Today’s McLaren launch was a quietly confident affair. The team looked composed and calm ahead of what is likely to be a hard fought and chaotic season, with complex new rules and an intense development programme away from the circuit. And then just as the thing was winding to a close, Ron Dennis, the sport’s most successful entrant, goes and lets slip that he’s standing down as team principal at the end of February.
It’s no great surprise in one sense; he is 61 years old and has been discussing stepping down for some time. He was under pressure from the authorities to quit in 2007 during the Stepney spy scandal, but he toughed it out, determined to stay in charge until Lewis Hamilton had clinched the world title, which he regarded as the culmination of a project he put in place over 10 years ago.
But that success and the pleasure it gave him seemed to have given him a fresh love of the sport and renewed motivation. So it was still mildly surprising that he chose today to announce that he was finally going to allow his loyal deputy of 20 years, Martin Whitmarsh, to take the top job. As Ron said, they’ve been sharing the job for years anyway and practically speaking Martin has been the boss for a few years, with Ron the figurehead who makes his presence felt at race meetings and in the public arenas. There will not be much change in the way McLaren goes about its business, although they will probably enjoy better relations with the FIA now that Dennis is out of the way.