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Ron Dennis Returns as CEO of McLaren F1

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On: Wed, Jan 22, 2014 at 5:19PM | By: Nick Bakewell

Ron Dennis Returns as CEO of McLaren F1

For those of us who are fans of the McLaren Formula 1 team, this past season was an exercise in what marketing types would call “managing expectations.”  2013 was McLaren’s first season without a win since 2006 and the first in almost 30 years without a podium. For a team whose motto is “Win at everything we do,” that’s a tough row to hoe. Reasons and explanations (though never excuses) abound but, the fact of the matter is that, McLaren as it stood simply wasn’t good enough. Despite having initial input on the 2013 car (the MP4-28), chief designer Paddy Lowe was poached by Mercedes  early in the season, and the already fundamentally-flawed car clearly suffered from a lack of consistent, effective development as a result.

The car had a laundry list of problems, but the main sticking point was a basic, essential aspect of its design, very similar to the issue that plagued Ferrari’s 2012 contender. The problems with the car were only a symptom, however, of what I feel is a malady with roots at the heart of the team itself, and its design process; I’ll try to keep this as brief and un-technical as possible.

Since Ron Dennis took over the team in 1981, the team has espoused core values of pragmatism, logic, and efficient process. McLaren’s emphasis on data analysis paved the way for the face of modern F1, where everything from the minutest aerodynamic detail to something as esoteric as a particular pilot’s driving style are ruthlessly quantified. McLaren, more than any other team, designs by committee, placing a much higher premium on due process than individual ability (like Red Bull, for example). Because of this, the team is seen as rather joyless and mechanical, a stigma that has led to them losing one amazing talent after another (Adrian Newey and Lewis Hamilton, to name a few). In 2009, Dennis, McLaren’s driving force and arbiter of vision for almost three decades, stepped down in favor of his direct inferior, aerospace veteran Martin Whitmarsh. In the ensuing years, McLaren managed to remain competitive, but a championship has eluded them since 2008, and they’ve been plagued by sometimes crippling inconsistencies regarding their engineering and performance as a team overall. Things came to a head last year, when the team’s abysmal car, the design of which was fundamentally flawed, led to suggestions that Whitmarsh might not be the right man to hold the reins at McLaren.

In light of this, a few days ago, it was announced that Ron Dennis would be returning to his role as team principal and CEO after a few years serving as the chairman of the McLaren Group. There is speculation that the handover wasn’t entirely harmonious, and that Dennis may have staged a coup to reclaim his seat at the top. Internal politics notwithstanding, it couldn’t come at a better time. The upcoming season will see the biggest overhaul of the sport’s technical regulations in several decades, and a series of big changes for McLaren in particular. They’ll be changing their title sponsor, Vodaphone having withdrawn from sporting sponsorships altogether, and in 2015 McLaren will be partnering with Honda to supply their engines. This in particular has set the McLaren faithful alight, as the last time McLaren and Honda cooperated, it was 1988, with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost behind the wheel.

In the press release issued by the team concerning Dennis’s return, he stated that “My fellow shareholders have mandated me to write an exciting new chapter in the story of McLaren, beginning by improving our on-track and off-track performance.”

It sounds like Dennis and McLaren are out for blood, and won’t stop until they go back doing what they best—winning at everything they do.


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