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Ron Dennis: What Id Do Differently - Interview

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Blue_Tires Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-09-10 09:44 AM
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The former head of McLaren Racing took his team to F1 glory, created the greatest street car everand got hit by the biggest fine in the history of motorsports. He tells us about it.

C/D: You started out as an F1 mechanic and went on to lead one of the most successful racing teams ever. Along the way youve developed a reputation as a driven perfectionist. Do you recognize that description?

RD: I always thought, from day one, that winning races was just doing your job. After that it was a question of how did you win a race, how immaculate was the car, how polished was the driver? How did we present ourselves, and did that constitute a good magnet to invest in us?

C/D: Lets talk about 1988, McLarens most dominant season, when your drivers, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, won an amazing 15 of 16 events. That must have felt like the pinnacle, right?

RD: Ill be honest. There are two things I remember about 1988, one of which Ive never told anybody before. Firstly, when we won the last race, the significance of not having won Monza suddenly dawned on us . Because when we lost Monza, we still had races to go, but that had denied us the perfect score. The second thing was receiving a phone call from the chief executive of my principal sponsor , who actually told me that it would be in the interests of the sport if I started to lose races. Which, I mean, just blew my mind. And I can tell you he was absolutely, categorically serious. He was saying this is not good, back off a little bit and give other people a chance. Like, yeah, that was going to happen.

C/D: Senna was thought by many to be the greatest F1 driver of all time. When he left you to drive for Williams in 94, you didnt know that he would die driving for his new team, but you must have been devastated to lose him.

RD: I honestly look back and think we were just taking a time out. Hed been pretty damn demanding, and it was just time to move on. But I dont think theres any question that under different circumstances Ayrton would have finished his career with McLaren.

C/D: McLaren also designed and created the F1 supercar, which arrived just in time for the early-90s economic slump. Was it a case of right car, wrong time?

RD: Thats too simplistic. We went in with a view of  building 300 cars over a period of time. Thats not exactly a car company; thats a project. It wasnt a project driven by a desire to lose money, but it certainly wasnt going to make a lot of money.

C/D: Ten years after the F1, you started producing another road car, the SLR, co-developed with your then-F1 partner Mercedes. How does that one fit in?

RD: When we were making the SLR, the world didnt know: Was it a McLaren, was it a Mercedes? Who did what exactly? It was a great project. I think we did a tremendous job, and we exceeded quality expectations. We made money, too, but it didnt contribute to where we wanted to go. We werent on the path we wanted to be on.

C/D: Lets move up to date: the 2007 F1 season. McLaren got hit with a $100 million fine after one of your senior engineers was caught with a 780-page technical dossier on that seasons Ferrari, leaked by a Maranello insider. That really must have hurt . . .

RD: We had someone who was in a senior technical position who made some very unwise decisionsthere was just a phenomenal navet and a belief that this was all quite common and acceptable . . . I look back on that as a very difficult year, a year where I had to make some difficult decisions.

C/D: Youve enjoyed phenomenal success, but looking back, is there anything youd have done differently?

RD: If you ask whats the overwhelming thing I regret, its that people have had reason to question my personal integrity or commitment to running the company in an honest way . . . But, by and large, I look back on my career to date, which is a long way from being finished I might add, and feel very comfortable with the decisions I made.

C/D: Youve stepped away from the F1 team, but youre still heading up McLaren Automotive, looking after the development of the upcoming MP4-12C. Keeping busy?

RD: One of the things weve put in place for the future strategy of the company is that theres a whole range of products coming . . . there will be, in broad principles, a new car of one sort or another every single year, from now for 12 years. Thats the plan. And thats a huge difference from just going into the uncertainty of what next? which we had with the F1.

C/D: Do you want to be remembered as a race-team boss or a businessman?

RD: What do I want written on my tombstone? Ron Dennis, 1947 to so-and-so, one of the worlds great entrepreneursnothing to do with motor racing.
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