Ron Dennis set to leave top McLaren job
Shareholder friction could result in the man who re-made the team in his own image moving on to pastures new
Ron Dennis’s latest stint at the helm of McLaren looks to be coming to an end, following a decision by his fellow shareholders not to extend his contract beyond the end of 2016.
The move comes after a tense few years in the relationship between Dennis, who owns 25 per cent of the McLaren Group, and long-time business partner Mansour Ojjeh, also a 25 per cent shareholder. Mumtalakat, the investment arm of the Kingdom of Bahrain, usually represented by Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, own the remaining 50 per cent and are siding with Ojjeh.
Dennis, 69, will be pulling out all the stops between now and the end of December to try to salvage his position. He has already told friends and associates that he alone will make the decision as to whether or not he steps down. But there is little he can do. He would remain a 25 per cent shareholder, but unless the Bahrainis and Ojjeh suddenly change their minds, he is very unlikely to have any active role or power in running the company.
McLaren said in a statement that Dennis was “not stepping down”. But this does not preclude him being removed in some other way.
Dennis has found himself in this position due to concern over the health of McLaren, as well as the deterioration in his relationship with Ojjeh for both personal and professional reasons.
Chief among the concerns about McLaren’s wellbeing, is the fact that the team have lacked a title sponsor ever since mobile phone giant Vodafone withdrew at the end of 2013, despite Dennis announcing in the March of that year that a new title sponsor would be in place by the end of that season.
Other losses have been mitigated by new deals: luxury watch maker TAG Heuer, who moved to Red Bull, were replaced by Richard Mille, while Boss clothing, lost to Mercedes, have been replaced by Michael Kors. Long-time fuel and oil partner Exxon Mobil, who are departing to join Red Bull next year, will be replaced by a new BP/Castrol deal.
Even so, the McLaren F1 team have become increasingly reliant on support from engine partner Honda, funding from whom amounted to a net annual increase in revenue of $100m for McLaren, compared with their previous Mercedes customer deal. There is currently no sign of any major new backer on the horizon.
Dennis has, for some years, been trying to raise the necessary funds to buy sufficient shares from Ojjeh and Mumtalakat to take a controlling shareholding in McLaren. Sources inside McLaren say he has actually sourced funding from two separate Chinese consortiums. One was all set to go before a downturn in the Chinese economy caused the deal to collapse. Another is still in place, but Ojjeh and the Bahrainis have decided they do not want to sell, according to senior insiders, because they do not want to grant Dennis any more control. A number of names have been mentioned as possible replacements for Dennis. McLaren have contacted former Mercedes F1 boss Ross Brawn, although he is now set to take a role as CEO (Sporting) of the new Formula One Group. McLaren’s own former team principal Martin Whitmarsh has also been approached, as has the former head of Sainsbury’s, Justin King. Leading F1 marketing expert Zak Brown, who has been linked with a commercial role at the Formula One Group, has also emerged as a candidate.
Whitmarsh and King are considered unlikely to take the role, while Brawn recently told