anyone crazy.

      Besides, now you have to spend long hours on an airplane flying to the end of the world to go to the GPs where Bernie´s company makes money. Ron did not feel like spending half the year going to China and Korea and Arabia. It must not be fun at all.

      Now he will be living in his own home and making beautiful street cars. Much more pleasurable !
      Best wishes to Ron in his new life !

  5. Gman said on 17th April 2009, 0:33

    I think Ron’s departure was very much hastened by the events of recent weeks- if he wanted to walk away around this point in his career, why not do it at the end of last season, on a high note? It has been in the making for some time, but these events have no doubt made things move far quicker than at other times.

    As for who caused it, I am beginning to think that Hamilton and his family-based management deal are more trouble to deal with than people think. Still, I doubt his opinions would be enough to force Ron into a different role. Ron probably made the move on his own merit, in the best interest of the team. This way, Max and his people can’t target Ron when they hand down the punishment for whatever they are found guilty on.

  6. Alex Bkk said on 17th April 2009, 0:51

    Ron might have something else on the burner as well…I just saw this on “Wired” re: a new McLaren road car.

    • Lewis said on 17th April 2009, 1:26

      That’s been known about for some time to be fair.
      Google for ‘McLaren P11′ or search youtube – there are spy videos of the car testing.

      I hope that Ron’s just had enough of the way the team and the sport are going, and wasn’t ‘pushed out’ by anyone as such. Much as I’m enjoying the upside-down grids and results this year, it’s always a shame to see an obviously great driver hamstrung by a terrible car (cf: Villeneuve at Honda, Schumacher’s first year at Ferrari, Senna in the 1994 Williams…)

  7. Alex Bkk said on 17th April 2009, 1:54

    Thanks Lewis I had no idea the car existed until this morning.

  8. The Limit said on 17th April 2009, 1:55

    This has been coming for the last two years, and I am not at all surprised. The Hamiltons have, in my opinion, took control of McLaren way too much. After all the hullabaloo in 2007 about Spygate and Fernando
    Alonso, only Lewis Hamilton and his father emerged with their reputations in tact.
    Ron Dennis and his beloved team had taken a $100 million fine, and worldwide distain for being caught
    cheating. Fernando Alonso, who two years before had become F1’s new golden boy, had been portrayed as a spoilt brat and a troublemaker.
    With Alonso gone from McLaren, only the Hamiltons’s were the ones to benefit. Lewis Hamilton did not have to worry about interteam rivalry now that the volatile Spaniard was on his way. They could all, Ron Dennis included, concentrate on moulding the team around Hamilton.
    For Ron though, he has let this get out of control. No one will ever know who gave the order in Australia for sure. Was it Dennis himself, or Whitmarsh, or Anthony Hamilton even? Nothing is beyond the realms of
    possibility on this one.
    Alot of people will have smiled today at the news of Dennis’ decision. Mosley, Ecclestone, Alonso, Di Montezemolo just to name four! What happens next is what fascinates me. Will the team sink or swim.
    Williams once conquered all before them, yet have spent twelve long years in the wilderness. It is not
    beyond circumstances that McLaren may go the same way.
    An awfull lot now weighs down on Martin Whitmarsh’s shoulders. Ron Dennis today, deflected alot of the attention to an extent, but the true burden of leadership, awaits.
    I think we are going to see just how easy or difficult that is.

    • S Hughes said on 17th April 2009, 10:38

      Ooh, those dastardly Hamiltons. Anthony twirling his moustaches and stroking his white fluffy cat, plotting and scheming. They’re such darned troublesome uppities aren’t they?

    • @The Limit
      You made perfect sense, amongst what all i read. However, you can’t say that Ron is a gentleman in the exact sense as Sir Williams is. Ron did do some things which would court controversies alright.

      Alonso, quite rightly, would be pleased at Ron’s departure. It was not fair, what went around in the team at that point in time. Clearly the team was supporting one driver, despite their claims of being neutral and affording best opportunities to both the drivers.

      You have to admit that there’s some reason why the same bunch of guys wouldn’t go after Sir Frank, but bay for Ron’s blood. I read about Sir Frank, and i must admit, i truly cannot put it in words to adequately explain how much i admire him, his work and the way he does it.

      I must say, i don’t completely agree with Ron, however, i wouldn’t want the house that Bruce built going to dogs.

  9. carl said on 17th April 2009, 8:00

    Ron knows he needs to save McLaren. Depending on what happens on 29 April McLaren might loose sponsors, and might even be kicked out of F1, and McLaren needs to Survive this. Ron needs to Focus on other things to save his company and make sure McLaren can Survive without F1.

  10. Sorry to see you go Ron thank you for all the years you have given to F1, enjoy your life now you deserve it, away from all the jealousy and backbiting that this fantastic sport has sunk too.

  11. DGR-F1 said on 17th April 2009, 8:52

    I think there is a lot of truth in the comments above about Anthony Hamilton gaining support within McLaren over the years, but I don’t think he could have enough persuasive powers to sway the Board to get rid of Big Ron as easily as that. His position as Hammy’s Manager must mean he only has power as long as his son is in favour.
    It is more likely that Mercedes, as major owners, would be able to dictate who comes and goes within the Team structure, especially given their comments about how successful Brawn have been. I am surprised they haven’t bought the F1 team outright before now, and renamed it AMG. Perhaps this is coming next?
    Big Ron on the other hand, has been talking about retiring/moving on for many years before now, and McLaren Group has many diverse interests, so really he is in a position to choose his timing and his career moves – he was CEO after all.
    There have been other changes at the top of McLaren Group too, so I think Ron just got unlucky with the dates and the start of the racing season, allowing his detractors the opportunity to point the finger.

  12. m0tion said on 17th April 2009, 8:54

    Germans are hooked up on honor. There is no need to look further but Mercedes already had Dennis on notice and had pushed him sideways after the Ferrari debacle and because he lost a world drivers championship to Ferrari by failing to support Alonso and a constructors championship by having lost Alonso for the following year. Dennis became synomonous with a bad investment for Mercedes Euros and brand prestige.

    And on the Max score, like Steve I think a small group of individuals will eventually pay dearly and deservedly. Whether it was Dennis, CVC executives or Bernie we don~t yet know but what we can safely assume is that it was purely commercial and that Max will already know.

  13. PJA said on 17th April 2009, 9:14

    Over the last few years there was a belief that Ron Dennis would step back from the F1 team when they won another championship. He did this in January when McLaren announced their last reshuffle.

    Because this latest announcement has come relatively so soon after that and because of the timing in general it leads people to think there is more to it than meets the eye. If Dennis had announced his departure after the WMSC hearing everyone would have assumed it was because of what happened there. So it is feasible the decision was brought forward.

    I think Dennis would do whatever is best for McLaren, even quitting F1 if he thought it would lessen any punishment.

    Of course there is the simple explanation that he thinks this latest reshuffle will make the team run better and that he just wants to be completely focused on his new project McLaren Automotive.

  14. Erico said on 17th April 2009, 10:13

    There are many more side races going on in F1 than racing itself, this is just one of them. Looks like it part and parcel of it.

  15. Mystic Pizza said on 17th April 2009, 10:37

    I think it could look as if the timing of this may have been brought forward due to the accusations they are currently facing but I also think there are two points this raises, whether or not you buy into the surrounding speculation and/or conspiracy theories;

    1) Does Anthony Hamilton wield too much power? Is there another “agent” on the grid that could pull the same tricks and possibly get away with it? Who else could or would alledgedly telephone Max Mosley threatening to walk away from F1 to achieve what he desires? Undoubtedly his son has talent but is “daddy” just using him as a puppet for his own personal gain or need for status/power/money?

    2) However much a “team player” Lewis is and perhaps being treated a little harshly in the media at present, doesn’t the issue remain that he acted in an unsporting manner whether he was told to or not? Most peoples issues with Schumacher were not about his driving talent as this was pretty admirable whether you were a supporter or not. I believe the reasons he alienated a cross section of race fans was the unsporting conduct which appeared to go unpunished on occasion.

    So perhaps the only distinguishing factor here is that Lewis is British and is being vilified by the British Media. In an attempt to divert the attention away from him and his behaviour, Dave Ryan and now Ron Dennis have to help create a smokescreen from which Lewis can “phoenix” himself.

    • S Hughes said on 17th April 2009, 10:40

      “Who else could or would alledgedly telephone Max Mosley threatening to walk away from F1 to achieve what he desires?” – ALLEGEDLY! Jeez!

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