After masterminding seven constructors’ and 10 drivers’ titles in 28 years at the top of Formula One, Ron Dennis is stepping down as team principal of the McLaren racing team and handing over to his deputy, Martin Whitmarsh.
The 61-year-old team leader, who helped Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Mika Hakkinen, Ayrton Senna and Lewis Hamilton win the world championship, is moving aside to let someone else give the orders from the pit lane — although he says he won’t be far away.
“It’s time for Martin to take over as team principal,” said Dennis, who will step down on March 1, but stay on in his other roles with the McLaren group. “On March 1 he will adopt that responsibility. I will still go to races, but not all of them, because I am passionate about Formula One.”
Dennis, who will keep his 15 percent share of the group, made the announcement at the end of a news conference to launch the new McLaren F1 car for this season at team headquarters in Woking.
“Don’t say in any way, shape or form it’s any form of retirement,” he told reporters. “I still have my other responsibilities to the group. But the team has to have 100 percent. It’s my decision, it is what I wanted to do and I intend to work much harder.”
Hamilton, who begins his defense of the drivers’ title when the season starts up in Melbourne, Australia, on March 29, said he didn’t expect Dennis to walk away.
“Ron is a huge part of the team,” said Hamilton, whose family contacted Dennis when he was only 10 years old. “He has got racing in his blood, so he will never leave the team. He will always play a part, whenever he steps down and chooses to play a more quiet role in the background. I am sure he will do something like that.”
“I will always remain close to him,” Hamilton said. “I’ve known him since I was a 10-year-old. We have a great relationship and he has made a huge impact on my life, and he still does today. We are great friends. The great thing is we have got great people in the team. It is a huge team and we are very powerful together. It is not as if when he steps down we are going to struggle. We are very, very fortunate that we will stay a strong team.”
Although Dennis is letting Whitmarsh take over, he wants to play a part in capturing a constructors’ title McLaren has not won since 1998.
“Our objective this season is to win both championships,” said Dennis, whose team lost last season’s constructors’ title to Ferrari by 21 points.