Exclusive interview with McLaren chief Ron Dennis

Ron Dennis's return to frontline Formula 1 duties with McLaren as its Group CEO was one of the major talking points of the winter

Exclusive interview with McLaren chief Ron Dennis

His vow at the time to make McLaren a winner again has been followed with a clear determination during recent weeks to see through changes that can help achieve that task.

With the first few races now completed, and McLaren having delivered a podium finish in the Australian Grand Prix but suffered more recent disappointment, AUTOSPORT caught up with Dennis for his overview on how 2014 was going.

Q. How's McLaren's 2014 season shaping up so far?

Ron Dennis: For a team that has won 182 grands prix and 20 world championships, as McLaren has, the only result that can ever be truly satisfying is first place. Wins are what we're all about.

Having said that, we started the 2014 season reasonably well, Kevin [Magnussen] and Jenson [Button] finishing second and third behind Nico's [Rosberg] winning Mercedes in Australia. We then scored points in Malaysia and, but for an irritating clutch problem on both our cars, would have scored points in Bahrain too.

However, as I say, we're not about points or even podiums. We're about wins. We're restructuring and reorganising, and we're bringing in new people, and the improvements are already tangible from the inside. As always, those improvements will take a little while to bear fruit in terms of better race results, but it'll come.

As I've always said, McLaren exists to win, and win we will.

Q. Talking about bringing in new people, you've brought in Eric Boullier as racing director plus senior engineers like Ciaron Pilbeam and Ettore Griffini. But what happened to the attempts to hire Dan Fallows?

RD: Well, actually, we did hire him. In September of last year we signed him to a legally binding contract of employment, our declared intention being to deploy him in a senior role starting on March 3 this year. As you may have noticed, he was listed among our senior engineers in the press release we issued when we revealed the MP4-29 to the media on January 24 this year.

Q. But he's now decided to stay at Red Bull hasn't he? In fact Red Bull has formally announced his promotion.

RD: Yes, and to be honest that's completely unacceptable to us. Just days before Fallows' McLaren start date - and despite having signed a legally binding contract with McLaren, being on gardening leave from Red Bull, and moving to a new home near Woking - he suddenly informed us that he no longer wanted to work for us.

The problem was, he had no legal basis on which to make that U-turn because he'd already formally accepted, and contracted himself to, our offer of employment. Worse, our attempts to contact him were met with stony silence. The mystery was only solved many weeks later, when he was suddenly announced as Red Bull's head of aero.

Q. So is McLaren simply going to accept that?

RD: No. In fact our lawyers have now formally written to Red Bull, requesting answers to a number of important questions.

Q. Can you say what kind of questions?

RD: Well, did Red Bull contact Fallows regarding the possibility of his returning to work for them? Did Fallows inform Red Bull that he'd entered into an employment contract with another company? Did Fallows show Red Bull that contract? If so, on what date? And is there an agreement in place for Red Bull to indemnify Fallows against any fees and damages awarded against him?

Q. And has Red Bull supplied you with what you regard as satisfactory answers to those questions?

RD: No.

Q. So what will happen next? Surely, if he really doesn't want to work for McLaren, you can't realistically force him to do so?

RD: Sadly, it's now likely that McLaren will have no alternative other than to pursue a High Court action against Red Bull, which will ask very serious questions as to that team's integrity and sense of fair play. But can we move on please? I've answered enough questions on this subject now.

Q. OK. Were you pleased with the FIA Court of Appeal's decision in respect of Red Bull's appeal against Daniel's exclusion from the results of the Australian Grand Prix?

RD: Yes, obviously. I think every team except Red Bull was pleased with that decision. It was the right decision for Formula 1.

Q. And what are your feelings on the new power units then? Are you happy with them?

RD: Yes, I am. Look, I've been involved in Formula 1 since 1966. I've been around the block a time or two. During the 48 years that I've been involved in Formula 1, it's grown impressively. And it's grown impressively because it's always adapted to the changing world.

We're the current custodians of that growth, and we owe it to future generations of Formula 1 participants and fans to take the responsibility for that custodianship very seriously. The world is now facing very serious environmental and sustainability challenges, and Formula 1 has not only an opportunity but also a responsibility to embrace those challenges and show a lead.

I applaud the FIA for having done just that with the new power unit regulations. The new power unit regulations are innovative and forward-thinking, and the more visionary leaders of the world's major car manufacturers clearly recognise that.

The cars that our children and grandchildren will be driving in the future will be greener as a result of high-tech lessons learned, now, as a consequence of major car manufacturers' participation in 2014-spec Formula 1. I'm proud of that, and all of us who work in Formula 1 should be proud of that too.

So I entreat Formula 1 participants, media and fans to take a broad view, and to think about the bigger picture, rather than be persuaded by the partial lobbying of those motivated purely by short-term vested interests.

As I said when I was interviewed on this subject in Bahrain, the teams that are shouting loudest are the teams whose power unit manufacturers, for whatever reason, haven't optimally tackled the engineering challenges posed by the new power unit regulations.

OK, we at McLaren aren't as competitive as we'd like to be right now, I admit that. But we're going to solve that problem the way all good Formula 1 teams have always solved that problem: by working night and day to claw our way back to the front. That's what you have to do. That's motor racing. That's Formula 1.

Q. Stefano Domenicali has resigned as team principal of Ferrari, replaced by Marco Mattiacci. Do you have any particular message for Marco?

RD: Stefano was a likeable and capable guy, and I wish him well in whatever career choice he makes next.

The position of Ferrari team principal is clearly an important one, and I hope Marco appreciates the enormity of the task ahead of him, as well as the opportunity he's been given.

It'll be tough. I know that better than most. Formula 1 is uncompromising in the demands it makes of you, gruelling sometimes, but when the going gets tough the tough get going.

Much of the history of Formula 1 has been painted on a canvas whose background image is that of a titanic battle between Ferrari and McLaren, stretching back almost half a century now, and it's astonishing but true to realise that, since McLaren first entered Formula 1 in 1966, our two teams have both won exactly 182 grands prix.

We at McLaren are aiming to start adding to that total again soon, and I'm sure Marco shares the same ambition for Ferrari.

McLaren to take Formula 1 rival Red Bull to court over Dan Fallows
Previous article

McLaren to take Formula 1 rival Red Bull to court over Dan Fallows

Next article

Chinese GP: Fernando Alonso says Ferrari is closing in on Red Bull

Chinese GP: Fernando Alonso says Ferrari is closing in on Red Bull
Load comments
The “glorified taxi” driver central to F1’s continued safety push Plus

The “glorified taxi” driver central to F1’s continued safety push

As the driver of Formula 1’s medical car, Alan van der Merwe’s job is to wait – and hope his skills aren’t needed. JAMES NEWBOLD hears from F1’s lesser-known stalwarts

Formula 1
Jan 15, 2022
When BMW added F1 'rocket fuel' to ignite Brabham's 1983 title push Plus

When BMW added F1 'rocket fuel' to ignite Brabham's 1983 title push

There was an ace up the sleeve during the 1983 F1 title-winning season of Nelson Piquet and Brabham. It made a frontrunning car invincible for the last three races to see off Renault's Alain Prost and secure the combination's second world title in three years

Formula 1
Jan 13, 2022
How “abysmal” reliability blunted Brabham’s first winner Plus

How “abysmal” reliability blunted Brabham’s first winner

Brabham’s first world championship race-winning car was held back by unreliable Climax engines – or so its creators believed, as STUART CODLING explains

Formula 1
Jan 10, 2022
The steps Norris took to reach a new level in F1 2021 Plus

The steps Norris took to reach a new level in F1 2021

Lando Norris came of age as a grand prix driver in 2021. McLaren’s young ace is no longer an apprentice or a quietly capable number two – he’s proved himself a potential winner in the top flight and, as STUART CODLING finds out, he’s ready to stake his claim to greatness…

Formula 1
Jan 9, 2022
The original F1 maestro who set the bar for Schumacher and Hamilton Plus

The original F1 maestro who set the bar for Schumacher and Hamilton

Juan Manuel Fangio, peerless on track and charming off it, established the gold standard of grand prix greatness. NIGEL ROEBUCK recalls a remarkable champion

Formula 1
Jan 8, 2022
How Russell sees his place in the Mercedes-Hamilton F1 superteam Plus

How Russell sees his place in the Mercedes-Hamilton F1 superteam

George Russell joining Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes this year gives it arguably the best line-up in Formula 1 – if it can avoid too many fireworks. After serving his apprenticeship at Williams, Russell is the man that Mercedes team believes can lead it in the post-Hamilton era, but how will he fare against the seven-time champion? Autosport heard from the man himself

Formula 1
Jan 6, 2022
How F1 pulled off its second pandemic season and its 2022 implications Plus

How F1 pulled off its second pandemic season and its 2022 implications

OPINION: The Formula 1 season just gone was the second to be completed under the dreaded shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, but in many ways it was much more ‘normal’ than 2020. Here’s the story of how the championship’s various organisers delivered a second challenging campaign, which offers a glimpse at what may be different next time around

Formula 1
Jan 5, 2022
The adapt or die mentality that will shape F1's future Plus

The adapt or die mentality that will shape F1's future

As attitudes towards the motor car and what powers it change, Formula 1 must adapt its offering. MARK GALLAGHER ponders the end of fossil fuels

Formula 1
Jan 3, 2022