The explanations for Dennis’s departure

Posted on Author Keith Collantine

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

73 comments on “The explanations for Dennis’s departure”

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

    1. 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…)

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

  3. 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.

    1. 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?

    2. @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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. Mystic Pizza
    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.

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

  11. I am not sure, but I have not seen any where any one pubicly putting the Spy-gate-Mosley Scandal – Multiple Mclaren penalties – Lie gate together. This to me perhaps rather cynically and maybe too sensationally is a battle between Dennis and Mosley – and F1 is the poor loser. I agree that Dennis stepped down early as a result of the hearing on April 29th.

    The thing that annoys me so much in this instance is that when Schumacher blatently punted Hill in Adelaide 1994 (no penalty and actually World Champion), or Villeneuve in 1997 in Jerez (disqualification – points taken away, but they never were) there was not as much damage done to Benetton/Ferrari as there has been to Mclaren. Furthermore I do not believe in any way that Hamilton did something that other drivers wouldn’t have done…that doesn’t make it right, but how many times have we seen a footballer dive, and a penalty given….same thing…but so many people accept it as part of the sport. Not saying its right, but the way in which the media and public are going at Hamilton and Mclaren is like a witch hunt and I think Mosley is loving this – revenge perhaps.

  12. I am a great fan of Ron Dennis, and my opinion is that the crazy world and unreasonable behaviour of Bernie and Mo forces people to be on the defensive and make mistakes.
    Now that such a historic figure as Ron is departing F1, I really have lost interest.

    I favor the teams splitting and starting a new series where there is room for giants like Ron Dennis and gentlemen like Frank Williams.

    These are sad days for me.

  13. Oh dear, the Horrid Hamiltons.
    Clearly Lewis should not have misled the stewards which is a different issue to that of should they ever have questioned him. Should they not have had a clearer picture of the race.
    Lewis had just finished a two hour drive in a dog of a car with little grip all the way from the back to the front of the grid. If you put a terrorist through that treatment before questioning him our noble law lords would dismiss the case and buy him a semi detached house in Ealing.
    Nevertheless the stewards say they have evidence that Lewis lied and he has been contrite and promised to learn from this event. Surely we now give him every chance to expatiate his sins. Several media columnists have said that his crime can never be forgotten, ever. Like Ian Brady the Moors murderer. But no-one whose judgement we can value says that.

    There have been some unfair murmurs against Charlie Whiting too for his part in this. Mosley destroyed Charlie’s credibility last year in Belgium so he now gets on with his job and keeps his mouth shut.

    Let’s see how Lewis and Fernando and Kimi get on with their various dogs in China and applaud them if they do better than expected.

  14. All of it seems such a horrible mess. Dave gone, Ron gone. The world wind of negative press around McLaren, Lewis vilified and demonised, the car slow. What a mess of a start for the team. But there is always some positives from the negatives. Glad to see Lewis shunning the press, best to keep them at arms length I say. He should now keep it brief and short.
    Lewis should get his own PR from now on and pick the elite crop of F1 journalists and top papers like the Independent, good balance articles there and top bloggers like Joe Sawards (love his bloggs) and forget about the rest.

    1. Well said. But the vile FIA are always threatening him if he doesn’t talk to the press. If I were him, I would be completely monosyllabic to the media and then they could spout their lies based on nothing (which they do already) instead of twisting his words.

  15. I Don’t think the Hamilton’s would have the power to show Dennis the door… please.. Hami is world champion for drivers, Dennis has got a few under his belt as a constructor. i don’t buy it for one second…. i think it was pre-planned, but the announcement brought forward perhaps because he negotiated with the FIA on a lower set of penalties for the team in respect to the April 29 hearing. we’ll have to wait till then to find out more…

  16. Of all the conspiracy theories that surround Lewis, this has to take the biscuit…. i mean really… Sometimes it feels like people want to sling any old mud at Lewis and see what sticks…..

    But could Lewis Hamilton and father/manager Anthony have played a role in Dennis’s departure?

    Err No. Are you seriously suggesting that Ron Dennis who over 4 decades had built one of the greatest racing teams of all time, is stepping down because Lewis and Daddy said so!
    Ron Dennis who has had some of the greatest drivers, engineers and business partners in F1 hang on his every word for over 40 years and built a multi billion dollar organisation from a garage in Woking, decided to pack his bags cuz Lewis and daddy want him out. Not to mention that Lewis and Ron’s relationship is almost as paternal as that between Lewis and his own father… As families, they go on holidays together for goodness sakes!

    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

    Believe me, given the amount of ‘meeja’ interest in Lewis/McLaren’s every move and the colossal size of the hate campaign against the the two, even if Ron announced his resignation on a rainy Tuesday night on Pluto, on the 1st day of the out break of WW3, it will still be turned in a negative story/headline to farther demonise Lewis/Anthony and McLaren and splashed all over the ‘gutter press’…..

    Then again we could employ Ockham’s razor and say that this was just the public manifestation of Ron’s long planned and phased withdrawal from F1 and it happened to coincide with all this political nonsense… but know that wouldn’t get reactionaries like me hopping mad and writing in would it ;)

    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?

    How dare they be single-mined about success! lets go back a few years: Jensen Button+Daddy, are given a break into F1 by Sir Frank Williams. The BMW Williams is a dog and before the end of the year Button was packing his bags and heading to the arms of Renault, and btw when Briatore talks about Button he is doing so from 2 yrs experience but that’s a different story. To my recollection no one was howling ‘ingrates’ or ‘biting the hand that fed them’ on the contrary it was thought then, wrongly of course, as a bit of a coup for the Buttons to be joining the resurgent Renault outfit for more cash and a perceived better shot at the title….

    Could they even muster the political power within McLaren to do that? We can only speculate.

    Let us for a second suspend REASON and imagine that this far fetched non-story has a kernel of truth, wouldn’t the shareholders of McLaren have something to say about this!? This is an international multi-billion dollar organisation, not Steptoe and Son!

    Come on lets get real and leave this awful gossip to writers of the Sun and Daily Sport and lets give McLaren and Lewis a break cuz its getting beyond silly now!

    1. ooops.

      Could they even muster the political power within McLaren to do that? We can only speculate.

      Let us for a second suspend REASON and imagine that this far fetched non-story has a kernel of truth, wouldn’t the shareholders of McLaren have something to say about this!? This is an international multi-billion dollar organisation, not Steptoe and Son!

      Come on lets get real and leave this awful gossip to writers of the Sun and Daily Sport and lets give McLaren and Lewis a break cuz its getting beyond silly now

  17. errrr i’m so annoyed by this i cant even type :|

    1. Sym
      I know that you only mentioned JB to add weight to your sound argument against the tidal wave of political comment but the JB story is more as follows.
      JB was allowed one year in the Williams but remained under contract to Williams who wanted to try out Montoya so was leased JB to Renault which allowed Briatore when he was good and ready to disparage Button and bring in Alonso who he was then managing. Button was then leased to Honda until Williams wanted him back. Button seemed keen enough on returning to the Williams team provoking great shouts of traitor to Honda by all and sundry.
      For whatever reason Button decided that Williams was not the place for him and, so it is alleged, spent a very large sum of his own money to buy out the Williams contract.
      He then showed great loyalty to Honda and is prospering at last. I hope Keith can verify that tale because I do not want to add to the skip load of misinformation around F1.

  18. Sym
    thats two of us whose comments are spluttering with frustrayration (with a dell mini you get free typing errors unless you shave your fingers)

    1. @CJD
      Thanks CJD, i was not aware of the details in such depth and made my comparison on a superficial level, and thus i withdraw what i said about the Button/Williams departure. I was writing in a fury trying to put into context the exaggeration and hyperbolae that seems to be applied to Lewis’s/McLaren’s every move. Granted though, not a great example to use, thanks for the info….

  19. Sym here here,
    It seems only Lewis is obligated to his team. I hear “biting the hand that fed him” so many times, it’s starting to get on my nerves. Lewis has paid back the break he was given by McLaren, by winning the title. What more can he do before some will accept that he has paid his dues. Lewis owes nothing to McLaren now, and if he was to leave then so be it. After reading his Q&A,
    it comes across as someone that’s had enough of all of it.

    1. Absolutely Lynn, i dont think the McLaren-Mercedes was quick as the Ferraris in 07 and 08, but in the hands of Fernando and Lewis it was transformed, especially in 08 when the true pace of the McLaren was what Heikki was getting out of it. I believe Lewis carried that car above where it ought to have been in 08 and he is doing the same this year and look what he is getting for his troubles….

    2. But it’s the same with the tax exile rubbish. Button, Coulthard etc were never vilified for being tax exiles like Lewis is – it must be because he is black and some people always think black people owe something to their white “masters” be it the government or the McLaren team. He doesn’t owe anyone anything except his father as they have both worked for Lewis become champion. Ron and McLaren didn’t carry him around the track on their shoulders!

  20. @CJD, Button wanted to leave Honda at a point. He then recommitted with Williams only to have a change of heart later.
    All I’m saying is that Button had 2 distinct contractual issues.

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