Lewis Hamilton’s tribute to Ron Dennis

mp3-24-topshot-280x400Lewis Hamilton paid tribute to Ron Dennis, the ‘special’ man who announced that he is stepping down as McLaren team principal.
Dennis is the 61-year-old legend of the pit wall who transformed himself from a teenage mechanic on Jochen Rindt’s Cooper Maserati into a businessman worth £200million.
Under his stewardship, McLaren have won 10 drivers’ and seven constructors’ titles over 27 years as he became a significant figure to set alongside other team bosses of the ages such as Colin Chapman, Ken Tyrrell and Sir Frank Williams.
If Hamilton becomes a multiple world champion, as his early dazzling achievements suggest, history will surely rate Dennis’s greatest achievement his foresight in taking the mixed race karter from a council estate under his wing as a 12-year-old prodigy .
And the grateful boy, now just 24 and the youngest Formula One title holder in history, said at yesterday’s launch of the McLaren MP4-24 car: ‘Ron is a very special person and has dedicated a lot of his life to helping me succeed. I’m very proud to be associated with him and his team and to be sitting here in this amazing building he oversaw.
‘Without Ron I wouldn’t be here specifically in this team today, in F1 and be world champion now. A huge part of my life, I have been helped by him.’
Dennis, healthy, tanned and typically immaculate in dark suit and crisp white shirt, was at pains to point out that he is not retiring.
I’m going to be working harder,’ he declared, explaining that although he is relinquishing direct control of the F1 team to his long-time No 2 Martin Whitmarsh with effect from March 1, he will continue as the company’s handson chairman and chief executive.
He added: ‘Winning the title last year made this decision easier and I must say that I have come to my own conclusion. It was my timing and my choice.’
This was almost certainly a coded reference to last year’s speculation which suggested he would make way as a repercussion of the Spygate controversy of 2007, when McLaren were fined £50million for being in possession of Ferrari documents. It was mooted at the time that the governing body, the FIA, put pressure on his fellow McLaren Mercedes shareholders to see that Dennis was forced out.
Many will say that Dennis, a proud man, was tarnished by those events. But he privately feels he was hounded by FIA president Max Mosley by way of a vendetta for standing up to him over the years and that the level of McLaren’s guilt was overplayed.
But Mosley – and the rest – have not seen the last of Dennis on the pit wall. When free of other duties, he will attend races. He even promises to be at the opening round of the season in Melbourne on March 29.
A visit to Buckingham Palace awaits Hamilton after being made an MBE in the New Year Honours. He called it ‘pretty crazy, a great compliment’, but the reward received a mixed public reception, with his detractors claiming that a Swiss address should preclude him from recognition.
Ron Dennis, the man who guided Lewis Hamilton to the Formula One world championship, is lining up his McLaren Group for a tilt at a chunk of the luxury sports car market with a £250m ($369m) investment in volume production.
McLaren’s automotive division has until now built about 100 sports cars a year at its technology centre in Surrey, England. Now, even as the downturn cuts into sales of other luxury cars, McLaren is moving to begin production of 1,000 cars a year at the start of 2011 and eventually increase to 4,000.
Models of the group’s Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren tend to sell at upwards of £300,000, but Mr Dennis said volume production would enable McLaren to make a “far more affordable” car, and compete with its F1 rival Ferrari in the sports car market.
Mr Dennis, the group’s chairman and chief executive, and 15 per cent shareholder, told the Financial Times that he would like to build a stand-alone production plant in the UK, even though the capital required would be greater than using existing facilities on the continent such as the Magna plant in Austria.
Up to 400 jobs would be created.
Discussions with UK local and regional authorities were “embryonic”, said Mr Dennis, who steps down as principal of the McLaren F1 team next month.
The group, whose shareholders comprise Daimler, the Bahraini Mumtalakat Holding Company and TAG Group, has instructed Credit Suisse to draw up a funding strategy for the project, which includes bringing in outside investors.
Mr Dennis said he believed now was the right time to “power through the recession”, adding that McLaren would be well placed in a sports car market he predicted could halve from 24,000 cars a year.
“It is a very prudent and realistic target, taking into consideration the fact that we will be out of recession come 2011,” he said.
McLaren is probably the best placed of the F1 teams to cope with the impact of the downturn on the sport, which has already seen Honda withdraw and forced regulators and teams to draw up plans for slashing racing costs.
McLaren’s F1 costs last year were $400m.
Mr Dennis said the recession had “definitely thrown a glitch” into plans to double the group’s £650m valuation in 2007 to £1.25bn by 2012, but that the group would continue to build brand value and the long-term aim was to float its automotive division.

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