Bob McMurray: Sadness at McLaren coup
Ron Dennis and McLaren Formula 1 are synonymous, one is nothing without the other
Ron Dennis, CBE, is a man I respect, I like, I got to know extremely well and, apart from my parents and immediate family, has had the biggest single influence on my life, so it gives me a great sense of sadness to see the predicament in which he now finds himself, deposed from his position as the chairman and CEO of the McLaren Technology Group.
I believe that fact alone will hurt Ron but perhaps more painful to him will be having to also give up the position of the man at the helm of the McLaren Formula 1 race team.
Ron Dennis, CBE, ("RD" to use his more common title) and McLaren Formula 1 are synonymous, one and the same and one is nothing without the other.
"Welcome to the Piranha Club!" RD said to Eddie Jordan when he and his team became part of the Formula 1 paddock and now Ron himself seems to have been the victim of the internal McLaren Piranha pool, although by all accounts it may well be his own uncompromising management style that is the cause of that.
I will not dwell on the reasons for this boardroom coup, in fact many of those reasons are known only to those involved and have been speculated upon endlessly over the last little while, mostly by people well outside of the sport.
I am aware that some of the reasons are rooted in private and personal events dating back years.
During my time at McLaren the team welcomed the TAG Group as a sponsor and then funder of the hugely successful TAG/Porsche Turbo engine and then finally as a part owner and shareholder of the business, and the prime mover in all of this was Mansour Ojjeh, the head of the family and the privately owned company with a worldwide span.
A billionaire certainly but Mansour and his family were, and are, some of the nicest people one could wish to meet and the bond between Dennis, his then-wife Lisa and the Ojjeh family seemed to be firm and unassailable. So it is even more unfortunate that it seems that relationship went sour and has come down to a seeming Dennis v Ojjeh boardroom battle.
To a past McLaren person, to the very many who, like me, were involved in the team from the early days and into the 2000s, I think that is appalling news.
I don't think it is any exaggeration to say that, without the intervention and subsequent takeover of the McLaren F1 team by Dennis in 1980, the McLaren team we so proudly support in New Zealand, even today, would have faded into obscurity and gone the way of Brabham, Lotus, Tyrrell and so many others.
It is to RD's eternal credit that he retained the name of the team, not only for practical purposes, and went on to build that name into the international automotive and technology driven powerhouse it now is.
Over all those years the workforce went from the eight or so of us who worked for RD's own company "Project 4" and then after the "merger" the 100 or so who worked for Bruce McLaren Motor Racing, to some 3500 people.
Many of those employees, especially in the early days, did not so much work for "McLaren" as for RD himself as he engendered a huge amount of personal loyalty.
To go into RD's office with a grievance of some sort and have it out with him usually entailed coming out of that office with a smile and a realisation that you didn't actually get a "yes" or a "no" but you would happily jump off a cliff for the man, as long as he was holding your hand.
He is fiercely loyal to the team and to all its staff and his generosity to all of those people, when adversity struck in personal ways, is hardly recognised outside of the team.
He demands that same loyalty in return.
Personally, my wife and I have a massive amount to thank him for.
This generosity does not, to this day, stop with the employees but sometimes extends to others in the Formula 1 community who also found themselves with medical or money problems but never do I remember RD seeking any recognition for these acts, in fact exactly the opposite, he actively shuns it.
Since the very early days of his business life he has supported one organisation, local to McLaren in the UK, supporting disabled children and adults, reasoning that it is better to focus lots of support in one direction rather than making many small donations to multiple groups.
A particular trait of RD is that once you could manage to sell an internal idea or a project to him (not an easy task in itself as there was always one question thrown at you, "will it make the car go any faster?") he would back you to the hilt and if, for some reason the project was not as successful as was hoped, he never would criticise you in public and the inquest was not one of blame but learning.
He has plenty of what most people perceive as faults, "My way or the highway" being one of them, autocratic, arrogant, egotistical and somewhat condescending but almost all of those, shall we say "traits", were born of an absolute desire to win, to be the best and to do things the right way.
It can be no mistake that every comment I have seen on a past McLaren employee's Facebook page, with many hundreds of members, has been in support of him with not one negative word, so surely that can be the best testament of the man, the "BOSS" he was and is.
His way of speaking is occasionally tortuous with the use of the English language sometimes sounding to listeners as perhaps Shakespeare would sound to a 5-year-old, and that way of speaking led to a phrase as common in the F1 paddock as talk of ECUs, tyres and ground effect, "Ronspeak" it is and Ronspeak can always be guaranteed to come up with more than a few malapropisms that journalists happily exploit.
A story involving "rectal" recognition instead of "retinal" recognition comes to mind.
For RD to lose control of his company in this way, although he remains a significant shareholder and board member of The McLaren Technology Group, is tantamount to a dagger through the heart for him.
McLaren without Ron Dennis was, until a few days ago, unthinkable. To me it remains so.
Make no mistake, RD was among the most influential people in the sport over the past three or more decades, standing only behind Bernie Ecclestone, and his paddock presence will be missed.
Many words have been and will be written about him and space alone prevents me writing more.
RD always said he was just a chapter in the book of McLaren and I sincerely hope his chapter will not be the last in that book, for without his style and his autocratic beneficent dictatorship, I fear for the future of the company and the Formula 1 team.