F1: ten top rumours about McLaren’s future

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarTuesday, March 4th, 2008

 
 

Should I stay or should I go now? If I go there will be trouble, and if I stay it will be doubled…

A week ago claims that Ron Dennis would choose the start of the 2008 Formula One season to announce his departure as McLaren’s team principal seemed outlandish.

But, as the week went on, the stories predicting his resignation hardened up considerably, until it became very difficult to preserve the view that Ron intends to stay at the McLaren helm for very much longer.

Here’s the pick of the crop:

  1. Where it all started – the Spanish sports newspaper Marca set this hare running on February 26 with a report that Dennis was set to be purged from the McLaren helm by engine partners Mercedes. It was almost immediately denied, but keenly reported on, the Dennis resignation being considered long overdue in some quarters. It was still a single source, and a Spanish one at that. However, enterprising British media began digging… it now seems that while the Mercedes angle was off-beam, the resignation story might have legs.
  2. Dennis to spend more time with family – today’s Times has Ron Dennis set to quit this week as team principal, but remaining heavily involved with the company. It has him “determined to achieve a better balance between his family life, other McLaren businesses and the Grand Prix team…increasingly inclined towards a change of priorities… adamant that he intends to be more available to his children.”
  3. Fry, the stuff of nightmares – there’s quite a saga going on at The Guardian, as spotted by F1 news site Pitpass. Its initial story (which Pitpass had the sense to screengrab) had a picture of Honda’s Nick Fry – in a Honda shirt – on a story about Dennis quitting. Now that picture has been removed and it appears likely that a hapless member of the editorial team simply failed to tell Fry apart from Martin Whitmarsh. Come to think of it, there is a certain resemblance in the way they cudgel the English language in order to say almost nothing in as many words as possible. But the idea of Fry at the McLaren helm – we agree with Pitpass that it’s the stuff of nightmares.
  4. I come to praise Caesar, not to bury him – now the Graun has sorted out which senior team exec is which, its first story, on February 29, had the team rallying round an ‘unsackable’ Dennis and extensively quoted Whitmarsh backing him. Today it has produced a predictable volte-face in which Whitmarsh is now the pretender to the throne. Finally, it has written a curiously brief profile of Whitmarsh suggesting he’ll be in charge within a couple of weeks. Was more than the photo on this story edited?
  5. My time is past – the authoritative Autosport.com has a story headlined Dennis ready to step aside that suggests Whitmarsh will be in charge before the end of the month. It says the only barrier to the handover is Dennis deciding exactly what role he wants to play in the future. It says there has been mounting speculation about Dennis’ future in recent weeks, with the 60-year-old believed to be increasingly keen to focus more on family matters and other aspects of the McLaren Group business than just the F1 team. It adds that Dennis is understood to feel that his departure as team principal will help relieve tension remaining at the team in the wake of the Spygate scandal.
  6. Dennis meant to leave last yearThe Telegraph is reporting that Ron Dennis actually wanted to hand over at the end of last season – but was forced to stay on by a need to see the ‘Spygate’ affair resolved. It says the team is furious at the way the recent police visit to Woking has been handled by the Italian media, and it has made a complaint to the Home Office. The implication is that Dennis feels unable to relinquish the reins to Whitmarsh with all this still going on.
  7. Ron socks it to ’emThe Sun has Dennis making a last stand, saying he’ll quit when he’s good and ready, and not before. It says he refuses to be forced out and that his team insists he will be in Australia for the Melbourne Grand Prix. However, it does add: “His longer-term future remains in doubt.” Whitmarsh is quoted backing him to the hilt, naturally…
  8. It’s a done dealThe Mirror has this intriguing paragraph on the bottom of a story about Lewis Hamilton’s 2008 prospects: “Dennis yesterday continued to keep the world guessing on the timing of his departure from McLaren, confirming only that he will not quit this week.” Well, there you go.
  9. If Ron goes I’ll be gutted… Many of the fans commenting on the rumours over at the F1 Fanatic website express the view that it’ll be a pretty sad day for F1 if he does go. Opinions there range from ‘one less character in the pit lane’ and ‘a team needs a strong leader’ to ‘don’t give Moseley and di Montezemolo the satisfaction’. Of course, one or two people are calling him a bastard, but then one or two people always are.
  10. The hive mind speaks – give this one as much or as little credence as you like. But his Wikipedia entry’s already been edited to encompass recent developments. It now reads: “The recent reduction in Dennis’ shareholding in the McLaren Group has prompted rumours that Dennis is preparing to step down as the head of the McLaren Group and the McLaren F1 team. Additionally, the decision to hold Vodafone McLaren Mercedes’ 2008 car launch at the Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart is a distinct change from the tradition of holding the launch in the UK and has heightened the rumours that Dennis is planning to move aside. Dennis also had a more background role at the launch, compared to previous years where he led the proceedings. Dennis’ preferred successor for his roles as principal of McLaren Racing and head of the McLaren Group is Martin Whitmarsh, who is currently the joint CEO of McLaren Racing. However, it remains to be seen what effect the reduced shareholding of Dennis will have on his plans to appoint Whitmarsh as his successor.”

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