How to sum up Ron Dennis? The formidable character was McLaren’s longest serving Team Principal, he currently is the Executive Chairman of the McLaren Group, and a word has been coined to describe the way he talks (“Ronspeak”). He entered Formula One in 1966, the same year Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Ltd started racing in the sport, so has enjoyed a long successful career, in various capacities.
Dennis started out in the motorsport world as a junior mechanic working with the Cooper team with Formula One’s first and only posthumous World Champion, Jochen Rindt. When Rindt moved to Brabham, Dennis moved with him and remained there for a few years. In 1971, along with fellow Brabham mechanic Neil Trundle, he started his own team (Rondel Racing), competing in Formula 2. The project was short lived, however, due to money problems when their sponsor withdrew. During the 70s Dennis formed Project 3 and Project 4, racing in Formula 2 and Formula 3. it was the latter of these two teams that proved to be crucial to Dennis’ start at McLaren.
Project 4 were involved with in building and racing ProCars for BMW. He gained backing from Marlboro, one of McLaren’s most iconic sponsors. When McLaren’s form started to dwindle in the late 70s, a merger was engineered between Project 4 and the McLaren racing team. Thus, McLaren International was formed with Dennis at the helm. Dennis was Team Principal at McLaren between 1981 and 2009 and enjoyed McLaren’s most successful era to date when they won the constructors’ championship six times between 1984 and 1991 (inclusive). Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Niki Lauda were all also driver champions in this time.
John Hogan, a senior executive at Philip Morris, once said about Dennis: “Two things impressed me about Ron. The first was his conviction that nothing was impossible. The second was his remarkable clarity of vision. Most people tend to think about next weekend, the next race or perhaps the next season. In Ron’s case, it was about the next two, five, even 10 years. Everything you see in the McLaren pit today, the whole infrastructure, was clearly positioned in his mind back in the early Seventies.” This ethos is still very clear looking at McLaren as a team today.
In a Q&A with the man himself, published on the McLaren website, he said: “I was always and I still am relentlessly competitive. When I came back to F1 in 1981 I wanted to do my own thing and I had no interest in following the established convention.” Him and John Barnard were behind Formula One’s first chassis made entirely from carbon fibre.
He also said of the team: “McLaren started as the dream of one man, and it’s since grown to encompass the hopes and dreams of more than 2000 men and women, who work as tirelessly as Bruce McLaren himself once did to ensure that everything we do reflects well when compared with everything we’ve ever achieved. Call it McLaren’s DNA, if you like. Call it McLaren’s brand continuity, if you prefer. Call it McLaren’s corporate culture, if you will. Call it McLaren’s undiminished hunger to win in everything we do, and you’d probably be getting closest to what I mean, what I think, and what I feel.”
This is just one example of “Ronspeak”, which has become widely known through the F1 paddock. Dennis has always been known for his long and complex sentences, providing careful considered answers to questions being asked of him, which may not make sense to everybody else.
In 2009 Dennis took a step back from the Formula One team, handing over the reigns to Martin Whitmarsh (the subject of tomorrow’s post). He still remains an integral part, owning a 25% stake of the McLaren Group as well as being the Executive Chairman. In 2000 he was awarded an OBE for services to motorsport.