It’s the end of an era as Ron Dennis steps away from McLaren, the race team and automaker he helmed for 37 years.
With the possible exception of founder and namesake Bruce McLaren, Dennis has done more to shape the company than anyone else, turning McLaren into a powerhouse Formula One team, and spearheading its move into car production.
Dennis, who turned 70 on June 1, stepped down from his day-to-day leadership role at McLaren last year but retained a stake in the company. He is now walking away completely, selling his remaining shares. Prior to his departure, Dennis’ influence had reportedly been reduced after an argument with fellow shareholders, who disliked his autocratic management style.
Dennis is one of several big names from the past few decades of Formula One to depart the sport in recent years, notes Autoblog. Others include commercial rights czar Bernie Ecclestone, who was pushed out by new F1 owner Liberty Media in January. Prior to that, Ferrari president and long-term F1 influencer Luca di Montezemolo was ousted, and Max Mosley was replaced as head of the FIA, the organization that governs F1.
Dennis joined McLaren in 1980. While the team had won F1 championships before he arrived, Dennis ushered in an era of dominance that would make McLaren the second most successful team in F1 history, after Ferrari. This culminated in the legendary 1988 season, where McLaren won 15 out of 16 races, and the rivalry between teammates Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost created plenty of drama.
McLaren started to fade in the 1990s and 2000s in the face of stiffer competition from other teams but remained a front-runner. Mika Hakkinen won world titles in 1998 and 1999, as did Lewis Hamilton in 2008. More recently, Dennis moved McLaren to challenge Ferrari off the track as a full-time automaker, and it now builds supercars across three model lines: Sport Series, Super Series, and Ultimate Series.
But while McLaren has grown as a company over the past few years, its racing fortunes have diminished. Honda engines powered McLaren’s dominant 1988 season, but the Japanese automaker’s current generation of F1 powertrains are hopelessly underpowered and unreliable. Even with former world champion Fernando Alonso on the team, McLaren is currently in last place in this season’s F1 constructor standings, with just two points.
McLaren’s road-car business is doing well, posting record 2016 sales. But the foundation of that business, the race team, seems to be crumbling. With Dennis gone, perhaps someone with a different perspective will right the ship. But for now, McLaren’s future is uncertain.
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