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.