En­ter the pi­ranha club at your own risk


by re­fus­ing his bid for an in­junc­tion against share­hold­ers who had placed him on gar­den­ing leave ahead of his con­tract’s end this Jan­uary. Dennis him­self had orig­i­nally taken full con­trol of McLaren only af­ter oust­ing fel­low share­holder Teddy Mayer in a bit­ter show­down some 35 years be­fore.

The team had been in de­cline since their early glory years, and, hav­ing been in­stalled as co-di­rec­tor via ti­tle spon­sor Marl­boro, Dennis swooped while McLaren were at their low­est. The keys to the king­dom were his alone. Had that re­mained so, it is un­likely the mat­ter of rule would have come be­fore court, but to buy Mayer’s share, Dennis needed more funds – hence Man­sour Oj­jeh of TAG came in as a 50 per cent share­holder. As TAG McLaren the team dom­i­nated F1 be­tween 1984 and 1991, rst with TAG en­gines (de­signed and built by Porsche), then via a four-year Honda-pow­ered spell. Fal­low years fol­lowed, as they had un­der Mayer, but TAG money, cru­cially, oiled any short­falls. Then came Mercedes, and more ti­tles, but with that came more di­lu­tion: Dennis and Oj­jeh hived off 20 per cent each to Daim­ler (Mercedes’ own­ers), re­tain­ing a 60 per cent block.

Still this di­lu­tion did not stop: Daim­ler planned to up their stake to 60 per cent, with the Dennis-Oj­jeh part­ner­ship re­tain­ing con­trol via their 40 per cent vot­ing block, But then, in a sur­prise move, in Jan­uary 2007 they moved 15 per cent each to Mum­ta­lakat, the in­vest­ment arm of the King­dom of Bahrain, then ex­ing its nan­cial mus­cles af­ter en­ter­ing F1 via the coun­try’s in­au­gu­ral 2004 grand prix. Daim­ler were not amused: they held 40 per cent, Mum­ta­lakat owned 30 per cent, and Dennis and Oj­jeh had 15 per cent each, yet Dennis and Oj­jeh con­tin­ued to ex­er­cise con­trol via tri­par­tite agree­ments with Mum­ta­lakat.

That year, a num­ber of events oc­curred that would pre­cip­i­tate Dennis’s de­par­ture from the com­pany he had re­built in his own punc­til­ious im­age. First, he failed to man­age the ac­ri­mony be­tween his two driv­ers, Fer­nando Alonso and Lewis Hamil­ton, a com­bustible mix that nally det­o­nated in Hun­gary when the two de­lib­er­ately im­peded one an­other dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing, re­sult­ing in Hamil­ton re­port­ing his own team-mate to the stew­ards. Both driv­ers fell short of win­ning the cham­pi­onship and Alonso ex­tracted him­self from his con­tract.

Dennis was also in de­nial over the on­go­ing ‘Spy­gate’ con­tro­versy, though his stub­born loy­alty to his em­ploy­ees does him great credit. The $100mil­lion ne dam­aged the rep­u­ta­tion of McLaren (and, by ex­ten­sion, its share­hold­ers), as well as Dennis him­self. The gulf be­tween the share­hold­ers widened, and in 2009 Daim­ler sold their stake back to McLaren and pur­chased Brawn GP. The 40 per cent was carved up among the re­main­ing share­hold­ers on a 50/25/25 per cent ba­sis in favour of Mum­ta­lakat and the two part­ners.

By then, Dennis had re­lin­quished his ex­ec­u­tive hold and handed re­spon­si­bil­ity to his right-hand man, Martin Whit­marsh. But as the F1 team’s per­for­mance de­clined, Dennis re-emerged and ousted Whit­marsh in a coup – with­out re­course to Oj­jeh, who was re­cu­per­at­ing from a dou­ble lung trans­plant at the time. This was one of a num­ber of is­sues that caused Oj­jeh and Dennis to fall out.

From then on, the dice were stacked 75 per cent against Dennis, and, al­though he at­tempted to re­gain con­trol by gain­ing fresh in­vest­ment to buy out the other share­hold­ers, they re­fused to sell. Oj­jeh and Mum­ta­lakat set the pi­ra­nhas on him in mid-Oc­to­ber, and he was told his con­tract would not be re­newed when it ex­pired in Jan­uary 2017.

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