Having best drivers causes ’emotional’ strife – Dennis

2013 F1 season

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1988: Prost wins Adelaide finale but Senna is already championMcLaren Group executive chairman Ron Dennis admits his team’s policy of hiring the two most competitive drivers available has the potential to cause “emotional” problems.

In an interview published to mark the 50th anniversary of the racing team Dennis, who headed up their F1 activities from 1981 to 2009, reflected on some of the famous driver pairings the teams had during that time.

Among the most famous of these was the explosive combination of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in 1988 and 1989. Dennis described Prost as “incessantly lobbying for a competitive advantage” while Senna “could certainly border on the paranoid, and he felt wounded and betrayed if he thought you weren?t giving him your full support, 100 per cent”.

These were among the most successful years for the team, who won both constructors’ titles in those years while Senna and Prost took a drivers’ championship apiece. But the fierce competition between the two drivers proved too much to handle, and culminated in the pair colliding controversially at the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix.

It is not the only partnership between two highly-rated McLaren drivers which took a destructive turn. Relations between Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso deteriorated to the extent that the twice-champion Alonso left the team after a single, highly acrimonious season.

“When you run a team with absolute driver equality, which I?m proud to say we?ve always done, there can only ever be one winner and one loser,” said Dennis.

“So when one driver wasn?t winning, there was a pressure and a push by him to find out why ?ǣ which sometimes meant short-cutting the intellectual and practical realities of that defeat to focus on the emotional, somewhat less rational, side.”

“They were tough times, but very rewarding too,” he said.

Dennis arrived at the team at the end of the 1980 season, at which point McLaren hadn’t won a race for three years. “McLaren had won world championships with Emerson Fittipaldi in 1974 and James Hunt in 1976, they then failed to get to grips with ground-effect technology, had a few mediocre years, but were down rather than out.”

“However, I understood what McLaren could do when they had a strong car, as had been demonstrated by the strong performances of the M23 in the hands of both Emerson and James.”

The team which was founded by Bruce McLaren in 1963 has since gone on to win championships with Prost, Senna, Niki Lauda, Mika Hakkinen and Lewis Hamilton. The latter was guided towards F1 by McLaren in his junior years and shortly after his championship success in 2008, Dennis turned his attention to developing the group’s car business.

“Thirty-two years ago I was clear in my vision for McLaren,” said Dennis. “Today I see its future with the same clarity, and I remain as passionate and committed to the company and its success as I’ve ever been.”

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46 comments on “Having best drivers causes ’emotional’ strife – Dennis”

  1. Haha, Ron Dennis says McLaren has driver equality.
    Say that to David Coulthard.

    1. He always said he had an equal car! Very recently even.
      The emotional support is another thing..

      1. And he conceded that Mika was faster than him. I think Mark would concede this as well in 5-10 years.

      2. In 1999, Coulthard was at least as fast as Hakkinen throughout the years, yet his car was the one constantly breaking down.

        McLaren have always been just as obvious about their “favorite driver” policy as Ferrari.

        1. …and what about rear suspension modification to suit Mika while David had a better chance of catching Michael in 2000. He was McLaren’s runner up until Austrian GP. David never favoured oversteering car and it was Mika’s preference. Equal status my…

        2. @kingshark I’m by no means a McLaren fan, but I simply don’t agree. Even though Coulthard is my preferred driver of the two, he just wasn’t as good as Häkkinen. Only in that sense was he given preferential treatment – he will have had a biggere hand in development because he was more likely to be successful for the team. Exactly the same thing happens with Vettel now.

          1. I agree with every word, the car is devoloped around the driver which is most likely to win.
            I’m sure the Lotus is much more developed around Kimi’s driving style than Grosjeans for example ;)

      3. Sadly this is not true in the years of 1998 – 2000 mostly. In the years before he scored more points but Mika had a lot of technial problems in those years when he was often in front of Coulthard. For me, Coulthard is one of the calibre of Barrichello or Webber. At some days and on some tracks, they are faster than their team mates but this doesn’t make them a championship winner type because their performance is not stable over the whole season which is a requirement for winning championships.

        In 1999 by the way, Mika had 3 DNFs from the lead – Australia, England, Germany. Additional to that he has been spun around by Coulthard in Austria and the team also ruined his race early in the Europe GP (Nürburgring). Whenever Coulthard had big chances, he was nowhere to capilise on the mistake of others or put the car into the wall (a la Nürburgring). It’s also a bit questionable to say Coulthard was at least as fast when he not even achieved one pole position in 1999 compared to Mika’s 11 pole positions.

        1. In Germany he has been 3rd before the tyre exploded but without any issues, he would have won that one easily. Just adding that to avoid any misunderstanding.

          Coulthard has done a silly mistake in that race by destroying his front wing when touching Salo’s right rear tyre.. Typical for Coulthard. Blowing chances where he could win.

    2. he didn’t tell Coulthard to move over in Melbourne 1998

  2. If I’m reading in-between the lines correctly, it seems that Ron’s way of team managing is to pander to his drivers strengths to try and get the most out of them… What about when a driver who comes along and needs to feel pressure from his teammate, how does he handle such a driver?

  3. Reading that full interview, it’s difficult to understand how Ron ended up with a reputation for being a massive egomaniac…

    1. He would hardly shout that out to the world in a self published interview though, would he @hairs

      1. @bascb No, he’s too self-effacing for that.

        1. :-) spot on

  4. A good question to ask Ron now would be:
    If you were to go back in time would you once again pair Prost with Senna and Hamilton and Alonso?
    My guess is the answer would be YES for the first pairing but a NO for the next one.
    In Prost and Senna, he had 2 drivers who would do everything to make themselves win but they would never do so at the detriment of the team. However, Alonso was willing to throw the team under the bus just to get the preference over Hamilton.

    1. Alonso was willing to throw the team under the bus just to get the preference over Hamilton

      Dennis’s words : “We weren’t racing Kimi, we were basically racing Fernando”
      Mutual feelings !!!!

      1. that’s what RD said after the Chinese GP – spy-gate was revealed earlier. It wasn’t ALO alone who caused the bridge to burn, but he went nuclear and that’s what many see as throwing the team under the bus – including me.
        He is one of the best drivers so it’s easy to respect him but very hard to like him.

        1. @tmf42 my sentiments exactly.

        2. Come on dude.

          Yes, Alonso was far from blameless in the ’07 saga but if you’re going to ”dislike” him due to his actions in that year alone then you shouldn’t preclude Hamilton from some of this ”dislike” as he wasn’t blameless either. Similarly, by this logic, you should ”hate” Ron Dennis as he should accept the lion’s share of the responsibility for the whole thing.

      2. Good point. When you prefer to beat the driver you’re giving a salary rather than others it looks like serious sign of deep emotional imbalance. Or sickness, I don’t know how to put it. It sounds so twisted.

  5. ”…Last year I didn’t seriously seek to prevent his efforts to explore new pastures with the Mercedes AMG F1 team – perhaps it was a necessary part of his maturation – but I’ll always remember his time with us very fondly, just as I’m very proud of having been McLaren’s CEO and team principal when Lewis became world champion with us in 2008…”
    I don’t know if it’s PR talk, yeah, a lot of water has gone under the bridge but I’m so happy and rather see that Big Ron can speak of Lewis this way. This is how things should be remembered!

  6. I have spent the vast majority of my 21 years watching this sport supporting McLaren and its drivers and, while it is incredibly hard to deny that they have been incredibly successful, the feeling I get most when I think about my years supporting them isn’t pride, it is disappointment. 7 world champions winning 12 world championships and heaps of races in some iconic cars is one part of the McLaren story. The other part is near misses, at times infuriating reliability problems, ridiculous strategy cock-ups and occasionally baffling and unexpected losses of form.

    While Ron and the team continue to bang on about the good times with their “McLaren50” campaign, I get the sense that they are doing more than they had initially planned to distract from the horrific season they are having. No podiums, 1 fastest lap, barely ahead of Force India in the championship and not looking likely to improve those stats, it is pathetic for a team which is boasting so much.

    I honestly hope that McLaren stop looking back and start focusing on 2014 and beyond, another season like this one will not be acceptable.

    1. Absolutely 300% correct. For a team with that kind of resources, it is baffling that they are lagging behind. And people are talking about the Scuderia doing very bad..

      1. 300% correct? Give me a break, it’s at least 1000000000000000%

    2. They sounds and feel all too much like Ferrari in 93-94 to me @geemac. Maybe McLaren needs a big reshuffle. Sign Vettel, lure some new designer, get a great team together and please ask Ross Brawn to advice on strategy McLaren!

  7. So this is why they opted for Button and Perez ;)

    That might be a bit harsh, but much as i like Button i think they have a weak driver line-up compared to RB, Ferrari, Lotus and Mercedes. And even with potential changes in line-ups next year they will lack one of the ‘big four’.

    1. petebaldwin (@)
      2nd September 2013, 15:15

      McLaren have a solid lineup but with a competitive car, they’ll need Perez to step up if they are going to compete for WDCs. I can’t see Button winning consistently unless McLaren come up with a Brawn style innovation for next season and even then, I’d expect Perez to take more points off him than Barichello managed.

      1. Yeah i agree it’s a solid lineup and i’m sure both would score decent points with a competitive car. I just think the other top teams have a better No.1 driver so if McLaren want to win championships they’ll need an advantage in car performance.

  8. OmarR-Pepper (@)
    2nd September 2013, 12:58

    Ron is really getting old, cause he is happy living on his memories…
    But 2008 really looks so far behind now

  9. “Having best drivers causes ‘emotional’ strife – Dennis”….and that’s why we have Button and Perez now.

    1. @nidzovski

      Instead, now he suffers from a massive headache from Button’s constant moaning

      1. I agree :D. I’m sure that he is still sorry for Hamilton. They should have won at least two more titles. Lets say 2007 and 2012.

        1. OmarR-Pepper (@)
          2nd September 2013, 17:35

          2012? I thought the battle was betwee Vettel and Alonso

          1. @omarr-pepper Yes, in fact it was between Alonso and Vettel, but McLaren had by far better car than Ferrari and yet they were able to miss the chance as many times in the past. Remember that win in Austin? McLaren and Red Bull had 7 wins each, where Ferrari had just 3 with a little help from the exceptional Alonso. And of course Vettel deserved his title no word about it.

      2. lol Comment of the day stuff @todfod and very true

  10. I only now realize that Senna and Prost were only teammates for two seasons! It felt like an era! Not because it was boring, but because there was such a sense of F1 history unfolding. (Which, in retrospect, has turned out to be true.)

    1. Good point mate! Don’t know if you had a chance to follow the season of 1988. They won 15 – FIFTEEN out of 16 races and was it boring!? By no means NO! It was like a fight between two Knights and you couldn’t wait until the next encounter. It never happened before or afterwards that a team had a so dominant car and the season turned out to be such a Thriller.

      1. I never watched the 1988 season but 2010 was also very pleasant to watch with the three-way battle between Vettel, Webber and Alonso.
        We often say that the years 2010-2014 are one of Red Bull dominations but Vettel won two of his three championchips in the last race during a thrilling final. :)
        We always glorify the past, so maybe we will be calling the 2010-2014 years a golden era in the future.

  11. This was interesting from Dennis:

    “Mika was an uncomplicated character. He didn’t trouble himself with any of the additional burdens of a racing driver – he didn’t have an entourage, he didn’t get involved in politics, he didn’t worry about the media – all he wanted to do was drive racing cars to the limit, and he lived for that. And while you can never be truly empirical when you’re comparing data or driving styles between different eras, I know that there are a number of people within McLaren who remain convinced that Mika was the quickest driver we’ve ever had – and that’s saying something.”

  12. When did Button, Perez, Coulthard, Montoya and Kovaleinen become the best drivers on the grids?

  13. I have never liked Ron Dennis and never will. For some reason, everytime he speaks, I feel he is lying.
    I think part of the problem at Mclaren was Ron. He seemed to thrive at playing one of his drivers off the other. The team looks happier with Marty incharge.

    1. I couldn’t agree more Jay Menon.

      I certainly don’t know the bloke, but he strikes me as a very cold, uncharitable and nasty sort of fella.

    2. I am the complete opposite. I think Ron was the best thing to happen to Mclaren. Fantastic at his job, just look at what he has achieved over the years. Everything he set out to achieve he did so successfully. People give him a hard time because of the ‘Ron speak’, whatever that means, but he just choose his words carefully and is well spoken, cant knock a person for being well spoken I dont think. Nothing against Martin but Mclaren’s performance since he took over are steadily getting worse. And this driver line up he has on the cars is probably the weakest Mclaren has had for the past 30 years. What people dont realise is that Ron is racer through and through and though it may not be immediately apparent to the casual viewer he wears his heart on his sleeve. I think he is definitely one of the greatest personalities of motor racing over the past 50 years.

      1. I’m not sure how you can really say things are all that worse at McLaren under Martin’s watchful eye.

        Aside from their glory days in the 80s/early 90s, McLaren’s record since has been abysmal. In the last 20 years they have 3 drivers and 1 constructors championship. That is simply inexcusable for a team with they resources they have at their disposal. So Martin is pretty much just picking up where Ron left it. Sure this year the car is particularly bad, but hey, I don’t think Martin should have to shoulder the decline of McLaren in its entirety.

        p.s. and Ron doesn’t have a personality!! :)

  14. Never quite understood why it was RD hadn’t got a handle on the Hamilton/Alonso spat in Hungary.
    While it had been simmering since Monaco, I’d have thought Hamilton’s refusal to cede the final run at the Hungaroring to Alonso would have precipitated an immediate sanction had RD’s much vaunted equal opportunities policy actually meant anything.

    The fact it didn’t makes a nonsense of RD’s claim of equal treatment, as Coulthard has attested in the same context, wasn’t this the manifestation that RD couldn’t prevent himself from favouring the guy he’d formed an emotional bond with.

    And all else is simply Dennis hogwash.

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