Ron Dennis, chairman of the McLaren Group, has been appointed to the additional role as the Group’s Chief Executive Officer, after an internal coup to wrestle back control of its Formula 1 team.
The 66-year-old, who stood down as Team Principal in 2009 to focus on McLaren’s automotive arm, has been at loggerheads with the board for some time.
Matters came to a head after a terrible 2013 campaign – in which it failed to score a single podium finish for the first time since 1980 – and his appointment as CEO sees him replace Martin Whitmarsh, whose position as Team Principal is seemingly, inevitably, over.
Having previously anointed Whitmarsh as his successor, the relationship between the pair as deteriorated over the last two seasons as the team’s competitiveness has slipped.
The 2013 season proved to be a complete disaster for McLaren and its MP4-28 challenger. Despite some clever design concepts, the entire package – coupled with the set-up sensitivities of both Jenson Button and Sergio Perez – saw the team consigned to a distant fifth in the Constructors’ Championship standings.
While he is a popular figure up and down the paddock, Whitmarsh has come under increasing scrutiny, particularly with his decision to hire Perez as Lewis Hamilton’s replacement for the 2013 season, despite strong advice within the team no to go with the Mexican, who was fired after a single year with the Woking team.
Dennis had made a number of previous attempts to overthrow Whitmarsh, but he hadn’t managed to secure a majority until now, having seemingly repaired his standing with the Group’s other board members, which include Mansour Ojjeh and the Bahrain royal family’s Mumtalakat investment fund, who own 25% and 50% shareholdings respectively, with Dennis controlling the other 25%.
Ojjeh recently confirmed he was temporarily standing down from his position on the board, relinquishing his position to younger brother Aziz while he continues to recover from a double lung transplant.
It must be suggested that the timing of Ojjeh’s departure and Dennis’ appointment are perhaps not coincidental.
Quite how this will shake out in the upper management of the Formula 1 team remains to be seen, but it’s certain that Whitmarsh will be dismissed, although senior insiders have confirmed to the BBC that Dennis would not want to return to a full-time role on the pit wall.
Indicating that the company’s shareholders had “mandated me to write an exciting new chapter in the story of McLaren, beginning by improving our on-track and off-track performance,” Dennis indicated he would undertake a complete review of the entire operation.
“Over the coming weeks I intend to undertake a thorough and objective review of each of our businesses with the intention of optimising every aspect of our existing operations, while identifying new areas of growth that capitalise on our technologies, and where appropriate further investing in them,” he – in his typically verbose manner – is quoted as saying in a media release from the team.
“During February, I will articulate a new Group strategy and implement the organisational structure best suited to achieving it.”
And this announcement comes while former Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn – who had worked successfully with McLaren’s 2015 engine partner, Honda – sits waiting in the wings…