Ron Dennis CBE was born in Woking, England, and is the chairman, CEO and 30% owner of the McLaren Group. He is also the team principal of the McLaren Formula One team.
Since the early 1980s Ron Dennis has been the principal of the McLaren Formula One team attending races and supervising the teams operations and strategy from the pit wall. Dennis is widely regarded as one of the best team managers at extracting optimum performance from drivers who, in other teams, have appeared wayward or difficult to control. The phrase "ron-speak" is used within the sport to describe the overtly business oriented way in which Dennis speaks during interviews.
Dennis is not an astute political mover and is widely believed to have a strong dislike for FIA president Max Mosley which, however, is not reciprocated.
He is placed at number 648 in the Sunday Times Rich List 2006 with a fortune of £90 million.
Born and raised in Woking, England, Ron Dennis left school at sixteen and began working as an apprentice mechanic for a local garage. When that garage became a subsidiary of a larger group, Dennis transferred to another arm of the business, the Cooper Car Company.
In 1965, now aged eighteen, Dennis became a mechanic for the Cooper Formula One team, working on Jochen Rindt's car for three years before the Austrian moved to the Brabham team, taking the young Englishman with him. Rindt's stay at Brabham was relatively short, but on his departure to Lotus in 1969 Dennis remained at Brabham. At this time Dennis is credited for introducing the more clinical conditions of Formula One car maintenance into the sport. When most mechanics would operate in typical workshop conditions Dennis insisted upon spotless cleanliness, and after each race would strip down his car in conditions more akin to an operating theatre than the normal working environment.
When Jack Brabham chose retirement in 1971 Dennis and fellow mechanic Neil Trundle decided to start their own team. In 1972 Rondel Racing was founded in his native Woking and by the mid-1970s the team was enjoying moderate success in the Formula One feeder categories all around Europe.
In 1975 Dennis founded the Project Three team with his cars continuing to win races, and in the late 1970s founded Project Four. This team went on to success in Formula 2 and Formula 3, taking the title in 1979 and 1980 with Marlboro backing.
In 1980 the tobacco giant engineered a merger between Dennis's Project Four and the McLaren Formula One constructor becoming McLaren International which ultimately placed the thirty-four year old in full control of the merged teams. At the same time Dennis signed designer John Barnard who began work on the teams revolutionary new carbon fibre composite chassis. Taking the initials of the combined teams, the car became known as the MP4/1, a numbering system which the team has retained until the present time (the 2006 car is known as the McLaren MP4-21).
In 1980 the team failed to win a single Grand Prix, finishing a lowly seventh in the constructors title with John Watson and Alain Prost. Even in those early days Dennis recognised the young Frenchman’s potential but was unable to prevent him moving to the Renault team in 1981, a season which saw McLaren once more winning races with Watson's victory at Silverstone. 1981 also saw many other teams struggling to duplicate Barnard's revolutionary chassis and late in the year Dennis continued to build a strong foundation for his team by approaching, then Williams backer, Mansour Ojjeh. He convinced the Saudi businessman not to sponsor McLaren but to become a partner in the team, investing in a Porsche built turbo-charged engines which would carry the name of Ojjeh's Techniques d'Avant Garde (TAG).
Dennis now felt that he had enough pieces in place to attract a star driver, and so he approached Niki Lauda. The Austrian had retired some three seasons earlier but Dennis was convinced the thirty-three year old could be lured back into Formula One, and at the 1982 South African Grand Prix the double world Champion lined up alongside Watson at the start of the season. By the end of the year both drivers had secured two victories and 1983 began with more success with Watson's United States Grand Prix win.
No more wins followed that year, but by the Italian Grand Prix in September Ojjeh's engines were ready and McLaren-Ford gave way to McLaren-TAG. Convinced by his initial investment Ojjeh became the major investor in McLaren, taking 70% of the shares. By the end of the year Alain Prost, now a race winner at Renault, had been signed to replace Watson and with the massively experienced Lauda at his side everything was set for a title challenge in 1984.
In just four years Dennis had turned McLaren from an also-ran team into a front-runner and in 1984 his work was rewarded with 12 wins from 16 races and both drivers and constructors titles. Lauda took the title by a half point from Prost with both drivers scoring more than double the tally of third placed Elio de Angelis. The following year the tables were turned and Prost beat Lauda to the drivers title with McLaren finishing eight points clear of second placed Ferrari, but the pack was closing and in 1986 Dennis's McLaren team lost out to Williams, although the consistent Prost still took the drivers crown.
By 1987 it was clear that the TAG engine was no longer competitive in the face of increased manufacturer involvement and so Dennis approached Honda, who were at the time supplying rival Williams. Unnerved by a recent road-car accident to team principal Frank Williams, and his unwillingness to accept a Japanese driver, Honda transferred their supply to the McLaren team. Dennis further strengthened the teams package by signing Brazilian Ayrton Senna to partner double champion Prost.
In 1988 McLaren was dominant, even by the standards of 1984, taking the 15 of the 16 races and both titles with no opposition, but it was behind the scenes that Dennis's political manoeuvring was most required. Partnering Prost with the volatile but brilliant Senna, arguably two of the all-time greats, had always been a recipe for conflict, and Dennis masterfully kept both drivers focused on racing, but it couldn't last.
By mid-1989 it was clear that even Dennis was powerless to control the two warring drivers, and after a controversial collision at the Japanese Grand Prix, which handed the title over to Prost, the Frenchman left the team for Ferrari and for the following season was replaced by Gerhard Berger.
At the start of the 1990s McLaren continued to dominate the sport with Ayrton Senna taking back-to-back titles in 1990 and 1991 and signing promising new-comer Mika Häkkinen as test driver at the end of 1992, but by 1992 Williams was once more in the ascendancy. McLaren was not to win another title for seven years. Instead, with the loss of Honda power in 1993, Dennis was left haggling with Ford and works partner Benetton for a supply of competitive engines. The BBC made a documentary series, A Season With McLaren, about the 1993 season. A disastrous partnership with Peugeot in 1994 left Dennis struggling to find a fourth engine partner in four years, but for 1995 he agreed terms with Mercedes, an association which endures to his day.
By the mid-1990s Dennis was once more building his team towards domination of the sport and in 1996 he approached Williams star designer Adrian Newey to become technical director of McLaren. Newey agreed and in 1998 McLaren once more took driver and constructors titles with Mika Häkkinen. A second drivers title followed in 1999, but Ferrari took constructors glory, a sign of things to come in the next five years.
In 2000 Dennis was made a Commander of the British Empire.
In 2001 Dennis was faced with a crisis amongst his staff when Jaguar boss Bobby Rahal attempted to lure Newey from McLaren. Details of how Dennis convinced Newey to stay have remained extremely vague but rumours in the press suggested a deal allowing the designer to work on racing yachts. In the same year team leader Mika Häkkinen announced that he was to leave the sport. Faced with the loss of his double world champion star driver Dennis signed Finn Kimi Räikkönen from under the nose of Ferrari boss Jean Todt, who had made little secret of his interest in the driver.
In 2005 Dennis remained at the top of the sport following a poor year in 2004. Despite producing their strongest performance for several years, McLaren were narrowly beaten in both championships by the Renault F1 team. Compounding this, it was announced that Newey would be leaving to join Red Bull Racing from the start of 2006. This, and the loss of title sponsor West had caused onlookers to question whether McLaren can remain competative in the long term, although Dennis' signing of new World Champion Fernando Alonso and Ferrari sponsor Vodafone, both for the 2007 season, have mostly laid these doubts to rest.