Ron Dennis: still ‘the Man’ at McLaren


Optimising the interaction between two individuals at the appropriate moment of interface can be a challenge – especially when one of them is Ron Dennis.

Sorry, I’ll drop the ‘Ronspeak’. I briefly thought about writing this whole missive in the tortured vocabulary and syntax that the executive chairman of McLaren tends to communicate by. But I realised all too quickly that firstly it would take ages, secondly I’d get bored very quickly and finally you’d probably switch off and read something else after a couple of sentences.

So in the interests of keeping you engaged to the bottom of this page I’ll do my best to stick to plain English.

It’s easy to chuckle at Ron, given the idiosyncrasies of his character. But for many who know him, ‘Ronspeak’ is a term of endearment, lightly poking fun at a man who commands great respect for his achievements at McLaren. But is he liked? That’s a harder one. A Formula 1 insider once said “the more I get to know Ron the less I like him.” But it’s far from a universal truth.

This month in Motor Sport Simon Taylor got closer to him than he expected during the course of their discussions which form the basis of our extra special and extended ‘Lunch with’ cover story. Now as Simon relates, he’s known Ron, but not well, for about 40 years. We’d been hoping to get them together for some time, and with the help of communications and PR head Matt Bishop, it finally happened. And when it did, they really hit it off.

Simon has an uncanny knack of getting people to talk and open up. Ron usually avoids discussing his early days as a mechanic at first Cooper and then Brabham. But here with Simon he talks about his first steps in the sport he loves, and the influence it had on him during his life in team management. He even gives some explanation as to why he doesn’t usually talk about his days as a mechanic. It’s revealing stuff.

I count myself fortunate to have crossed paths with Ron quite a few times over the years, and I’ve always been impressed by his poise, his presence and the time he takes to answer a question. But have I liked him? Not always.

One year at the Malaysian GP I was invited as part of a small group of journalists to join him for dinner. It was a sushi restaurant and we sat gathered on one side of a giant round table. On the other was Bernie Ecclestone, Flavio Briatore and, typically of Flav, a beautiful companion who I probably should have recognised. There was no sign of acknowledgment between Ron and the other party.

On that evening, Ron was engaging, humorous and interesting on all manner of subjects, much of it philosophical. I came away thinking I’d been granted a revealing insight into the real Ron Dennis. But back in the paddock the following day, it was almost as if we’d never met as we convened for the usual Saturday ‘Meet the Team’ press conference (or ‘Meet the Ron’ as it became known among the hacks). He didn’t acknowledge those of us who’d dined with him the night before – until the very end.

Now, a few glasses of wine had been consumed that night, and during Saturday I must admit to feeling a little fuzzy. Ron spotted me: “Got a hangover?” he snapped. “Yeah, a little bit,” I replied. He grinned with glee. “I haven’t!” And off he went. Well, at least I’d pleased him.

On another occasion he called me “mad” for putting out an issue of the magazine I was working for dedicated to environmental issues in motor racing (I must admit, it was worthy more than riveting). This was before Formula 1 had become obsessed with the subject and his dismissive response disappointed me that day. But perhaps he’d have a revised view of the subject in 2012.

The thing is, there’s nothing simple about Ron Dennis. Much like his favourite colour, little about him is black or white. Even away from the F1 coalface, he still fascinates us and Simon’s interview is the best I’ve read with the man.

So lots of McLaren in the new issue of Motor Sport, but as usual there’s plenty more to read: our round-up of the Goodwood Revival; John Surtees on nurturing young driving talent; an interview with Aston Martin works driver Darren Turner; and an amazing viewing of our late founder editor Bill Boddy’s collection of racing artefacts.

Then there’s Nigel Roebuck’s heartfelt tribute to his dear friend, Professor Sid Watkins. If you own an iPad, check out the digital version and revisit our ‘Lunch with the Prof’, first published in December 2008.

Speaking of our digital edition, there are a few added extras from us on the iPad newsrack. Every Monday after a Grand Prix, we post pictorial reports of the action, and we’ve also produced a special Ferrari Racing Days digital-only supplement, bringing you some incredible pictures from the Prancing Horse’s record-breaking weekend at Silverstone recently. A total of 964 Ferraris paraded around the GP circuit, and it was something to behold. These ‘specials’ are free to subscribers, and 69p for everyone else. Bargain!

I’d also urge you to visit the new forum on the website. We hope this will become the first port of call for enthusiasts to discuss their sport, from F1 to club racing. We’d be delighted to welcome you, so please do join the discussions. Just click on the tab at the top of the homepage.

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