June 30, 2017 / 1:11 PM / 22 days ago

Dennis share sale ends an era at McLaren

4 Min Read

Formula One - F1 - Singapore Grand Prix 2012 - Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore - 22/9/12 Executive Chairman of McLaren Ron Dennis during qualifying Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Crispin Thruston Livepic

LONDON (Reuters) - The definitive departure of Ron Dennis from McLaren, announced on Friday, marks the end of an era for the Formula One team and a farewell to another of the sport's towering figures of yesteryear.

News that would once have reverberated like a seismic shock through the grand prix paddock now sounds more like an echo from the past, however.

Formula One has undergone a major shift since Dennis commanded the heights as an uncompromising hands-on leader, forging the team in his own image and achieving both unprecedented success and scandal.

The sport's 86-year-old commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone went last January, sidelined by new U.S.-based owners Liberty Media who have since set about transforming the landscape.

Before him, long-serving Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo had been ousted from the most glamorous team on the grid and Max Mosley replaced at the helm of the governing International Automobile Federation.

Of the big beasts of old, only Frank Williams, the 75-year-old founder of his eponymous team, remains. He is in poor health and daughter Claire is calling the shots as his deputy.

McLaren, the second-most successful team after Ferrari, have meanwhile plumbed the depths - winless since 2012 and last in the current championship.

The Honda partnership championed by Dennis, hoping to revive the glory years of the 1980s, has been a dismal failure and is now close to divorce.

Dennis, who turned 70 on June 1, had already been relieved of his role at the team last November when fellow shareholders - Bahrain's Mumtalakat Holding Company and Saudi-born businessman Mansour Ojjeh - brought in American marketing expert Zak Brown.

On Friday, McLaren announced Dennis was selling his stake in both McLaren Automotive, the profitable sports car company that was his brainchild, and also in McLaren Technology Group.

"It represents a fitting end to my time at McLaren, and will enable me to focus on my other interests," he said in a statement.

"I have always said that my 37 years at Woking should be considered as a chapter in the McLaren book, and I wish McLaren every success as it takes the story forward."

Obsessive Perfectionism

Dennis, who started out as a mechanic with Cooper in 1966, joined McLaren in 1980 when he took over the team founded by the late New Zealander Bruce McLaren.

McLaren had already won championships with Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi in 1974 and James Hunt in 1976 but a golden era ensued - even if Dennis and the team acquired a grey image and a reputation for perfectionism bordering on the obsessive.

A man who could be both hugely generous and short on sympathy, a pillar of the sport with sometimes petty fixations, his sometimes convoluted style of speech led to the coining of the term "Ronspeak".

But with multiple champions Austrian Niki Lauda, Frenchman Alain Prost and Brazilian Ayrton Senna, he made McLaren the team to beat in the 1980s and early 1990s.

The fraught and fiery Senna/Prost pairing provided Formula One with some of its most memorable and controversial moments as well as most dominant with McLaren winning 15 of 16 races in 1988.

Finland's double world champion Mika Hakkinen and Britain's Lewis Hamilton, a Dennis protege, won more in the late 1990s and 2008 as McLaren became the second most successful team after Ferrari, with 20 world championships and 182 wins.

"I would not be here if this guy had not noticed me when I was 10, and actually taken notice," Hamilton said of Dennis after moving to Mercedes.

McLaren were fined a record $100 million by the FIA and stripped of all their constructors' points in 2007 after being found guilty of possessing a 780-page dossier of confidential Ferrari data, in one of the sport's biggest scandals.

Dennis stepped down as principal in 2009, returning as group chief executive in 2014. But an attempt to buy out the other shareholders foundered and now he is the seller.

Editing by Andrew Roche

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