2013 F1 season
McLaren Group executive chairman Ron Dennis admits his team’s policy of hiring the two most competitive drivers available has the potential to cause “emotional” problems.
In an interview published to mark the 50th anniversary of the racing team Dennis, who headed up their F1 activities from 1981 to 2009, reflected on some of the famous driver pairings the teams had during that time.
Among the most famous of these was the explosive combination of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in 1988 and 1989. Dennis described Prost as “incessantly lobbying for a competitive advantage” while Senna “could certainly border on the paranoid, and he felt wounded and betrayed if he thought you weren’t giving him your full support, 100 per cent”.
These were among the most successful years for the team, who won both constructors’ titles in those years while Senna and Prost took a drivers’ championship apiece. But the fierce competition between the two drivers proved too much to handle, and culminated in the pair colliding controversially at the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix.
It is not the only partnership between two highly-rated McLaren drivers which took a destructive turn. Relations between Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso deteriorated to the extent that the twice-champion Alonso left the team after a single, highly acrimonious season.
“When you run a team with absolute driver equality, which I’m proud to say we’ve always done, there can only ever be one winner and one loser,” said Dennis.
“So when one driver wasn’t winning, there was a pressure and a push by him to find out why – which sometimes meant short-cutting the intellectual and practical realities of that defeat to focus on the emotional, somewhat less rational, side.”
“They were tough times, but very rewarding too,” he said.
Dennis arrived at the team at the end of the 1980 season, at which point McLaren hadn’t won a race for three years. “McLaren had won world championships with Emerson Fittipaldi in 1974 and James Hunt in 1976, they then failed to get to grips with ground-effect technology, had a few mediocre years, but were down rather than out.”
“However, I understood what McLaren could do when they had a strong car, as had been demonstrated by the strong performances of the M23 in the hands of both Emerson and James.”
The team which was founded by Bruce McLaren in 1963 has since gone on to win championships with Prost, Senna, Niki Lauda, Mika Hakkinen and Lewis Hamilton. The latter was guided towards F1 by McLaren in his junior years and shortly after his championship success in 2008, Dennis turned his attention to developing the group’s car business.
“Thirty-two years ago I was clear in my vision for McLaren,” said Dennis. “Today I see its future with the same clarity, and I remain as passionate and committed to the company and its success as I’ve ever been.”
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