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Not quite an 'annus horribilis' for Ron Dennis


In a typically long-winded interview with the official F1 website, Ron Dennis admits that - for the most part - 2015 was a disaster, but that the Woking outfit is working flat-out to turn things around.

Asked if 'annus horribilis' would be a fair description of his team's season, he replies: "As far as I recall, the phrase to which you allude was most famously used by Her Majesty the Queen in a speech at the Guildhall in London in late 1992, in which she described that year in those terms.

"1992 was indeed a horrible year for the British monarch. The Prince and Princess of Wales had agreed to separate; the Duke and Duchess of York had agreed to separate; the Princess Royal and her husband, Captain Mark Phillips, had agreed to separate; and, to cap it all, there had been a dreadful fire at Her Majesty's beloved Windsor Castle.

"By contrast, 2015 has been an admittedly challenging first year for McLaren's renewed partnership with Honda, but in truth we expected as much, and our setbacks can hardly be compared to what Her Majesty had to contend with in 1992.

"Besides, our messaging all season long has been, 'we know we've got a mountain to climb, and we may be making slower-than-hoped-for progress some of the time, but climb it we will.' And that's true; we're climbing it.

"I'll concede that our level of competitiveness in some 2015 Grands Prix was pretty hard to stomach - Spa and Monza spring to mind - and our lack of reliability didn't help either. But we know what we've got to do to turn things around, and, as I speak, we're working night and day to do just that.

"Put it this way: if you visit the McLaren Technology Centre on a Saturday or a Sunday this winter, you won't find many free car parking spaces!

"Our chassis is a very good one," he continues, referring to the 2015 car, "all the data bears that out. Our driver line-up is the best in the sport - the stats prove that. Our partnership with Honda is a new one - or a freshly renewed one to be precise - and it's not remotely surprising that it should be taking a little while to gel. That's what Formula One is like, and it always has been.

"When Michael Schumacher won the drivers' world championship in 2000, it was the first such triumph achieved by Ferrari since Jody Scheckter had won the drivers' world championship 21 years before that, in 1979. Okay, that's an extreme example, but we all know what happened next: Ferrari won world championships in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004. In other words, they climbed their mountain.

"Red Bull were very successful a few years ago, winning world championships in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. But, before that, from 2005 to 2009, they hadn't been particularly triumphant, and, earlier, from 1997 to 2004, during which period the team had been known first as Stewart-Ford and then as Jaguar, they had been less successful still. So the truth is that Red Bull's recent successes have been a long time coming.

"Even Mercedes-Benz, who have dominated this year and last, took a while to start winning. From 2010 to 2013 they were good but not great, and, before that, from 1999 to 2008, during which period the team had been known first as British American Racing and then as Honda, they hadn't been at all impressive. Only in 2009, when their double-diffuser had given them a notable one-off technical advantage, had they been successful during all those barren years.

"So you get my drift, I think. Formula One is a cyclical sport. Success is hard-earned. Some teams never achieve it - Sauber have been toiling away for more than 20 years without notching up even a single Grand Prix victory, for example, other than one surprise win in 2008, during which year the team had briefly become a BMW works outfit - and that's because Formula One is extremely difficult.

"Please don't misunderstand me. I have great respect for all the teams I've just mentioned, and I hope the people who work for those teams have great respect for McLaren and Honda too. But the reason I've gone to the trouble of itemising their histories is that I want to illustrate for you, without fear of contradiction, that success in Formula One takes time to achieve.

"As I've said before and will doubtless have cause to say again, we'll get there. So, to revert to the specificity of your question, I'm not going to hypothesise about what might have happened had we done things differently, because I don't think there's anything specifically wrong with the way we've done things. As usual in Formula One, it's taking us a little time to get things right, that's all, and I hope the entirety of my reply explains why that's neither unusual nor surprising.

"Some circuits suited our car's chassis / power unit combination better than others," he adds. "I've already said that Spa and Monza stand out in my memory as particularly joyless weekends, and that's because the flat-out nature of those old-school racetracks tested acutely the upper echelons of our power unit's performance envelope.

"By contrast, at Monaco and Hungaroring, on which tortuous circuits our car's ability to change direction swiftly was a more pertinent advantage, we fared rather better; and we duly scored points in both races.

"Our progress was never likely to be linear therefore," he insists, "In motor racing there's a phrase that says you're only as good as your last race. Well, as soon as Jenson got out of the car after the 2015 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which is indeed currently our last race, he said: 'That was probably my best race of the year'” Okay, he finished only 12th, having been delayed by rear-wing endplate damage caused by Valtteri Bottas's unsafe release at the hands of the Williams pit crew, but the car had felt good and he'd reported as much.

"Fernando's 2015 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was also spoiled through no fault of his own, his having been saddled with a drive-through penalty after having skirmished with Pastor Maldonado's Lotus in a manner that we regarded as pretty innocuous.

"Having said that, after the race, Fernando was happy too. And that was because, over the last five laps, we'd switched his car's settings to 'full deployment', not only so as to allow him to have a bit of on-track fun, but also so as to find out just how well our car would perform in that performance configuration. Well, the results were pretty encouraging. He carved his fastest lap on the 55-lap race's 52nd lap - 1:44.796 - and only two drivers bettered that all afternoon: Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel.

"So, if you're only as good as your last race, as the saying goes, then all I can say is that we're not too bad.

"The signs that we're doing what we've set out to do, albeit perhaps not as quickly as many of us would ideally like, are all there," he states. "I think the American author and motivational speaker Sean Covey puts it best: 'Honesty is a principle. Service is a principle. Love is a principle. Hard work is a principle. Respect, gratitude, moderation, fairness, integrity, loyalty and responsibility are principles. There are dozens and dozens more. They're not hard to identify. Just as a compass always points to true north, your heart will always recognize true principles.'

"So true north is a mindset thing. And, together, McLaren and Honda are striving to attain and maintain that true north mindset, because it identifies our goal, our target. And then, leaning on the principles that Covey listed, McLaren's and Honda's managers and technicians are working and will continue to work together to navigate our way through the difficult territory that currently separates us from that goal, that target. It'll be an exciting journey, there may be a few shunts on the way, but our intended destination will be reached, mark my words."

Asked what went through his mind when he saw Fernando Alonso sun-bathing during qualifying in Brazil, he admits: "I chuckled to myself, to be honest. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. There's nothing wrong with a bit of humour. And Fernando is as hard-working as he is talented, be in no doubt of that. He's matured enormously since he last drove for us, eight years ago, and he's now one of the most complete drivers I've ever had the privilege of working with. He has what I often refer to as the four e's that all racing drivers should aspire to cultivate: energy, enthusiasm, expertise and experience.

"Fernando's contract is of three years' duration - no performance clauses, no nothing," he adds. "He always knew that 2015 would be a learning year. He knows equally well that, together with Honda, we'll make big improvements. So he joined us with open eyes. Together with the expertise and experience he's cultivated over the past 15 years spent racing in Formula One, he still bristles with energy and enthusiasm. He's had better years than 2015, obviously; but he knows that great years lie ahead of him, with McLaren-Honda."

Finally, asked to give three reasons why McLaren will turn things around in 2016, he replies: "We, McLaren and Honda, share a clear goal. We're embracing our collaboration in an effort to lay the foundations for long-term success. We're prepared to work super-hard to achieve it."


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1. Posted by TokyoAussie, 18/12/2015 0:29

"Martin Whitmarsh fully exonerated is what I take from this year. Ron managed to turn everything around (not)."

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2. Posted by testa rossa, 17/12/2015 18:29

"OK,.. the car is sold . ;-)"

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3. Posted by nonickname, 17/12/2015 15:49

"Not a Ron Dennis fan BUT I think that with the combination of Honda, Mclaren, Fernando and Jenson the next 2 years are going to be AWSUM. I wish them a Merry Xmas and and a busy New Year."

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4. Posted by Rock Doc, 17/12/2015 15:08

"After a season like that, all you can do is look at the positive. Because if you look at reality then it will make you cry.

I respect Ron for his never say die true racer attitude. I truly believe that McLaren will win races again. But not next year or 2017. Yes they did have a good car, but it wasn't the best. There were at least 3 other teams out there that were better.

May be a year out of the lime light will allow them to get things back on track, but that isn't how F1 works. It will be interesting to see how they progress over next year."

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5. Posted by Spindoctor, 17/12/2015 13:15

"He's a tad verbose, and his sentences complex and often hard to work-out, but Ron is one of the few brilliantly successful self-made men in Britain. McLaren's HQ in Woking is a unique, stand-out building which partly symbolises Ron's ambitions and intent. Amazing that he's still plain old "Mr" Dennis when other far less successful businessmen & entrepreneurs have Knighthoods, and even Baronetcies.

Because McLaren F1 is underperforming, it's easy to forget that the rest of the McLaren Group, particularly Road Cars is going from strength to strength.

Ignoring his flowery verbal style Ron's saying "We'll be back", and assuming Honda can serve up more power and usability it's pretty clear that they will be."

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6. Posted by scf1fan, 17/12/2015 12:12

"Hear, hear! Well said RD."

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